Resilience Engineering #17: Getting Things Right!

by Gary Monti on October 11, 2011

Have you patted yourself and the team on the back lately for all you’ve done right? Go ahead, you deserve it. Look at it this way; it is an important part of resilience engineering (RE). “How so?” you might ask. Let’s go back to the roots of RE and look.

RE addresses the socio-technical aspects of a project, process, situation, etc. That means it looks at what goes right as much as what goes wrong. Both are assumed to arise from the same system. This is a departure from classic risk management, which looks to see what went wrong in an exception reporting approach. With RE the attitude is that people tend to get things right most of the time. The question asked is, “What can be done to extend that success?”

In other words, there is no special circumstance that creates failure. There is no special condition. Rather, failure emerges from the same system as success. Consequently, acknowledging success and looking at it closely is important in RE.

According to Hollnagel in “Resilience Engineering in Practice: A Guidebook”, p xxv

“There are no special ‘error producing’ processes that magically begin to work when an accident is about to happen…there are no fundamental differences between performances that lead to failures (and those) that lead to success…We are best served by understanding performance in general.”

This leads to an interesting approach which is rather Eastern, i.e., opening up without any judgment. Just see the success and failure weaving through the system as performance varies. Tune into the dynamic. See how minor variances can have a substantial impact on performance (butterfly effect). Pay attention to where the system successfully dampens potential errors and amplifies success. Look for the flip side as well where all hell can break loose for no apparent reason and great opportunities are allowed to slip by.

The important thing, getting back to the title of this blog, is realizing that one of the best ways to see errors is by understanding successful situations and seeing where they can go out of kilter. In human systems this is expressed well in a personality-profiling tool, The Strength Deployment Inventory, where a weakness is viewed as a strength taken too far.

When success is viewed in this perspective then kicking back, sipping a favorite beverage, and relishing the success are, indeed, important activities. Just remember there’s a gremlin lurking somewhere in the system and give him his due.

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