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Document failure

When things go wrong, there is always a reason. Sometimes it’s a good one. (I had no idea $_SERVER wasn’t available from the CLI) Sometimes it’s a really bad one. (I left 2 seconds after running the build script, and I didn’t test beforehand.) Whatever the reason is, the question needs to be asked ‘How can we never, ever let this happen again?’ Once we arrive at a good answer to that question, it’s really important that you hold that answer in a vise-like grip, and never let it go. Because knowing how to prevent problems, and actually taking the steps to prevent them are two very different things.

That is why I keep a Book of Fail. I will write down the consequences and circumstances of a particular catastrophe as a permanent record. I make sure to physically write it down because the act of writing with a pencil, unlike typing, requires significant effort, and helps to deeply ingrain what I have chosen to record. Secondly, keeping these records in a physical journal means that however many crappy Macs I burn through, or hosting plans I forget to pay for, I will still be able to carry my Moleskine around.

Periodically reading through the Book is also crucial to keeping these painful moments fresh. Many people will claim to have learned from a mistake, but will continually repeat the same doomed process over and over without a second’s thought. Once having a made a mistake a couple times, it should never be repeated.

Published Jun 7, 2009

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