Are you aware of the effect of work life balance issues on the quality of your team’s work?

Make sure your people do not feel like a hot kettle with nowhere to let the steam out – that can lead to broken designs – and if your line of work is designing safety critical systems, broken designs usually means a greater chance of loss of life, polluting the environment and large financial losses.

Having a way to control the internal steam pressure of your team members may be utopia - but you should still look for ways to avoid disasters, together with your people.

Having a way to control the internal steam pressure of your team members may be utopia – but you should still look for ways to avoid disasters, together with your people.

We all know that the quality of our work varies – with a large number of factors. If we are overworked or really worried about something in our personal lives – quality of our work will most likely suffer. If you are responsible for the functional safety in a large project, human error can be disastrous, not only for the project, but for the people working in the plant when it has become operational. Whether it is yourself, or an entire team that you are responsible for, you need to be aware of key performance shaping factors. These factors are described in detail in human reliability analysis, such as developed by Idaho National Labs for the nuclear industry: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/contract/cr6883/cr6883.pdf. These techniques can lend some terminology and thinking that is useful in the project itself, to help manage the risk of significant human errors in the project phase. Remember – misunderstanding the risk factors and barrier elements themselves may lead to insufficient barriers against major accident hazards in a real plant! The factors in the SPAR-H methodology described in the linked document are:

  • Available time
  • Stress/stressors
  • Complexity
  • Experience/training
  • Procedures
  • Ergonomics/HMI
  • Fitness for duty.
  • Work processes

These factors have been defined for typical process operators’ actions in a nuclear power plant but they are also relevant for other types of tasks. Functional safety work typically has a high degree of complexity. The experience and training of people involved in the safety lifecycle tend to vary a lot, and procedures and work processes are not always clear to everyone involved. All of this falls under “management of functional safety” and project managers should think about what creates great quality when planning and managing the project. In many projects, time is quite limited, and the term “schedule impact” is a rather frightening concept to many project managers. This can lead to tasks being perceived as less important simply because the schedule is prioritized over quality. For safety critical tasks, this should not be allowed to happen.

Some factors from your project members’ personal lives may have severe impact on performance. People working on the project team can be stressed or not “fit for duty” due to a number of challenges that are not only work related. How can we deal with this? Project managers need to know their teams beyond their tasks and work backgrounds. You need to create an environment of trust, such that you have a greater chance of catching such performance limiting factors originating from outside the organization. For many people these factors may not be something that is seen as “bad” such as divorce, alcohol abuse or depressions, it may simply be challenges in making daily life work. People tend to want balance in life – with room for work, family, friends, hobbies, etc., etc. Working in a high-stakes project may itself be a threat to a balanced life. By knowing your people you can help them find the necessary balance that will also improve their performance at work. Flexible work-hours, part-time telecommuting and close follow-up with real feedback to every member on your team can help.

We consider human factors and the effect of the work environment as well as external performance shaping factors for operators. We should also strive for people to perform at their best when their work is to design the very systems used by the operators after commissioning.

One thought on “Are you aware of the effect of work life balance issues on the quality of your team’s work?

  1. Top of the iceberg: politicians’ private email accounts and shadow IT – safecontrols

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