Yesterday I made a mistake. I was typing in a number and hit a 7 instead of a 4 on the 10-digit key pad. I missed the mistake and the double check I had in place missed it as well. The calculation was in a reasonable range of where it should be and so I pushed forward with the report and sent it out. The mistake was caught and pointed out in the big weekly department meeting by the VP as we were looking at the report. I was embarrassed, to say the least. But more than that, it pointed out a flaw in my Quality Assurance (QA) checks. There was not an opportunity to fix it or even investigate it during the meeting. However, immediately after the meeting I went to my desk, found the problem, fixed it, sent out an updated report, and added a new QA check that would make it so this problem would not happen in the future. Once I reached my desk, it took no more than 60 seconds to do everything I just listed, but the damage had been done.
A significant amount of trust is placed in an analyst to properly and accurately portray the information from any analysis. Mistakes, like the one I made yesterday, hurts that trust. This is why I am a big proponent of QA-ing any work. As the lone analyst in the marketing department, I have had to do my own QA (which is not a good idea). Having someone else look at your work can reduce the risk of an error in an analysis that is sent out. Having automated processes in place to catch mistakes can reduce the risk of an error in an analysis that is sent out. Having had several discussions surrounding this mistake yesterday, I have implemented significantly more stringent processes to help reduce the risk of an error in any analysis that I send out.
However, with these new processes in place, it doesn’t mean there is absolutely no chance that I won’t send out a report with an error. Risk is part of the process (any process). We can mitigate the risk as much as possible, but the risk never entirely disappears. Not taking the time to check my work for errors is a bad place to be. Becoming paranoid that I will send out a report that may contain an error is a bad place to be too. If you don’t trust your reports other people won’t trust your reports. Sometimes developers release code that has bugs in it. Sometimes accountants have to restate earnings. Sometimes analysts send out reports with mistakes in them. Mistakes are part of being human.
Quantity, quality, deadline. Pick two.
So the challenge is to check your numbers close enough that you can have confidence in them, but not to let the checks become so arduous that nothing ever gets done. It’s a fine line to walk, but a necessary one. Balance within work, as well as balance between work and the rest of your life, is essential. It is easy to go down rabbit holes searching for an answer to something that is not really a significant problem. It’s easy to do the simple things first and put off the more challenging things. But the biggest challenge is doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, without sacrificing quantity or quality (which isn’t always possible). At my last job, the developers had a saying: “Quantity, quality, deadline. Pick two.” Meaning, you can’t control all three of the variables that impact a work schedule. My recommendation is to do your best, do what you can, and don’t forget to have your work checked.