Different industries and government agencies approach human factors from different perspectives. In fields like medicine and aviation, where mistakes can have major consequences, safety is a primary reason for incorporating human factors. In highly competitive industries like communications and computer technology, corporate leaders prize innovations that will yield an edge in the marketplace. Large manufacturers, such as automotive companies, want to know how to save steps and reduce production costs. The military wants to know how to effectively train large numbers of people to operate complex equipment. Scientists, engineers, and others who are working on effectively integrating human factors in their organizations must understand and respond to different interests.
One way to better understand diverse industry needs is to study real examples from enterprises in which human factors experts have successfully integrated their work. To highlight what works and what doesn't in various industries, the Committee on Human Factors asked executives from six fields—aviation, computer and communications technology, the automobile industry, electronics, insurance, and military research and development—to discuss their experiences in effectively articulating the value of human factors. Although some challenges are similar across industries (such as managers who prefer not to bother with human factors until a serious accident occurs), the speakers had unique perspectives that illustrated the diverse situations that human factors experts face. The following sections summarize the speakers' presentations.
Changing the Culture of Safety: the Aviation Industry
Vice President for Safety and Compliance, Delta Air Lines
John Lauber approached human factor first as a researcher for the Navy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, then as a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, and now as an airline executive. From these diverse vantage points he has learned how to change the culture of the aviation industry.
Since a large proportion of airline accidents involve human performance issues, safety is a primary driving force for human factors in aviation. But this does not mean that human factors advocates have automatic entry to the industry: they still must be able to demonstrate how investing in human factors research and development is a rational strategy for solving safety problems. This often requires changing certain aspects of the industry culture.
We had to convince the airline community—the operational community—that a group of NASA scientists and psychologists could tell a crusty old master of ocean crossings from Pan Am that we could actually make a contribution to the safe operation of aircraft. That was no mean task.
For example, human factors professionals at the National Transportation Safety Board realized several years ago that to integrate human factors into their work, they would require changing some conventional ideas about accidents and human performance. In the past, the board's investigations focused on determining who or what was to blame for an accident or error. Under this culture of blame, regulators tried to prevent human error by setting rules that prohibited people from making bad decisions or required them to do the obvious. These rules did little to stem accidents, however, because they ignored the reasons that people make errors.
A more constructive approach focuses on recognizing and systematically addressing common problems that contribute to human error. Under this approach, which the board uses today, a main purpose of investigations is to identify systemic human performance problems that can be prevented by applying knowledge from human factors.
To change the culture in this way, human factors professionals first targeted the board management, who had become cynical after years of
seeing repeated patterns of error. Eventually human factors advocates aimed their appeals at a wider audience, including the board's technical staff, members of Congress and their senior aides, senior executives in the Department of Transportation, and the White House and Cabinet.
The experience of Delta Air Lines illustrates how a major air carrier can change its culture of safety. At Delta, human factors professionals faced the challenge of incorporating human factors principles into the day-to-day operations of a carrier with some 65,000 employees, 545 airplanes, and over 2,600 daily flights—and to do so with an eye toward both economics and safety.
Some key people with the major airlines believe that if a pilot or another employee makes an error, the solution is to discipline the employee. Although this may be entirely appropriate when people deliberately violate standard procedures, most errors do not fall into that category. Most are honest human errors. Airlines cannot assume error-free human performance. Instead, they must devise procedures, training programs, system redundancies, and other engineering principles that will minimize the probability of human error and, most importantly, ensure that the errors that do occur are detected, contained, and corrected before they cause an incident or accident.
Toward this end, human factors specialists and other key people at Delta are changing the company's culture to embed considerations of human performance and risk management into every job, from ramp worker to flight attendant to mechanic. Delta's human factors group spends long hours at the maintenance hangar, for example, studying people as they change shifts or try to work as a team. The group is also studying the airline's operations control center, the ''nerve center,'' to improve decision making during major storms and other unusual situations.
Because the Delta corporate leadership is strongly committed to this new culture of safety, many of the company's human factors activities no longer have to be justified on purely economic grounds—which shows what can happen when one makes a successful case to corporate executives. Nonetheless, commitments to human factors will not be sustained for long without producing concrete results. In the past, some human factors programs in the airlines were too concerned with psychological dimensions—the "hold hands and we'll fly safe" approach. These programs fell by the wayside because they did not really change how people performed in their everyday jobs.
Today, the Delta human factors team focuses on solving real problems and improving real performance. Consequently, the team can point to several improvements in productivity and other economic returns.
Crew resource management is one area where investments in human factors have paid off, both inside and outside the airline industry. Accident analyses found that highly trained and skilled individuals sometimes failed to function effectively as a cockpit team. Through mission simulations and other research, human factors specialists have developed strategies to help people work well as a crew and efficiently manage all the resources at their disposal. The resulting principles about teamwork are now being applied in a range of settings, from the military to hospital operating rooms.
To truly change the culture of safety in aviation, human factors experts must consider more than the major carriers, to appeal to other sectors of the industry, including those who design, manufacture, operate, and monitor the safety of aircraft. Each of these sectors has its own needs and perspectives, and arguments for considering human factors should be tailored to those needs and perspectives.
Achieving Competitive Breakthroughs: the Computer and Communications Industry
David C. Nagel
President, AT&T Labs, Basking Ridge, NJ
David Nagel has overseen human factors research and development at AT&T, Apple Computer, and the Ames Laboratory of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The key to incorporating human factors, he says, is to show how it can help an organization accomplish its main mission—which in the aggressive computer industry means gaining a marketplace edge.
Rationales for incorporating human factors are most effective when they are relevant to the primary mission of the target organization. An argument that emphasizes improved public safety may succeed with a government regulatory agency or a commercial airline, but it will probably fall flat in the computer industry, where accidents that threaten life and limb are rare.
A better approach with computer and communications
The best case you can make in a commercial setting is one for discontinuous change. If you give me money, I'll give you a big competitive advantage. If you make that case successfully, you also will be able to make the case for the more evolutionary kinds of slower improvements.
companies—which, after all, are in business to turn a profit—is to emphasize how incorporating human factors can lead to competitive advantages in the marketplace. This strategy involves three stages. First, human factors specialists must convince corporate boards and chief executives that attention to human factors can lead to the highly prized goal of "discontinuous change"—in other words, a change that yields a significant competitive advantage, not a minor one. Second, they must persuade these same leaders that an allocation of resources is necessary to make this change happen. Third, because budget decisions are usually relative, they must show that investments in human factors research and development will yield greater returns than investments in chip design, process engineering, or other areas. Human factors specialists should be ready to answer such questions as what they would actually do with more money, what steps they would follow to bring about the desired change, and how they would manage further development after achieving a breakthrough.
The case of the Apple Macintosh demonstrates how human factors breakthroughs can have commercial impact. The Mac combined multiple technological innovations—such as the pointing device, the BITMAP display, and interactive graphics—into a commercially viable system. Many of these innovations helped make computers easier to use, but technology alone could not guarantee commercial success. Equally important were engineering and design breakthroughs, such as windows management software, new modes of visual presentation, and a strong postdesign management process in which Apple representatives worked with third-party developers to ensure that Mac applications were consistent with each other and with the company's design principles. As the Macintosh experience also illustrates, it may take years of precursor research to develop a successful product. Sponsoring this kind of basic research is an important role for government, since commercial organizations find it hard to justify these expenditures.
Human factors research has helped spur three major phases of discontinuous change in the computing industry. In the 1960s and 1970s, the dominant computer was the room-sized mainframe. These computers were used primarily by professionals and appealed to a market of roughly 10,000 people. Applications for these systems were completely customized.
People had to learn to interact with the systems through commands that required long hours of training.
In computing, human factors has had a huge impact on the industry. It has enabled a new industry called personal computing and will enable the next new industry called network computing, or whatever term it is given by historians.
We are now in the second major phase, the era of the personal computer. These desk-sized systems, which rely on shrink-wrapped software, are used primarily for word processing and relatively simple accounting. They appeal to a market that currently numbers about 200 million and may grow to about half a billion. The dominant interface is "point and click," but the systems are still too hard for many people to use.
Today the industry appears to be on the threshold of another discontinuous change, one that holds great opportunities for applying knowledge from human factors. We can soon expect to see pocket-sized processors that will do 1 billion operations per second and will be used primarily to gather and use information. Virtually everyone will be able to use these easy-to-operate systems, just as almost everyone uses a telephone.
In each of these phases, human factors research measurably improved the interactions of people with technology and greatly expanded the market of potential users.
Persuading the Right People with the Right Message: the Automobile Industry
Director, Manufacturing Ergonomics Laboratory, General Motors Corporation
A former professor of ergonomics who has also worked in manufacturing in the United Kingdom and the United States, Brian Peacock understands the powerful forces that cause large manufacturing companies to hesitate about investing in human factors. But these forces can be overcome with the right messages directed to the right people.
Human factors engineering, or ergonomics, can improve automobile manufacturing in many ways. It can help to prevent car accidents, improve product quality and performance, and reduce driver trauma and discomfort. On the manufacturing floor, it can increase worker productivity, improve em-
ployee health, safety, and comfort, and enhance job satisfaction. Powerful outside forces also motivate the automotive industry to pay attention to ergonomics: government standards and regulations; government voluntary compliance programs; pressure from unions; high costs of insurance and workers' compensation; and pressure from the media, the academic community, and suppliers of ergonomics devices.
At the same time, equally strong forces discourage car manufacturers from investing in ergonomics: it is expensive to hire ergonomics specialists and to train engineers and operators; it costs more to retool manufacturing components and redesign parts than to carry over existing equipment; and the costs of giving employees more rest time, or "ergonomic relief," run contrary to the corporate trend of "lean manufacturing," or getting the most out of the workforce.
If I put a thing on a table instead of on the floor, I can save a few seconds. If we build 5 million cars a year, with 2,000 operations per car, I can save millions of dollars by a simple method improvement.
The General Motors experience proves that these barriers can be overcome by strategic thinking by human factors specialists. Over the past decade, the company's attitude toward ergonomics has gone from sporadic attention to a reactive approach aimed at fixing known problems to a proactive approach aimed at preventing human factors problems through good product design. And since 1994, when the corporate board declared employee health and safety to be a top priority, the company has sought to incorporate ergonomics into all stages of the manufacturing process.
How did this change happen? The human factors specialists at GM understood that to make a successful case in a large corporation, they had to target several audiences, each with a specialized message. Executives and managers, for example, listen to arguments of dollars and cents. Every second shaved off the time of a manufacturing activity—such as saving a worker an unnecessary step—can save a company millions of dollars. Good design can reduce manufacturing costs and decrease the number of employees required on the manufacturing floor. Investments in human factors can achieve large savings by cutting back on warranty problems, reducing employee absenteeism due to injury and illness, and lowering medical fees and workers' compensation costs. Executives are also concerned about corporate image; they do not want their company to look bad because it has an inferior safety program. Executives and managers can also be persuaded by showing how human error
results in accidents and process failures. They can take corporate leaders onto the manufacturing floor to watch the line employees do their jobs, then ask how they would like to do that job every 30 seconds.
Ergonomics must survive, because that is why engineering exists, to build things for use by people. So ergonomics will survive, whether we sell it or not, because it is just the right thing to do.
Engineers are the group with primary responsibility for applying human factors. General Motors trains its engineers in ergonomics and provides them with good "rules and tools" for embedding human factors into existing processes. Designers similarly receive training and concepts for embedding human factors into product architecture. As a long-term strategy, human factors specialists should encourage universities, business schools, and trade schools to make ergonomics a regular part of the preparation of engineers, business leaders, and technicians.
Corporate lawyers can also be a target audience for attention to ergonomics. Human factors experts can demonstrate that investments in human factors will help avoid product liability suits, fines for noncompliance with federal regulations, and other potential legal problems. They can also stress that companies have a responsibility under federal occupational safety and health laws to prevent their employees from getting hurt.
Union leaders are another audience. Unions are usually already committed to the importance of human factors, and many are raising ergonomic issues during contract negotiations.
Increasing Productivity by Focusing on People: the Electronics Industry
Stuart S. Winby
Director of Change Management, Hewlett-Packard
As a human factors engineer with Lockheed and later as the change management director for Hewlett-Packard, Stuart Winby has learned to appreciate the impact of human resource issues on company success. Helping companies develop better "people" systems is an important and growing role for human factors experts.
Research suggests that new products sometimes fail not because of problems with technology, but because companies lack effective strategies for organizing and using their human resources. With their specialized knowledge and multidisciplinary perspective, human factors professionals are well positioned to help companies improve their human, social, and organizational structures in ways that increase productivity.
Human factors is concerned with much more than people interacting with equipment. Human factors experts also study how people work as individuals and as part of a larger team, how job responsibilities are organized into processes and systems, and how human systems and technological systems are coordinated. Indeed, the discipline of human factors is rapidly moving into a phase in which successes will come less from technological solutions and more from integrated people solutions that improve organizational capacity. The Change Management Group at Hewlett-Packard illustrates how human factors professionals can be leaders in organizational change. In the process, they can build substantial credibility for their discipline within a large, fast-growing, highly competitive company.
One point I want to make, again in terms of making the case for human factors, is that the action research process is very effective in building client commitment, motivation, and trust. It is not an expert model, but, rather, a collaborative process involving the researcher, the consultant, and the client.
The group seeks to develop new business processes that will increase the flexibility of the company's numerous divisions and improve time to market for new products. The company's other divisions are the group's clients, and they pay the group directly for its services; in this sense, the Change Management Group is self-supporting. Demand for its services exceeds capacity, and more than 70 percent of its clients are repeat customers.
The group has used several strategies to promote human factors at Hewlett-Packard. One key strategy is an "action research" process, whereby the group collects data about client objectives, changes selected variables in the client's operations, then evaluates the effects. Every project undergoes an evaluation, which may include peer reviews, customer satisfaction reviews, assessments of performance against objectives, and case studies by outside organizations.
Collaboration with the client at all stages is a critical element of the group's success. The human factors group and the client
jointly develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that identifies the goals of the project—such as increasing output or developing new assets—and the measures that will be used to determine whether the goals have been met. The memorandum also includes an economic justification for the project.
The memoranda for completed projects show considerable returns on investment—from 15 to 51 percent. Savings are achieved by eliminating waste, developing leaner overhead structures, improving cycle time and market time, and raising quality while lowering costs. One client, for example, saved $17 million by improving worker productivity.
Strong support from customers has enhanced the group's credibility, as has its quick and effective response to customer demands. We have a process called a work innovation network, in which customers review the projects in a large forum three times a year. This review is disseminated throughout the company and provides substantial credibility and testimony of value.
Providing Quality Work Day by Day: the Insurance Industry
Tom B. Leamon
Vice President and Director of Research, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company
Before going to Liberty Mutual as head of the research center, Tom Leamon served as a university department head in ergonomics. He attributes the success of his Liberty Mutual human factors team not so much to a few spectacular achievements as to a regular string of accomplishments, day in and day out.
The human factors research team at Liberty Mutual Insurance has grown in 6 years from 3 specialists and a budget of under $1 million to about 20 specialists and a budget of about $6 million. This occurred even as the company was laying off staff and cutting back spending in other departments. How has the human factors team—whose objective, in a sense, is to prevent rare events from happening—achieved this remarkable success in an industry founded on the notion that rare events indeed happen only rarely? Rather than trying to sell the flashy side of ergonomics, the team has made its case, first, by
demonstrating its strategic value to the corporation, and, second, by providing quality work to the company, day by day and year by year. These strategies have enabled the team to overcome the resistance of people who do not know what human factors is and others who see it as a passing fad.
Have you ever seen a cost justification for the application of a pharmaceutical? Here is a drug, here are the symptoms, and the benefit is so many dollars? Of course not. Have you ever seen a department of romance languages in a university as a major intellectual operation justify itself on cost benefit? Of course not. Even clean water: We cannot justify the cost we spend in our village on clean water on a cost benefit basis. In other words, human factors experts are no different from how most of the world operates.
One strategy to make the case for human factors is emphasizing corporate ethics: it might be argued, for instance, that a company should be treating its workers at least as well as do its competitors. A strategic justification might also focus on business relevance: human factors research contributes to the corporate mission. Or it could emphasize business sensitivity: the application is in the mainstream of where the industry is heading.
Cost-benefit analyses, while important, can become a trap unless they are made with care. It is difficult to determine the real dollar benefit amounts of applying ergonomics to human practice, especially since much of human factors involves preventing rare occurrences. Other preventive fields, such as pharmaceuticals, architecture, education, and environmental protection, are not asked to provide detailed cost-benefit justifications. One way around this potential trap is to use long-term data on the costs and outcomes of human factors research—to look, for example, at the number of widgets produced per year. A yearly time frame gives a more accurate picture of the costs per item and allows for realistic accounting of such driving forces as employee absences and labor turnover due to inadequate workplace ergonomics. One must also not lose sight of benefits that are not quantifiable in dollar terms, such as lower staff turnover or reductions in accidents.
The second strategy, demonstrating quality daily work, involves several steps. First, it is important to listen to the problem, then really try to determine what it is. Too often, human factors specialists defer to a customer's narrow view of the problem instead of applying their own expertise.
Second, human factors specialists should consider whether they can deliver more than they are asked. (This approach goes against the advice of some corporate philosophers, who suggest delivering no more and no less than one promises.) After
Imagine going to a brain surgeon and his saying to you: What do you think your problem is? We are the repository of knowledge as far as human factors are concerned. We have the duty of listening to the problem and developing our solution and strategies. If we pass that responsibility, however well meaning, to nonexperts, we shall end up with nonexpert solutions.
thinking about a particular problem, a human factors professional will often see additional improvements that can be made. For example, a major human automation project in the British coal mining industry grew out of a simple request from a customer about how much lighting was needed on a control console.
Third, human factors professionals need to focus less on methods and more on depth of expertise. Although human factors methods often appear to be based on common sense, the field is not well served if customers think that all they have to do to get results is to apply a few reproducible, common-sense formulas. This kind of misunderstanding overlooks the considerable knowledge and decades of research that helped to achieve those results.
Seizing Unique Opportunities: the Defense Laboratories
Kenneth R. Boff
Director, Human Engineering Division, Armstrong Laboratory, U.S. Air Force
The military laboratory system played a key role in establishing and strengthening the field of human factors. Ken Boff is intimately familiar with the unique opportunities for applying human factors expertise in the new generation of military systems.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) laboratory system has a healthy budget for human factors—about $220 million in fiscal year 1996—and has made numerous contributions to the human factors knowledge base. In these respects, the laboratories appear to be demonstrating their value effectively. But like their counterparts in industry, government human factors scientists must be positioned to take advantage of new opportunities for research and development.
Several trends have converged to create abundant opportunities for human factors expertise in today's military. First, weapons systems are becoming more costly and more technologically complex, raising the skills required of the military workforce and creating demands for new training strategies.
Next-generation defense systems, such as night vision systems and virtual crews, are integrating human capacity with technological capabilities in unprecedented ways. Soldiers are being trained through models and simulations instead of live environments, which opens up new problems and opportunities for human factors research and development.
Second, a spate of tragic and costly aviation incidents has highlighted some incompatibilities between the way that systems are designed and the way that people perceive, think, and act.
This is the case that we must continually make: Is there a unique core competency in human factors that is supplied by the defense laboratories that needs to be supported because it cannot be out-sourced to the industrial or academic community? What do we contribute that is different and of added value to the mission and the function of the Department of Defense?
Third, the department is emphasizing the development of military technologies that can be transferred to the private sector, thereby opening up new potential customers for defense laboratories.
Finally, the military, like many businesses, is trying to do more with less. This means that the military is upgrading and modifying existing weapons systems instead of funding entirely new ones, which gives human factors experts a chance to improve the match between equipment and operators. This move to economize also translates into smaller, more mobile forces that can accomplish missions more quickly, with greater precision, and with few or no casualties. Human factors specialists can help design these new kinds of forces.
To help meet all of these challenges, Department of Defense researchers must be able to articulate a solid case for government investments in human factors. They must be able to persuade two major groups of stakeholders: first, upper management in the service branches and the Department of Defense, who request work from the laboratories, determine their funding, and give authority for their continued operation; second, users of laboratory products, including project sponsors and the broader science community. Each group is best addressed with a different approach.
What the first group, defense managers, typically want from human factors is quick response problem solving. They are less interested in the science behind a situation than in the resolution of a problem. Human factors experts must speak their language, understand the unique military context, and show key managers how they can produce results in a timely manner.
Four arguments are critical in convincing defense manage-
ment. First, human factors work carried out by Department of Defense laboratories occupies a niche that cannot be filled by academia or industry. Second, human factors experts must be able to demonstrate how their work helps to further the broader strategic goals of the Department. Third, they must convince management that the specific program being proposed represents the best investment for human factors—in other words, they must justify why the laboratory is doing one kind of research instead of another. And fourth, experts must make the case that human factors is a more worthy investment than another technological area. This may be difficult, since the Department of Defense can be conservative when it comes to supporting nontraditional technologies. Much of the reputation of the Department of Defense laboratory system rests on its credibility with the second key audience, product users, and the scientific community. The laboratories have gained this credibility by doing work that has practical applications and that adds to the scientific knowledge base. However, human factors laboratories have not effectively reached a critical subgroup of product users, the designers and engineers of military systems. Some designers remain unconvinced that human factors research can significantly improve the usability of their systems. Since many of today's systems are being developed with computer-aided design and engineering, human factors specialists must create products that are compatible and workable in a computer-aided context.