9-Hour Mistake

Robert Szabo
3 min readJun 29, 2021
The clock is ticking.

When I was training with 1st Battalion 3d Marines in 2017, a lesson I learned fast and hard early on was how much time a mistake can cost. Depending on the situation, that can either lead to limited capabilities or wasted resources.

The story here starts with a request for an extra truck to help move supplies and move troops around. At the staging area, a crew scrambles together and grabs a truck to head out to the forward location. It takes three hours to get there so they grab a Monster, some sunflower seeds, a can of dip and a spitter. The commander on location was eager to put the truck to use and so on arrival the first task comes. A simple mission to displace troops from the base to their objective, about 30 miles away. The truck operators look at each other and admit that they did not anticipate troop transport and didn’t prep the truck with safety rails and a cover. The crew then had to drive three hours back to the staging area to spend another three hours to find the troop transport equipment, refill the gas tank, grab an MRE from the chow pickup since they’re working through chow, and finally drive the three hours back. Nine hours later, the troop movement begins.

There are a number of call-outs to this scenario however here’s two:

  • Why wasn’t the truck’s full usage specified in the request? It’s easy enough to say “To move things and or people” and leave out detailed usage.
  • Why wasn’t the truck already outfitted with troop transport equipment? The truck is designed to hold the troop transport equipment when not in use.

Many factors were at play, though the end result meant troops were nine hours late to their objective and I got quite an ass-chewing. Fortunately this was a training area. In a more realistic scenario, this could have had life or death implications.

This is why we train!

“But I’m not in the military, that doesn’t apply to me?”

New scenario. You’re a nerd in a software company (don’t worry I am too) and your team works to release an update every two weeks. Your team is experiencing a major issue and your app is getting bombed in customer reviews. This issue is hard to reproduce if at all and there are no analytics or logs in place to help troubleshoot. However, after months of tinkering and trying to figure it out, you discover a lesser known part of the code that might be the real culprit. Still unable to reproduce the issue, you make a few code safety modifications and gear up for the next release.

As the app is sailing to the store you realize there still aren’t any logs in place to help verify the issue and validate if the assumed fix works. Now it’s back to the drawing board to implement appropriate logs and analytics in time for the next release. Even if it will take an extra day or two, you’re now waiting for the next scheduled release in two weeks to push the changes.

Rather than a 9-hour mistake, this is a two-week mistake. In some cases this isn’t too bad, but when your app is getting hit with a 1-star review after another, timely and effective decisions are key! With proper planning ahead of time and defined standard operating procedures (SOPs), you and your team can ensure a well-rounded solution is in place instead of a band-aid to hopefully fix the issue.

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