And The Winner is… Error Proofing

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And the Academy Award for best picture goes to “La La Land”.

Wrong. During the 2017 Oscar Award Ceremony, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway gave the Academy of Motion Pictures and their accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers a black eye without so much as a swing of a fist, or really any fault of their own. These two acting legends were simply given a defective envelope. The real winner of best picture actually went to “Moonlight” while the elite of Hollywood, and millions of viewers around the world saw the ultimate embarrassing effect of an end user receiving a product that was not checked for errors.

The real question that arises from this incident is how did this happen? Given the audience associated with such a monumental event, you would think that the process would be foolproof. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm responsible for the Oscar envelopes said that they are investigating.

This isn’t the first time this has happened either. During the 1964 Oscars, Sammy Davis Jr. announced the incorrect winner for music. The reason for this was a similar situation where he was handed the wrong envelope. In December 2015, Steve Harvey hosted the annual Miss Universe pageant, where he mistakenly announced Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez, as Miss Universe 2015.

On a more serious note, it’s not only at award ceremonies where we see epic collapses like this. How about the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 defect where the phone actually exploded or the Johnson and Johnson defect a few months back where patients were injured due to defective hip implants.

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You would think that in this day of age, defects like the one at the ceremony, or defects within organizations weren’t possible. The good news is that there are proactive solutions to prevent these defects from happening, yet through these very public mistakes it’s obvious that organizations aren’t taking the time to invest and implement them. Simple error proofing prevents inadvertent errors (and embarrassment) from happening.

For example at the Academy Awards, there simply were no Control Feedback Loops in place. To resolve the issue would include the individual providing the envelope to the presenters with an established control standard to compare the envelope against (this could be a color coding, numbering of the envelope, or having a process in place to check, recheck, and then check again the envelopes by their employees to ensure accuracy). The individual, prior to providing the envelope to the presenter, would compare the intended envelope to the standard for assurance. If ok, release the envelope. If not ok, take immediate action to rectify the mistake (identify the issue and remedy the situation). This would help ensure:

  1. The system is designed to reduce the likelihood of error
  2. Feedback loops are as short as possible and need to be on live television!
  3. Use of active, rather than passive, checking so embarrassments like this are negated

Fortunately in the end, Moonlight received their recognition and won the award for Best Picture, and the stars and producers of La La Land have been very gracious about the confusion. Sadly, PricewaterhouseCoopers now has that black eye. While embarrassing for the few involved, this should be viewed as a good learning experience for all companies, big or small, indeed.

What solutions do you think there could have been?

Author: Juran

For the past 75 years, Juran has been an industry leader in performance excellence. We are your on-demand team of trainers, coaches, and expert consultants. Built upon the philosophies laid out by Dr. Juran, the father of quality, we put you on the fast track to results by designing improvement initiatives that actually work. We aim to help all organizations achieve the highest quality of products, people, and processes, and we understand the importance of transferring our knowledge to your team to guarantee the success of your program in the future.

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