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Performance criteria? Are we designing for mankind?

What could be the Human Factors performance criteria?

Note: Re-edit (Human Factors in Engineering, Article #38, written in March 31, 2006)

Performance” is the magic answer offered by university students to questions like “What is the purpose of this course, of this method, of this technique, or of this design?”

Performance is what summarizes all the conscious learning in the knowledge bag, for lack of meaningful full sentences available in the language to express clear purposes.

It takes a couple of months to wean the students from the catch word “performance” and encourage them to try thinking harder for specificity.

There is a hierarchy for this abstract notion of “performance”.

The next level of abstraction is to answer: “What kind of performance?“.

The third level should answer: “How these various performances criteria correlate?  Can we sort them out between basic performances and redundant performance criteria?”.

The fourth level is: “How much for each basic performance criterionCan we measure them accurately and objectively?”

It seems that every discipline has created for itself a set of performance criteria and they are coined in stone, so that an insertion of another element into that set, is like a paradigm shift in its field of science.

If you prompt a business or engineering university student to expand on the meaning of “performance”, when supported by a specific example, it might dawn on him to spell out another piece of jewels such as: “max profit”, “minimize cost”, “improve quality”, “increase production”, “save time”, or “increase market share”.

In order to reach a finer level of specificity we need to define functionally.

For example, what “max profit” means?  A string of monosyllables rains from everywhere such as: “increase price”, “cut expenditure”, “sell more”, and again “improve quality”, “save time”, or “increase market share”. 

If we agree that profit is a function of market share, price, expenditure, added values of products, and marketing services then we can understand what could be the basic criteria and which criteria dependent on the basic ones.

How can a business improve performance?

How can it make profit or cut costs? 

Should the firm layoff redundant employees, force early retirement, dip in insurance funds, contract out product parts and administrative processes, eliminate training programs, scrap off the library or continuing learning facilities,…

Or streamline the design process, reduce advertising money, abridge break times in duration or frequency, cut overhead expenses such as control lighting and comfort of the working environment, stop investing in new facilities…

Or firing skilled workers, settling consumer plaintiffs out of court, searching for tax loopholes, or engineering financial statements?

How can a business increase its market share? How can it survive competitors and continually flourish?

How can a firm improve products for the quality minded engineers?

Should it invest on the latest technological advancements in equipment, machines, and application software, or should it select the best mind among the graduates…

Or should it establish a continuing education program with adequate learning facilities, or should it encourage its engineers to experiment and submit research papers, or should it invest on market research to know the characteristics of its customers…

Or should it built in safety in the design process, or perform an extensive analysis of the foreseeable misuses of its products or services, the type of errors generated in the functioning and operation of its products and their corresponding risks on health of the users, or manage properly employees’ turnover…

Or care about the safety and health of its skilled and dedicated workers, or ordering management to closely monitor the safety and health standards applied in the company?

At the first session of my course “Human factors in engineering” I ask my class:  “What is the purpose of an engineer?

The unanimous answer is: “performance”.

What are the criteria for an engineer?  The loud and emphatic answer is: “performance”!

At the first session of my class I repeat several times that the purpose of the engineering discipline is to design practical products or systems that man needs and wants, that human factors engineers are trained to consider first the health and safety of end users, the customers, the operators, and the workers when designing interfaces for products or systems.

At the first session I tell my class that the body of knowledge of human factors is about finding practical design guidelines based on the capabilities and limitations of end users, body and mind, with the following performance criteria:

To eliminate errors, to foresee unsafe misuses, to foresee near-accidents, to design in safety operations, to consider the health problems in the product and its operation, to study the safety and health conditions in the workplace and the organizational procedures…

And to improve working conditions physically, socially, and psychologically, and to be aware of the latest consumer liability legal doctrines.

A month later, I am confronted with the same cycle of questions and answers, mainly: “What is the purpose of an engineer?”  The unanimous answer is: “performance”.  What are the criteria for a human factors engineer?  The loud and emphatic answer is: “performance”!

A few students remember part of the long list of human factors performance criteria, but the end users are still hard to recognize them in their conscious knowledge.

A few students retained the concept of designing practical interfaces or what an interface could be but the pictures of end users are still blurred.

I have to emphasize frequently that the end users could be their engineering colleagues, their family members, and themselves.

I have to remind them that any product, service, or system design is ultimately designed for people to use, operate, and enjoy the benefit of its utility.

Human factors performance criteria are all the above and the design of products or services should alleviating the repetitive musculo-skeletal disorders by reducing efforts, vibration…

And proper handling of tools and equipment, designing for proper postures, minimizing static positions, and especially to keep in mind that any testing and evaluation study should factor in the condition that a worker or an employee is operating 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and for many years.

I tell them that any profit or cost cutting is ultimately at the expense of workers/employees, their financial stability, safety standards, comfort, and health conditions physically, socially, and psychologically

Whereas any increase in performance should be undertaken as a value added to the safety, comfort, and health of the end users and workers.

Priorities and revised economic models for enterprises (November 29, 2008)

 

Within a month of the Wall Street financial crash, major EU industries (excluding the financial, real estates, and insurance institutions) have laid off over 62, 000 jobs and the USA over 77, 000 jobs.  There is no end in the forthcoming months and the jobless rate has broken all record high.  The communication, auto, computer hardware, retail stores, airline, and chemical companies are the hardest hit so far. As the jobless rate increases then society would drift into unstable climate of insecurity in individual health and safety and retention of their properties. Without a climate of security no influx of investment can repair the long-term malaise in the slow moving society to recovery. It is a definite pattern that in any downturn the workers, elderly and new employees, are the first to be laid off.  As if it is the manpower that was the culprit and not the management.  Consequently, a revised understanding of what constitute the worst case impact on a society should be evaluated.

Economical models for the productivity of enterprises need to be revised to include the sustainability of enterprises under fluctuating and cyclical financial crisis.  The working capital should be able to remain intact for the demand cycle and the value added in manpower quality of the main industry units unaffected by the flux of capitals.  Consequently, I suggest tackling two fundamental concepts.

First, the working capital should be managed differently from the general acceptable accounting procedures to resist fluctuation in central rate and money devaluation.  It is very reasonable that the retirement funds of the manpower and the stocks purchased in the company by the manpower be within the working capital management.  The manpower should then feel highly active to evaluating and discussing how the working capital is allocated and invested. 

Second, we need to start a new field for defining added-values and how to measure it concretely instead of rationalizing it as a proxy ratio.  Added values should be measured accurately because it is intrinsically related to the quality of manpower. Added-value is what makes an industry viable economically to the workers, stakeholders, and society in general.  It would not be a piece of cake to operation value-adding parameters; otherwise I would not be suggesting a new economic field for the characterization of what we mean by value-adding economy. Every industry would have to define its value adding element such as in the service industry, hardware products, software products, chemical, car, heavy duty machineries, tourism industry, commercial banking, and financial investment banking, and so on.  Every industry has it proper cyclical market demands and its competitors, localized or multinational, dependent or not on cyclical supplies of raw materials or manpower. 

I am afraid that the first criterion that would jump to mind is for the concept of value-added economy to be represented in monetary terms, which is not the proper criterion.  Value-added economy is the investment in the manpower; for example, programs in continuing education, acquiring new skills, versatility and flexibility to fill vacancies, knowledge of the competition, the products, the tools, and the equipments.  Value-added economy is raising the quality of the manpower so that a large company would aid in subsidizing private complementary companies, from among its qualified personnel, when the tough gets going. Value-added economy is elevating the knowledge of the personnel and assisting them to find new jobs during harsh downturns.  The only monetary value or ratio associated with added value would be the expense (value added capital) invested for manpower quality relative to working capital (VAC/ WC) for raising the quality and professionalism of the manpower.  When this ratio diminishes then a company has gotten lax and is turning away from the new fundamentals.  Obviously, an independent team should be hired to prepare, control, manage, and evaluate the effective progress in manpower quality at all levels of skills. 

Quantifying the quality of workers and employees is the main task in measuring value-added industries; it is feasible and its time has finally come and it should be the optimizing factor in equations instead of rates in profit, shareholders equity, return on capital and so forth. Inevitably most of the variables used in current optimizing model of financial and economic problems would still be effective, many with significant re-definitions, but when the re-orientation is based on the added value of manpower then a new picture would emerge and standard financial analysis re-discovered. 

The quality level of the manpower can be defined as the potential added value (PAV) in time of crisis and the working added value (WAV) in normal business cycles. WAV is the criterion that stocks in the market are valuated in addition to other financial criteria; PAV would have critical significance in times of hardships, especially, if the company recorded the events when this potential was managed and directed in previous situations to overcome serious market or natural conditions. As armies conduct maneuvers to test the readiness of its effective so companies have the duty to conduct maneuvering re-organizations of potentials to test and evaluate its field readiness and re-evaluate its programs for value adding quality in manpower.  I think that the more credible and frequent the organizational maneuverings the higher the market value of the company.  The more frequent the maneuverings the more evident would be the needs for downsizing and decentralizing and retaining coherent and manageable number in work force.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

February 2021
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