Posts Tagged ‘woods and wreathall’

Resilience Engineering #21: Organizational Fatigue

by Gary Monti on November 8, 2011

Metal fatigue is a great metaphor for how organizations respond to stress according to Woods and Wreathall. Ductile metal can return to its original shape as long as the stress is below its yield point. If the load exceeds the yield point the metal will permanently deform and, if the load is increased too far, the metal will fracture. Ever see a car or truck sagging to one side or especially low at one corner? The suspension springs have been pushed beyond their yield point.

Highly resilient organizations monitor the strain placed on teams and look for signs of the team reaching its yield point. This includes:

  • The team being overwhelmed with issues
  • Continual re-forecasting of the end-date
  • Missed milestones
  • Mood changes among team members and the PM.

Mood changes can be any one or a combination of any of the following:

  • Anger
  • Sarcasm
  • Isolation
  • Indifference
  • Panic
  • Additional work being uncovered on a routine basis
  • Unavailability of personnel
  • Excessive switching out of team members
  • “Hurry up and wait” syndrome
  • Excessive use of highly specialized personnel
  • Fatigue

… and this list is not exhaustive … there can be more…

Avoiding Fatigue

Highly resilient organizations try to head off this behavior by:

  • Practicing anticipatory awareness and paying attention to what is happening. It may be necessary for someone outside of the team to see this since the team may have drifted towards the yield point and not be aware.
  • Anticipating through risk management and think ahead as to what could go wrong and the associated consequences. This means making as thorough as possible risk management plans;
  • Adapting to situations and keeping what works (anticipation) and coming up with new plans (anticipatory awareness) as needed.

There is a very simple way to address this situation that is relatively low in cost. Bring in a fresh set of eyes to look at the situation. If PMs were budgeted 1-2 hours a week to simply look at each other’s projects and state what they see how much could that help determine fatigue is about to occur or is already happening?

Now, “And what do I do with that information?” might be the question that comes to mind. In other words, thoughts of doing root cause analysis can dance through one’s head. Maybe it is more like nightmares of root cause analysis! Why? The answer is simple. The situation can look like one big mess. And it could be.

I want to conclude with a question, one that might help point in the right direction for getting some of that root-cause information. Imagine being in a department store. You see a child running amok and making a mess of things. What is the question that comes to mind almost immediately?

If you said, “Where are the parents?” you would be right on target. So when you see a fatigued team or one nearing it the answer to what is causing the problems might be simpler than you think. In the next blog we will go deeper into this.