Lean Methods Could Have Prevented Historic Mistake at the Oscars

Rick Bohan

OK, so apparently a big mistake was made at the Oscars last night…a really, really big mistake.  The wrong film was announced as Best Picture.  Not Best Sound Editing, not Best Costumes, not Best Foreign Short Animation.  Best Picture.  That’s a REALLY BIG mistake.

To add insult to injury, the mistake wasn’t caught and corrected until the folks representing the wrong movie (LaLaLand) were on stage and had been thanking everyone in their extended families for their love and support.

So, what’s all this have to do with lean methods?

Well, there’s a process for getting the right card with the right info to the right presenter at the right time.  Right?  And anytime you have a process that absolutely, positively must be done right, seems like it would be a good idea to map the process and do some failure mode effects analysis.  You know…at each step, brainstorm and discuss what, on this planet or any other, could possibly go wrong at the step.  I’m thinking that, in such a discussion, the idea that someone at some time might possibly get hold of the wrong envelope would come up.  Once the idea comes up, a resolution to the potential failure is often pretty easy to come up with.

What sorts of ideas might come up to prevent such a failure?  Well, there are lots of other processes that have to be carried out at the 99.999% success rate: heart operations, rocket launches, airplane maintenance come to mind.  I’d bet the folks familiar with those processes would have some suggestions.

For my own part, I’m obviously pretty far removed from the process, but I’m thinking color coding might be applicable.  It would be easy, even for someone off-stage, to see if the presenter had the right envelope or not.  Or the teleprompter could provide instructions:  “Look at the envelope in your hand.  If it’s red, continue.  If it’s ANY other color…STOP AND TELL SOMEONE!”  (Take a look at the pix in this article.  The wrong envelope in Beatty’s hand and the correct envelope are the same color.)

Or maybe a label on the outside of the envelope.  Or clearer instructions on the award announcement itself.  (I gather the announcement Beatty held had written on it:  “Emma Stone, LaLaLand”, then in much smaller print, “Best Actress In a Lead Role”.)

To be sure, the Oscars have a pretty good success rate at announcing awards as it is.  One mistake out of all the awards every announced at all the Oscar ceremonies is a pretty good percentage.  Heck, PandW might be at that 99.999% success rate now, even after last night’s gaffe.  (Although, I just read that it’s actually happened once before…but not for Best Picture, for gosh sakes!)  But, I’ll bet Price and Waterhouse wishes it had done some error-proofing of the process all the same.


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