Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What is a Mistake?

I've been trying to come up with a good definition for "mistake" in the context of developing software.

It's easy to see defects as caused by mistakes, but what about other kinds of poor choices? Choices that led to massive work inefficiencies?  And what if you did everything you were "supposed to" do, but still missed something, is that caused by a mistake?   What if the problem is caused by the system and no person is responsible, is that a mistake?

All of these, I think should be considered mistakes.  If we look at the system and the cause, we can work to prevent them.   The problem with the word "mistake", is it's quickly associated with blaming the who responsible for whatever went wrong.  Mistake triggers fear, avoidance, and guilt.  Which is the exact opposite of the kind of response that can lead somewhere positive.

Here's the best definition I found from dictionary.com:

"an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge,etc. "

From this definition, even if you failed to do something that you didn't know you were supposed to do (having insufficient knowledge), its still a mistake.  Even if it was an action triggered by interacting parts of the system, but no one thing, its still a mistake.

But choices that cause inefficiencies? That seems to fall under the gradient of an "error of action or judgement".  If we could have made a better choice, was the choice we made an error? Hmm.

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