Managing Mistakes: Using the 1-10-100 Rule

October 19th, 2013

In a hurry? The world is at your service. From drive through Starbucks, fast food, and iPhone conversations when you’re on the go to instant messaging, microwave ovens and a lightening fast TV remote for selecting from hundreds of channels when you’re at home, massive amounts of immediate gratification are merely seconds away. But wait (do I have to?). When is fast a good thing and when does it make something not so good go from bad to worse? In this final installment in my Mistake Management series, we’re going to take a look at the high price of mistakes —also often known as poor quality work – and how a bit of high quality vigilance can make a huge difference in the cost and the outcome of a mistake.

Ever heard of the “1-10-100 Rule”? It’s part of the Total Quality Management approach to excellent work ( The primary learning the 1-10-100 Rule brings to the table is the longer it takes to detect a mistake in the work process, the more expensive and devastating it can be in terms of the time and cost to repair the error which was made. Take a look at the illustration below (Source: Total Quality Management, Joel E. Ross) for a visual on this thought. MISTAKE 1-10-100 Rule

Here’s an example of how the rule works:
1) Factor 1 – When drawing the architecture plans for a new building, if the architect checks for errors and performs thorough, ongoing quality work along the way, correcting a mistake on a blueprint during the design process may only cost $1,000 in extra time to adjust the blueprint and fix the mistake. In this example factor 1 = 1,000.

2) Factor 10 — Let’s now assume the original architect was rushed, didn’t catch his mistake while drawing the design and the error wasn’t noticed until later after building construction was well underway. Now the cost to fix the mistake has expanded to ten times the initial price tag for error repair . . . namely $1,000 has become $10,000 to fix the mistake (factor 10 X $1,000 = $10,000).

3) Factor 100 – It gets worse. In this stage, the error was missed during the architectural design and drawing effort and was also missed during the initial phase of construction. Now the construction of the building is completed and the mistake is finally noticed. At this stage of the project, the cost to fix the error has expanded to a whopping $100,000 (factor 100 X $1,000 = $100,000). In so many ways, taking the time to check for errors along the way is the right thing, safe thing, and smart thing to do.goal-man-and-glassesdata

Without a doubt, boo-boos can be expensive. With the 1-10-100 Rule in play, the cost to fix a mistake during different stages of a project went from $1,000 to $10,000 to $100,000 depending on how far along the project had progressed. Wow. Fast and in a hurry – in terms of not checking for quality along the way – becomes a huge liability and expense! We have all seen this happen … all the way from bad plumbing design and installation that allows a pipe to blow and flood a building to the infamous failure of the O rings on the space shuttle Challenger which caused it to explode on takeoff, killing all on board. Why did the O rings fail? Several items contributed to the failure which included rushed inspections and poor quality control during the production and installation process.

Are you still in a hurry? Not so fast. Being in a hurry may be okay depending on the project you are working on. Remember to consider the impact of a tiny versus whopping mistake and the costs involved as illustrated in the 1-10-100 Rule. Will a mistake have severe consequences or not? Conversely, how do you, as a manager, walk the balance beam between taking too much time to make something perfect and instead going with good enough? Again, impact of a potential mistake is a key consideration. Tough questions must always be asked as you use your management knowledge and experience to practice high quality mistake management. It’s also part of being the great manager who you aspire to become and continue to be.

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