Sweat The Small Stuff…It May Save Your Life


Flying is the safest form of travel in the world and a safe takeoff and landing is arguably a true 6sigma process but accidents still happen. Did you ever wonder what were the causes? Believe it or not it is rarely 1 huge catastrophic failure like an engine dying or a wing breaking off. In fact it’s usually the small mistake that we’re told not to sweat that causes the problems. Not just 1 failure but a series of on average 7 failures for airplane crashes and catastrophic failures.

The cumulative failure affect is a common phenomenon that happens across the board in all processes. Most processes aren’t as robust as the taking off and landing of an airplane so there may not be 7 failures that need to happen before a catastrophe. Think about some of your own experiences and how many “small failures” happened before a big failure.

I actually had this experience the other day the supermarket. I only had 3 items but I it took me 23 minutes to check out (yes I actually timed it). First issues was that there were not enough employees at the checkout counter so there were 6 people in front of me with full carts. Second issue was that I thought the other line was moving faster so I get into that line. Third issue came when I was next in line for checkout and the person in front of me needed cigarettes. Fourth issue, the key for the cigarette case was with the manager who was with an irate customer at the time. Fifth issue (now I’m actually checking out) was one of my items rang up 2x the price as the list price so they had to do a price check. Normally one of those issues isn’t too bad but the combination of the 5 in a row put me in the line for 23 minutes.

So what do we do about all the little mistakes? For starters you need a robust continuous improvement/problem solving system. The typical top down management doesn’t work because it’s too much to manage. Get the people who do the jobs on a daily basis to solve their problems and give them the latitude to experiment (yes they will make mistakes). It’s trickier than it seems but how serious are you about sweating the small stuff? What do you do to address the small stuff?