October 03, 2023
The Human Factor - I
"Forget the mistake. Remember the lesson" – Unknown
I thought I'd stay positive with this week's quote instead of the more familiar one that has no one remembering the good but always remembering your mistakes. I wanted to push the ideas of learning and improving when it comes to the human factor in our activities.
I see raised eyebrows on that last statement. My thoughts were heading in the direction of manmade "things," how those things are used, and the problems that occur with that usage. It could be anything from a stapler to a space shuttle. From the development to replacement parts, the human factor exists.
More specifically, I'm focusing on when that "thing" fails, breaks down, stops functioning, or other problems that cause a complete or temporary cessation of usage. Looking at the following points, it's easy to see that in most cases, the fault lies with "someone." The purpose here is not to denigrate humans—hey, we're not perfect—or the effort someone puts forth. It's to pinpoint areas where lessons can be learned.
For the first part of this discussion, let's look at a logical chain of progression. Developing a product; selling he product; training to use the product; having specific purposes for the product, and customer service.
It starts with development. Mistakes, errors, and obstacles occur at every level.
I'll use a crude but simple example. Bob, the caveman, wants to take care of that pesky saber-toothed tiger. He figures a stick will solve the problem. Unfortunately, beating the animal only enrages it, and Bob is a bit scratched up afterward.
So, he finds a rock and sharpens one end of the stick in order to stab the tiger. While this is an improvement, he still encounters problems because (A) he still has to get close to the beast and (B) many times his first thrust doesn't kill it, and Bob limps back to the cave looking for bandages.
Then he figures out a method of shooting the pointed stick by tying a sturdy length of gristle to both ends of a bendable stick.
Thusly, he can use the bow and arrow from a distance.
He finds some bendy sticks are better than others because some bows tended to break.
In time, he scrapped the bow and arrow when he met a guy from the Orient who invented a powder that exploded when ignited.
And the development continued.
My point here is to take a look at the equipment used in your company. One of the reasons for breakdowns is faulty design. The human who manufactured it may not have seen the flaw or not realized one existed until you started using it. It may have been the machine that put together the faulty machine, but even there, a human factor is to blame for not catching that defect. It could be a matter of an incorrect calculation, but even little mistakes mean big problems. Be a millimeter off on the space rocket trajectory and you miss the target asteroid by millions of miles.
Another area in which the human factor plays a more direct role is sales. There are many subpoints to consider.
Wrong product for the customer's needs – The bow and arrow fails when caveman Bob attempted to shoot a charging rhino.
Wrong specs – Last year's bow and arrow model covered a distance of 50 yards, but Bob really would like to be 75 yards from the tiger.
Lack of knowledge – The product fails Bob because the salesman didn't understand its purpose, design, or capabilities.
The successful salesperson will try to understand customer needs as completely as possible. Asking questions is the best way, either through an online form or face-to-face. This won't totally eliminate mistakes or product failure, but questions will reduce the percentages.
Once Bob purchases (or trades several pelts for) the bow and arrow, one sees the product fail through lack of training. This leads to misuse which will be detailed next week.
The human factor in this point may stem from the trainer, trainee, or both. The trainer, similar to the salesperson, lacks knowledge about the product. The trainee may have an attitude of "I know this already' and won't listen to instructions. The trainee, while not stupid, hasn't the comprehension to operate the machine properly. (Again, misuse.)
A fourth reason for product failure can be put before sales. It's not having the right goals or any goals for the product.
Back to Bob, who sees the bow and arrow at the local dealer and purchases it even without a plan to use it.
A company should understand why it's purchasing. What will the product be used for? To manufacture another product?
Better efficiency in the workplace? How?
Lack of goals, again, results in misuse and breakdowns.
Finally, for this week, product failure comes when there's a lack of quality customer service/support. Bob has questions about the bow and arrow, but no one at the dealer is available to assist or else there's a definite apathy on the part of the CSR. Bob's now left with a dilemma. Continue to mess around with the bow and arrow or scrap it in favor of another from a more caring dealer…or seek out that Oriental man and his exploding powder. If he chooses the first option, then improper usage may result in failure.
Next week, I'll look at five more human factors that cause equipment/asset breakdowns.
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