In life like in project management, stuff happens. People make mistakes.
While some mistakes are stellar and go down in history, what most people
remember about a mistake is how it was fixed.
You screwed up: admit it
In the end, the sooner you and your team can admit to screwing up, the
faster you will get back on your feet. With a good strategy to correct the
mistake and a plan to prevent it happening again, you are ready to get over the
problem and move on.
…and get on with your life
When a problem occurs, one should react quickly and take control of the
situation. One way to achieve this is to answer the questions below:
- What exactly happened?
You should understand the sequence of events. If people are arguing over
what happened, you need to come to an agreement before you can get to the
- Why did it happen? This
is not about blaming someone of something. It's about the cause. The cause
is seldom a person. It's more often a action of decision or a failure to
- Could it have been
prevented? Did you fail at communicating with your team? Is there
anything that could have been done to avoid this problem?
- Could this problem happen
again? This question is crucial. If the problem could happen again,
you absolutely need to have a plan to prevent it from now on.
- How can you prevent this
problem in the future? This is the opportunity for improving processes
or creating new ones.
- Are apologies required? If
you did something that affected your customers, your teammates or your
organization, you should apologize for it. Recognizing a mistake will go a
long way in improving your reputation and repairing the damage that was
- How do you correct the
problem and reverse its consequences? This is the difficult question.
Sometimes a mistake cannot be undone. If you annoyed your customers, you
may want to give them a discount on their next purchase. If you slighted
your teammates, you might want to treat them to a special snack or
activity. By doing this, you are replacing the negative feeling you left
in people's mind by a positive feeling that may stick longer than the
memory of the problem.
The blame game: the best way not to fix the problem
You may have noticed "Who caused the problem?" is not in the list
of questions. Finding out who's fault it is often a paralyzing endeavor. It
seems, once we've found who made the mistake, everything stops. And often the
correction is to avoid this person in the future. This is no productive,
constructive way to deal with problems. If you do this with every problem you
have, soon you won't have a team to work with. Understanding why the
mistake was made will yield much better solutions than pointing the finger.