News & Events
The Fear of Errors
- January 7, 2018
- Posted by: Vas Taras
- Category: X-Culture Stories
When you have 5,000 people in the project, making an error becomes one of your biggest fears.
It’s not that I feel embarrassed or ashamed to make an error. Not at all.
The problem is, if you make an error, you get more than a thousand emails telling you about it.
Just deleting those messages can take a couple of hours.
A few times, we made errors in calculations of peer evaluations. Within minutes, we got several hundred emails telling us about the problem. We fixed the problem and re-sent the corrected peer evaluations within an hour. However, over the next several days we got hundreds more emails informing us of the error from the students who did not see the correction sent shortly after.
Today, we start sending out the post-project documentation to the students, including:
- Personal performance review
- Personal Cultural Intelligence report
- Personal recommendation letters
It’ll be over 5,000 letters, each 25-pages-long. The first three contain dozens of numbers each.
As you can imagine, we don’t write those letters one by one. It’s an automated program that uses a gigantic Excel file and lots of formulas to pipe in the correct numbers and texts into a template for each document and cover letter. Another program then generates high-resolution PDF files and sends them out to each student individually.
With such a massive amount of data and number of recipients, errors are inevitable. Even if we don’t make a systemic error (e.g., get column numbers wrong in a VLOOKUP formula), there will be other errors. Name spelling. Missing data. Male/female confusion.
So even if everything’s perfect, we’ll still get 200-300 emails asking to make a change or asking questions. 5-10 min per email, and in the perfect scenario, we’ll spend 20-30 hours over the next several weeks dealing with those issues.
But if we make a mistake, the time losses will be MUCH greater.
So what we do is we send out the post-project documents to a sample of about 200 people first. Wait for a few hours. If nobody replies, that’s a good sign. It means there are no mistakes. The remaining 5,000 messages can go out. If there is an error, we’ll get 10-20 emails telling us about it. Fix the problem. Test the new templates with another 200 people. And repeat the cycle until all errors have been found.
And then, we’ll still get 500-700 THANK YOU letters. Those too take lots of time, but I don’t mind. That’s a pleasant time loss 🙂
By Vas Taras