Why is a constructive error culture so important for companies and their processes? What does it have in common with agility? And how can a positive error culture best be established step by step? We answer these and other questions – and provide you with useful, easy-to-implement tips and recommendations.
A common saying goes: “He who does nothing, does nothing wrong! Conversely, this also means that those who work and achieve something also sometimes make mistakes. Mistakes and wrong decisions are quite normal and are part of a learning and development process. They are often even very important in order to come up with the right solution or, even better, with new ideas. We all know the well-known examples: Penicillin, the light bulb and the much used Post-it – all of them originally resulted from ‘accidents’ or mistakes, in any case unintentionally.
What is a positive error culture?
The term positive error culture describes a constructive, open and equally solution-oriented approach to errors and failures. Error risks are accepted in order to promote experiments and courageous decisions that serve further development. By dealing with mistakes openly, we also ensure that everyone can benefit from the experience of their colleagues.
What does an error culture have to do with agility?
A constructive error culture requires openness, courage, transparency and of course respect – all values that also correspond to the agile mindset and Scrum values. The other two Scrum pillars, review and adaptation, also serve a functioning error culture. If the Scrum values are already lived, this offers the best conditions and enough security for a successful error culture.
Lively and open exchange
A good error culture also requires a lively and open exchange of ideas. Here the Scrum events also have a supporting effect: in the dailies, reviews and retrospectives the team has the opportunity to exchange ideas and talk about problems and mistakes at an early stage. In addition, the regular feedback loops help us to uncover errors in time and initiate appropriate measures.
As we have already established, mistakes are not only unavoidable, but also extremely important for the creative process. By regularly delivering and presenting our product increments to our stakeholders, errors do not only become apparent at the end (when it may already be too late or involve a lot of effort), but much earlier in the development process.
In other words, agile approaches do not necessarily reduce the number of errors, but they do drastically reduce the costs of fixing them. The earlier and faster you make the mistake (and talk about it openly), the sooner you can counteract it with openness, courage and creativity and take new and better paths.
These iterations, which we know from Scrum, for example, have another advantage: The short intervals also make it easier to experiment with an uncertain outcome. Because even if an experiment was not successful, we have learned something, are richer in knowledge and have only ‘lost’ a sprint. In the next planning, you can already adjust again based on these experiences and take a new or even an old direction.
How do you promote a constructive error culture?
We would like to anticipate one thing: Establishing a constructive, lived and company-wide error culture does not happen overnight. Nevertheless, there are various ways in which we can promote a successful error culture in our teams and thus set the ball rolling for the company. Our three expert tips for a positive error culture:
- Set up a (digital) Fail Wall: This is a board on which each team member describes a situation in which they have failed and what they have learned from it. In Corona times The Fail Wall can of course also be set up as a digital whiteboard – there are numerous providers such as Concept Board.
- Take advantage of retrospectives: Retrospectives aim to bring about continuous improvement together. The Scrum team looks back after each sprint, reflects on what went well and what went badly and analyzes how these things came about (cause study) in order to derive appropriate measures. Always focus on the constructive and positive handling of mistakes and learning from them.
- Organize “Fuckup-Nights”: This event originally comes from the founder scene. There, founders, entrepreneurs or employees celebrate their stories of failure on a stage. By dealing openly with one’s own failure and the often funny anecdotes, open and uninhibited talking about one’s own mistakes is established on the one hand, and learning from each other is encouraged on the other.