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Prescription for Preventing That Oscars Mix-Up?

Better ‘Project Management’

By Chris Edmonds

A little over a year ago, it was Steve Harvey announcing the wrong winner at the Miss Universe pageant. A few months ago, it was revealed that a simple typo may have caused the disastrous hack of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's email, followed up shortly by proof that political proofreading gaffes aren't an exclusively Democratic affair.

And then came Sunday night's Oscars gaffe, with presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announcing the wrong winner for the climactic best picture category. That mistake wasn't a typo per se, but rather a “version control” issue. The accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, charged with counting the ballots and giving out the category envelopes to presenters, was apparently the source of the problem.

PwC’s process involves having one representative at each side of the stage, with each representative holding a complete set of the category envelopes. That way, the reps can hand the envelope to the presenters no matter which side of the stage they enter from. It appears that one of the PwC reps handed Beatty and Dunaway the duplicate card from an earlier category, causing all the foofaraw.

At N2, that’s what we’d called a flawed structure that runs the risk of a version control error. It’s exactly the kind of problem we work hard to prevent for our clients, through both our industry best-practice project management system and our quality-control proofreading process. Sure, it’s easy to think that the kind of error that occurred Sunday night will never happen to you—but that's exactly the kind of complacency that got PwC in trouble, with their reps all but writing off the possibility of a mix-up just a few days before the event and saying they had no real plan for handling the problem if it arose. Tempting fate like that is always a dangerous business.

It’s hard to say if this rash of simple mistakes is some broader sign of widespread communications incompetence or just random incidents blown out of proportion by our social media environment. Either way, it’s probably best to take extra precautions to avoid a close-up view of the fallout that can come from a crucial mistake.

As New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is always intoning, “Do you job.” Even better, go out and hire a bunch of paranoid perfectionist grammar nerds to do the job for you.

Chris Edmonds runs N2's project management system. He joined N2 after more than a decade working as a newspaper editor, reporter, and online producer. The possibility of version control errors keeps him up at night.

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