Sooner or later everybody makes a mistake. It is reasonable – we are only human. This doesn’t mean that your boss or your client will have understanding.
A few years ago I was working as a software developer for a company that was developing custom shopping cart for managing products manipulation for different branches in different countries. Each store had their own items and administrators could have copied parts (like description and images) from other stores. When I programmed this functionality I made an option which enables the administrator to choose from which and to which language they want to copy. It never occurred to me that they could forget to choose a language and I didn’t write a proper test. At one point, somebody did forget to select and chose to copy all images from one store to another. The system had a terrible flaw. It deleted all the images on the website. All 8.500.
When I realised what had happened I was in shock. That is when I learned a valuable lesson on how to act when you make a big mistake. Later on, as I was running my own business, I had a chance to deal with other peoples mistakes, and I managed to make a few more conclusions which I hope will help you when you make a big mistake at work.
So, without further ado, here is what you should do when you make a mistake.
The first thing to keep in mind is not to blame others. If it was caused by you, it doesn’t matter what someone else did to help you cause the issue. You should avoid making excuses as it will only help you look unprofessional… and you are already going to look bad. So don’t make it worse.
Try not to panic, and think of ways to fix what you did. If you panic and obsess about consequences you will not be able to find a way to solve the problem. If you just walk away, the problem will be solved by someone else and you will face your superior with empty hands. So, make a plan on how to solve the problem you just caused and do it quickly.
Go to your boss and be honest about what happened. Tell your boss, as he is the first person that should be informed. If they find out from someone else, or they figure you were trying to hide something from them, it will only get you in a worse situation. If you come to your superior and be honest, they will respect that. Tell them what happened and what you propose as a solution. They will have no time to waste and will probably try not to react in affect. So, as hard as it might seem, you better go and talk to them.
Tell your client (or the product owner). Although your boss will probably tell you to inform the client of the mistake that has been made, it might happen that they will do it on their own. However, if it is you, do it without bulls**t. Nobody likes to be lied to or mistreated. Don’t come up with sentences like “We’re sorry for any inconvenience this might have caused”. They sound cynical and insincere. You have caused the problem, tell them like a human being. Tell them you are sorry you f**ked up and that you are working as hard as you can to fix it.
Don’t stop working until you fix that mistake. If you need anyone to help you out, ask them. Your colleagues will probably already be aware of the problem. They will be able to help you out. Try not to make a break if you really don’t need it. Don’t leave if you haven’t solved the problem. If you leave the problem for someone else to solve, expect to do the walk next day.
Face the consequences. Now that all is over, and you have fixed your big mistake, you and your superiors will be able to talk clearly without affect. Offer them to document mistake (if that is reasonable thing to do), and ask what consequences are you going to face. Be ready to accept them.
Your mistake does not have to be the last thing you did at your job. It might even be the first ladder on the way up as this is the chance for you to show your superior how you act in stressful situations. You will definitely not be awarded for your mistake, but it might help in long term (if you don’t make mistakes too often).
If this article helps you with your situation, or you have some other interesting story to share, please do in the comments. They might be helpful to others.