Proper error management: indispensable for successful companies

Mistakes and errors are an inevitable part of the human experience in all areas of life. Whether in personal relationships, at work or at university, no one is immune from making mistakes. What matters is how we deal with them and learn from them. Dealing with mistakes constructively is crucial because it enables personal growth, builds confidence and promotes a culture of continuous improvement.

However, most people do not find it easy to admit mistakes and deal with them constructively. People like to avoid the unpleasant encounters and arguments that come from calling something a mistake, a word that has very negative connotations. But in doing so, they miss the opportunity that lies in communicating mistakes. Namely, the opportunity for successful error management. This enables a targeted and structured control of all activities around the error in order to filter out the potential that lies in it. Targeted error management has many methods at its disposal, on the one hand to eliminate errors and limit their effects, and on the other to evaluate the causes and derive appropriate adjustments.
A sticker that says "mistake."


Error management in project management

In project management, error management is an essential aspect of ensuring successful project delivery. It involves the identification, analysis and correction of errors and deviations from the planned project objectives. Regular progress reviews, feedback mechanisms and risk assessments can be used to minimise negative impacts on the project's schedule, cost and quality. It is therefore important that the mitigation process is agile and flexible to accommodate unexpected changes and adapt to the evolving dynamics of the project.

If a problem has already occurred, the cause should be identified. This involves investigating the underlying factors that contributed to the error, such as inadequate planning, unclear requirements or poor communication. Understanding the causes helps to formulate appropriate corrective actions. Integrating error prevention into project management practices reduces the likelihood of errors recurring and achieves continuous improvement in processes and performance.

A culture of learning and continuous improvement should also be fostered within the project team. This includes providing training and development opportunities, access to tools and technologies that minimise errors, and a supportive working environment where team members feel comfortable asking for help and raising concerns. When people feel safe, organisations can identify recurring patterns, take preventative action and improve overall efficiency. In this way, open and constructive communication creates room for growth and an environment where open communication is valued, and mistakes are seen as an opportunity rather than a reason to blame.

Human error?

Project managers play a crucial role in introducing and maintaining an effective error management system in an organisation and in the success of a project, as well as in the successful establishment of error management. They must transparently model the positive handling of their own mistakes and, almost more importantly, the positive handling of others' mistakes. If you are aware of your own mistakes, you can try to avoid the following mistakes in the project.

What project managers often fail at

Effective project planning is the basis for a successful project. If project requirements are not properly understood and documented, this can lead to an expansion of the project scope. This can drive up costs or extend the project duration. Setting deadlines without considering resource constraints or unexpected challenges can cause delays and compromise quality. Failure to identify and assess these potential risks can lead to unforeseen obstacles.

Unclear communication between team members, stakeholders and project managers can also lead to misunderstandings, delays and conflicts, which can result in misallocation of resources, delaying project progress and completion. Inadequate quality control leading to poor results, incomplete documentation or failure to meet stakeholder requirements can delay project completion, too. 

To reduce these errors, project managers should pay attention to effective communication, stakeholder involvement, risk management and comprehensive planning throughout the project cycle. Regular monitoring, evaluation and adjustment are also essential to identify and correct potential errors early on. By learning from past mistakes and continuously improving their project management practices, project managers can improve their ability to deliver successful projects.

But errors can also occur within the system.

From the person-oriented to the system-oriented perspective

In error management, a clear distinction is made between the person-oriented and the system-oriented view: in many companies, including in the health care system, the person-oriented and thus traditional view is still widespread. If an error occurs, the nurse or doctor is held personally responsible and blamed. This personal attribution of errors overlooks the fact that many errors are not due to a lack of skills on the part of the individual, but to deficiencies in the system. If only the individual staff member is made aware of a mistake and sanctioned accordingly, the causal problem is not eliminated. The same mistake can be repeated again and again, either by the same employee or by another. Sectors such as aviation or even nuclear energy, conditioned and compelled by the corresponding risks of their industry, try to take a different approach and also look at the system in which an error occurred. The system-oriented view accepts that everyone makes mistakes and at the same time ensures that systems and processes are designed so safely that possible sources of error are eliminated and thus the sources of error approach zero. The organisation of all processes, the operation of equipment or in detail, e.g., the packaging of medicines, is designed in such a way that the possibilities for errors are always reduced and errors that nevertheless occur cannot have a dramatic effect on the outcome.

Management responsibility

By taking responsibility for error management, top management demonstrates its commitment to continuous improvement and creates a culture of accountability and learning.

Clear policies and procedures for managing errors should be established, creating the conditions for proactive error detection and correction. They should define what constitutes an error, establish reporting mechanisms and provide a structured process for investigating and resolving errors. In addition, the error management system needs to be effectively implemented throughout the organisation. The management must provide adequate resources such as time, training and technology to support the error management process. Prioritising error prevention and reduction sends a clear message that errors are taken seriously and seen as opportunities for growth rather than failures.

It also creates an environment where errors are reported openly and honestly. This reassurance gives people the confidence to admit mistakes without fear of negative consequences. When there is a positive attitude towards mistakes, employees are more likely to report them, allowing for early identification and quick resolution of problems. By prioritising transparency and learning over blame, leaders lay the groundwork for continuous improvement. This creates a positive overall culture of trust and communication in the organisation. A negative attitude can lead to mistakes being dragged out over a long period of time, with potentially fatal consequences for the project.

Learning from mistakes

Learning from mistakes is an essential aspect of personal and professional development. It involves accepting and analysing mistakes and understanding the behaviour and actions that led to them. It requires self-reflection and a willingness to examine motives, decisions and actions. By examining the mistakes, patterns, biases or blind spots that may have influenced behaviour can be identified. This self-reflection allows strengths and weaknesses to be identified and provides an opportunity to improve and grow.

A positive attitude towards mistakes is crucial as it allows mistakes to be seen as learning opportunities rather than failures. A negative attitude to mistakes can affect morale, productivity and even physical and mental health. A positive attitude therefore shifts the focus from the negative consequences of our mistakes to the lessons we can learn from them, showing that fallibility is an inevitable part of life. A positive attitude enables us to see mistakes as stepping stones to success and to be more open to taking risks and trying new ideas. Fear of failure diminishes and with it the willingness to experiment, innovate and push boundaries. This increases the chances of making breakthroughs and achieving goals and avoids becoming defensive or resistant to feedback.

Proactive error management: setting organisations on the path to success

In today's fast-paced and complex world, where industries are constantly evolving, the importance of proactive error management cannot be overstated. Errors, whether caused by human factors, technical failures or organisational processes, can have serious consequences for companies and industries as a whole. The potential impact of errors ranges from financial loss and reputational damage to legal consequences and threats to human safety, particularly in industries such as healthcare, aviation and nuclear energy. But even in less risky industries, errors can have a significant impact. For example, a software error in a financial institution's trading system can lead to millions of dollars in losses within seconds, damaging both the company's financial stability and investor confidence.

Proactive error management means anticipating potential errors and taking proactive steps to avoid them. This approach involves developing systems and processes, implementing rigorous quality control measures and fostering a culture of continuous improvement and learning within the organisation. Employees at all levels are encouraged to identify and report potential errors, fostering a sense of ownership for error prevention.

The transition to proactive error management requires a comprehensive approach. From a technical perspective, companies can use advanced tools and technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to identify potential errors and minimise risk in real time. Human factors is about creating a safe and psychologically protected work environment where employees feel comfortable reporting errors and contributing to error prevention without fear of reprisal.

Implementing proactive error management can bring many benefits to organisations. By identifying and correcting potential errors before they occur, organisations can minimise the negative impact on their operations, reputation, customer satisfaction and results. It also enables a more efficient allocation of resources, as the costs associated with reactive error management, such as investigations, litigation and customer compensation, can be significantly reduced.


Effective error management is essential in any project or organisation. Dealing with errors is critical to maintaining productivity, customer satisfaction, a positive team atmosphere and the overall success of the project. Errors should not only be seen as setbacks, but also as opportunities for personal and professional development and successful error management.

By moving to proactive error management, strategies can be developed to identify errors before they occur to ensure project success and avoid delays. This can be achieved by the team in collaboration with the project manager and in conjunction with technology and data analysis. In this way, organisations can increase efficiency, gain a competitive advantage and achieve long-term success in their respective industries.

Proper error management - The IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Error management, Leadership

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