The importance of human behaviors and culture in processes and projects...a lesson learned from NASA

What We Do > Lesson Learned
One of the key findings in the investigation of the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle Accidents was that, despite a detailed review after Challenger, the Columbia mission suffered from similar issues related to culture, decision-making, organizational causes and historical behaviors. In fact, four full chapters, almost the entirety of Part II of the Challenger Accident Cause Report, dealt with non-technical, behavioral issues. We can all learn from the NASA story by seriously considering how to objectively and regularly characterize the human side of our organizations to effect changes commensurate with business and stakeholder needs and requirements. When striving for Performance Excellence many organizations focus solely on tools and technology and often dismiss the importance of the so-called “soft skills”. The NASA investigations illustrate, in an extreme way, the consequences of discounting this importance. For most of us the consequences of execution failures manifest themselves as poor execution and performance with business consequences. In extreme cases they create dangerous and life threatening scenarios.
In the end, the massive technological undertaking of manned space flight was not compromised in total by design or material flaws, but by the decision process and the culture that failed to keep up with the external demands of the program.

Could NeuraTool have helped NASA?

A Practical Discussion of how this applies to the markets we serve

In today’s rapidly changing and dynamic business environment, technology is colliding with human resource on a daily basis. Performance gaps are created when humans create workarounds to technology solutions or violate process rules due to conflicting priorities. These types of anomalies and problems are very real root causes to missed performance targets. Process behaviors need to be understood so that their root causes are understood and dealt with to maximize the efficiency and performance requirements of a demanding business environment. This emerging field is defined as Behavioral Performance Intelligence (BPI).

Behavioral Performance Intelligence is an important field of study. Identifying performance gaps related to the actions of human decisions, the degree to which they embrace (or do not embrace) policies, standards, technology and instructions are all critically important.

How NeuraTool can Uncover and help Mitigate Behavioral Performance Gaps

The first step in any problem solving scenario is to define the problem before trying to solve it. This applies at all levels of problem solving (Strategic, Organizational, Cultural, Tactical and Project).

Typical assessments are executed by defining an appropriate sample of a target population, which is then subjected to interviewing (questioning) through a “person to person”, telephone or paper based survey. Observations and results are then compared (often subjectively) to a Body of Knowledge (BoK) or standard of some type. An “expert” (often a consultant) organizes the responses and creates a feedback report (usually a PowerPoint presentation). Some type of scoring or ranking is often employed to make the responses quantitative and easy to organize and prioritize.

Inherent in these types of assessments is Measurement System Error (MSE) in three (3) basic forms.

1. Interviewer bias created by a) the natural knowledge and skills of the person conducting the interview / interpreting the results and, b) bias in their opinion about how things should or could be done based on their experience. This may lead them to ask questions or interpret results in a context that makes sense to them but not the interviewee or the organization under review.
2. Interviewee bias created by a) fear of the process (being interviewed) and the consequence of providing a “wrong” answer or b) providing responses relative to how things should or could be performed (rather than reality). Either can lead to a “false positive” when results are analyzed and reviewed.
3. Sampling bias created by poor sampling techniques, small samples due to budget restrictions, or management tampering with available interviewee populations (usually to get a good score).
Proceeding with MSE present in the assessment process places results and conclusions at significant risk leading to ineffective or even harmful actions (or perhaps no action at all).

Reducing Measurement System Error (MSE) with NeuraTool

NeuraTool effectively deals with the large degree of MSE in assessment systems.
1. We can now “cyber-interview” a large number of respondents (up to 100%) with a fraction of the workplace disruption created by having “strangers in the house”. This helps with 2 sources of MSE (sample size and tampering) and adds a layer of efficiency (web based) to the process.
2. The questions related to the BoK being examined are consistent in their presentation and interviewees are free from fear, increasing the probability that they will answer honestly and factually.
3. NeuraTool also eliminates the potential “context” problem introduced by the expert opinions and grey areas of dialog. When interviewees are not under an interview schedule constraint, they can provide more thoughtful and complete answers, also improving accuracy.
4. NeuraTool also helps to integrate and correlate the questions being asked, to documented standards, best practices and other requirements. This helps to provide a basis for accurate and quantitative scoring to be used later for prioritization and root cause analysis. Based on the score achieved, the best practices can also be used to drive specific recommendations and remedial actions.

Designing A NeuraTool Assessment

Organizations should link the need and purpose of an assessment to a critical path area. Topics and functions commonly assessed include: Quality, Safety, Operations, Regulatory Compliance, Engineering, Culture, Security and many others. Need should be closely correlated to items such as performance trends, new critical requirements, chronic problem areas, or a life changing event (accident or other major failure).
NeuraMetrics will help develop questions based on an approved standard, best practice, BoK, regulatory requirement or in the absence of these, a team of authorized experts to enable a logical “ drill-down” when results are compiled. Various types of questions will be employed including scored, multiple choice and open ended. All of these responses will be important when correlating and prioritizing actions related to the responses. We will help you align questions with the respondents who are supposed to know the most about the particular area, function or topic being explored.

Serving Behavioral Performance Intelligence Assessments

In the provisioning and serving of assessments, communications is a key driver of success and accuracy. NeuraMetrics will help management clearly communicate the need for each respondent’s accurate answer by describing in business terms why the assessment is important. If respondents do not believe their input will be taken seriously, they will be less likely to spend adequate time and thought on their answers.
Assessment Analysis

NeuraTool Technology can enable several things to happen. With accurate and complete scored data now resident in an organized database, visual statistical analysis tools embedded in NeuraTool can be invoked to “see” patterns in the data, drill down to detailed causes, organize and sort data demographically and prioritize needed actions. Further, reports and information are stored and available for recall, further analysis and archive.
Maximizing investments in technology, tools, processes and training hinge on the way humans will ultimately use them. When organizations invest in acknowledging, characterizing, measuring, correlating and analyzing the human side of performance they uncover critical success factors usually missed by those that don’t.

For an in depth discussion about how NeuraTool can help your company:

NeuraMetrics Inc.
904-246-9733
mstangelo@neurametrics.com