Human error, redefined


This company makes engineering prototypes from schematics, so small lots of products in development can be tested, says an IT pilot fish working there.

"The orders are processed by SAP, then are sent to a central SQL server," fish says. "Before a line starts building prototypes, they have to be cleared by the manager of the line.

"Each manager has a custom application to look at the orders. If he decides that they can do the order based on the requirements, he clicks a button to clear the order."

Then the manager can click on a "Send To Line" button, popping up a form for typing in information about the order. Then clicking "Commit" sends the order to the line, and sends an email notification to the line supervisor.

But one manager prefers doing it differently. He exports orders to a spreadsheet on his phone, where he looks them over during the day. He later goes to the application and pastes the order numbers into the "Send to Line" form and commits the orders.

One day a line is unexpectedly idle, even though there should be plenty of work. The manager is on vacation but still in town, so he drives in -- and suddenly the missing orders appear. "Gee, I don't know what happened -- I know I sent those out yesterday before I left," manager says as he leaves again.

"My supervisor contacted me to figure out what went wrong," says fish. "I could see time stamps that showed orders had been approved yesterday after the email had been sent, but his automated signature didn't appear on them until today.

"So he thought he had approved all the orders, but he hadn't clicked on 'Commit.' I explained that it was simple human error and he was probably just in a hurry to start his vacation."

Supervisor asks fish, "But why did his email say he had approved them?"

Fish pulls up the application and shows that anything can be pasted in the email message box, so it's a safe bet the manager just did a cut-and-paste from the spreadsheet, ten rows at a time, for each of several orders, but forgot to hit "Commit" -- a simple mistake.

"But why did he do that?" supervisor asks.

Fish patiently explains again that for some reason this manager uses a spreadsheet.

Sighs fish, "Her final question was, 'But why did he have order numbers in the email if he didn't approve them?'

"I told her the spreadsheet must have gotten corrupted. She accepted the answer."

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