Learning lessons - the advantages of mistakes

Among other things this blog will look at the lessons learned, and not learned, from IT-related projects and programmes. Organisations that find themselves in the public eye because they have made mistakes are unlikely to welcome the publicity they get. But we’re more likely to learn from mistakes than successes. One reason travel by air is so safe is that the lessons from crashes have informed regulators and designers of aircraft, and aircraft systems.

Fortunately few IT-related failures lead to deaths. One advantage of this – and a disadvantage – is that there is not the pressure to learn from mistakes. This blog will seek to apply a little more pressure than now exists.

It will also look at the increasing importance of good communications, external and internal, and oddities in the way some organisations report bad news.

For example I was in touch yesterday with the spokesman of an NHS trust which has had serious problems with a system for handling electronic patient records. One of the trust’s prospective patients, with suspected cancer, has not been seen within two weeks of an urgent referral by a GP. This is in breach of a government target. The trust has reported that the breach occurred because of “process issues” with the patient record system.

Yet the trust reports a 100% success rate in meeting the target for seeing urgent referrals for suspected cancer within two weeks. The spokesman explained that there was a “certain level of tolerance” over the 100% target figure.

A 99.9% success may be categorised as 100% because 99.9% is closer to 100% than 99%. This to him seemed reasonable.

I asked him how many patients with suspected cancer can fall though the net, and not be seen within two weeks of an urgent referral by their GP, before a 100% success rate is reported as a 99% failure. I am waiting for a response.

I’ll also be blogging on the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT, the world’s largest

non-military computer programme, which has its challenges.