RE: The 6-million-dollar documentation mistake

Subject: RE: The 6-million-dollar documentation mistake
From: "Joe Malin" <jmalin -at- tuvox -dot- com>
To: "Paul Pehrson" <paulpehrson -at- gmail -dot- com>, "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2006 13:11:13 -0800


I notice that the article doesn't explain what the "streamer" was. If it
was one of those red "remove before takeoff" streamers I see on pictures
of aircraft, then blaming the documentation isn't exactly fair. Someone
on this list with military experience may have to correct me, but I
think that the general rule is that the red streamers come off before
you start up. Or maybe it's just they come off before you roll?

This goes back to the whole idea of "quality", that oft-abused word. In
my previous life as a SW engineer, I was part of a pioneer HP software
total quality control project. I read *a lot* of books about statistical
quality control, total quality control, Deming, etc. From that I
actually learned some rules of thumb about preventing errors.

Some of them you have heard already, perhaps, like defining your
process, measuring it, and so forth. But, one thing I learned almost
immediately is that you can design the errors *out* of a product or
process by watching where they occur and why.

An example from hardware comes to mind. I worked in tech support for a
multimedia hardware company. They shipped out (without the knowledge of
tech support) a combination sound card and CD-ROM drive controller that
connected to the CD-ROM drive with a thin cable. The cable connectors
were symmetrical, meaning you could plug the socket in upside down and
not know it. Furthermore, if you *did* plug it in upside down, you
burned out the board the moment you powered up your computer!

The company either believed they were saving money by using a generic
socket, or just didn't notice.

If you look at a typical computer of any type today, you'll be
hard-pressed to find a perfectly symmetrical connector. PCs these days
come with color-coded connectors for monitors, keyboards, mice, and
sound, and the connectors (except for the RCA-style plugs) have specific

That's a way to design errors out of the product.

Don't ever forget that documentation is a backup for designing out the
errors. As a tech writer, I have to remember that if I have to put a
note or caution into the documentation, I'm covering for something that
may be a design flaw.

Joe Malin
Technical Writer
jmalin -at- tuvox -dot- com
The views expressed in this document are those of the sender, and do not
necessarily reflect those of TuVox, Inc.

-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+jmalin=tuvox -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
[mailto:techwr-l-bounces+jmalin=tuvox -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf
Of Paul Pehrson
Sent: Thursday, March 23, 2006 11:11 AM
Subject: The 6-million-dollar documentation mistake

The following article was published in today's Salt Lake Tribune. It
details an incident where a mistake by a mechanic caused over 6 million
dollars in damage to an aircraft engine. A contribuiting factor? A lack
of proper documentation for removing landing gear pins after performing
maintenance on the planes.


WebWorks ePublisher Pro for Word features support for every major Help
format plus PDF, HTML and more. Flexible, precise, and efficient content
delivery. Try it today!.

Doc-To-Help includes a one-click RoboHelp project converter. It's that easy. Watch the demo at

You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- infoinfocus -dot- com -dot-

To unsubscribe send a blank email to
techwr-l-unsubscribe -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
or visit

To subscribe, send a blank email to techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to lisa -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Previous by Author: RE: why I like the Dummies books - was Boring documentation
Next by Author: RE: Terminology question
Previous by Thread: Re: The 6-million-dollar documentation mistake
Next by Thread: Is it Friday yet? (WAS: why I like the Dummies books - was Boring documentation)

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads