The Art of Making Mistakes


Photo By Brian McEntire, used with permission via Shutterstock


Earlier this week I deleted an old managed package out of a client’s instance. I was pretty sure that we had migrated all the data needed, months before, into the new data structure but I had that niggly feeling – “just in case”. So I did an additional manual backup using Apsona of the custom objects I was deleting, as well as related objects, and saved the files into Dropbox. Because I’ve told this to myself and my team – it’s not “if” you make a mistake it’s “when”. And then it’s all about what you do next.

One of those big mistakes happened a couple of years ago. I’ll never forget standing in the corner of a parking garage of the Minnesota Twins baseball stadium, on vacation with my family, trying desperately to find a quiet corner while talking to a client in distress. We had messed up, badly. Somehow in a major upgrade we were doing, with multiple consultants participating, we had deleted 20,000 addresses from contact records in their Salesforce system. And it was totally unclear what, or who, caused it. It was awful.

It took an entire day to diagnose what had happened – new code that had been introduced in the managed package we were using interfered with the contact conversion process we were using for the upgrade. So I wrote a detailed document outlining what had happened, what we were going to do to fix it, and how we were going to prevent it from happening again.

And thanks to the all the admins that have ever lived, anywhere, anyhow, we had a data backup. It took us three days to restore the data, meticulously (on our own time, not the client’s).

It’s not if you make a mistake, it’s when. And you know what, AwesomeAdmin? – instead of this moment being a point of shame, this moment can be one where you shine. Because mastering the art of making mistakes will build trust with the people that count.

That’s exactly what happened with my client. We came out on the other side – me, determined that I wouldn’t spend another vacation repeating and repairing this kind of mistake, and the client feeling more trust in our relationship that we would take any roadbumps seriously and make good on what wasn’t right.


4-Point Plan to Making Mistakes like a Pro

  1. Own Up

Almost eight years ago I was the project manager on a project where the developer forgot to disable the email workflows before pushing a major change, and 5000 emails went out to their constituents that were in error and confusing. AwesomeAdmin, someday this will happen to me. Also someday this will happen to you. This slip, made so long ago, wouldn’t be worth remembering except for this simple fact: this person would not admit that he had made a mistake. As he continued talking around and around the issue, and deflecting blame, the client got more and more agitated. Weeks later I felt like the sacrificial lamb, struggling to rebuild trust on a project gone wrong. I finally owned up to this mistake for my peer on behalf of the group “we should have turned these workflows off”, but by then it was too late. Just saying “I made a mistake” without trying to shift blame goes leaps and bounds to diffusing difficult situations.

  1. Diagnose & Fix

What happened, and what will we do to fix now? Once an error has been committed, can we trace it back to its source? In technology, this isn’t always clear. I looked back at one of the pivotal Diagnosis documents I’ve sent to a client in my career (a formal document in which I apologized, explained what happened, what we would do to fix it, and how we would prevent it from happening again) and there were so many interrelated issues – some code bugs, some human error – it made my head spin. I actually named the issues as I diagnosed them “issue a” and “issue b”.  As much as possible, take the time to write down in a formal way what happened. Depending on the scope of this mistake, this could be an email, or could be a formal memo.

Then, outline the fix. Committing mistakes like a pro involves the accountability of fixing the thing – relationships to be repaired? Conversations to be had? Data to be restored? You’re on it. Do the work.

3. Build Future Checkpoints

Make a mistake – great, proves I’m human. Make the same mistake – perhaps two more times? Something’s gotta change.

I love earrings. I wear them pretty much constantly. And I am always losing them – or to be more specific, losing one. I’ll come home at the end of the day to find myself wearing one and only one earring. I’ve made half-hearted attempts to deal with this – ordered some plastic backers online that didn’t fit the earrings I owned. Then forgot about it, and weeks later – ugh. One earring. If I’m honest with myself, I haven’t been serious about preventing this from happening again.

Perhaps the most important thing in making mistakes like a pro is to build future checkpoints against committing the same error. In the erase address error above, our team decided that before we edited records en mass, with any data tool, we’d do the scenario with three records. Import three records in the data import template. Clear the Account name in three records via the data tool. This simple step has saved me untold hours of personal heartache as I’ve caught issues early.

Communicating what you will do in the future to prevent this from happening again – to your boss, your client, or your team – is the key to building accountability and trust.

4. Move On

I, AwesomeAdmins, am my own worst critic. Perhaps you are yours, too? It’s so tempting to fall into the “I am the worst Salesforce Admin/Technologist/Consultant that ever lived” and “no one anywhere would have made that kind of mistake”. But I would be wrong about that, and so would you.

At the end of the day, when we’ve learned what we had to learn and rebuilt trust and accountability, there is only one thing left to do – stop beating ourselves up, and move on. Accept what happened, and let it go.

There are a lot more courageous adventures ahead of us, and that baggage will only weigh us down.

Megan Himan has over fifteen years experience in the nonprofit sector and over ten years working on the Salesforce platform. She has a unique combination of deep technical skills paired with an ability to strategically convene groups, coach executives and leadership through transitions, and execute on project deliverables. She is Founder & Principal of BrightStep Partners - solutions with strategy for Salesforce success. In September 2017, she was named a Salesforce MVP.

Posted in Administration, Best Practice, Leadership, women in tech

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Our (New!) Blog Site
Visit our new Blog location!

Visit our new Blog location!

Our Consulting Site
Follow BrightStep Partners on
%d bloggers like this: