Human Behaviour

Read some more about human behaviour in Booklet#6: Recognizing and Understanding Human Behavior to Improve Systems Engineering Results

Many risks that threaten the success of our projects are caused by human behaviour, or rather ill-understood, or even ignored human behaviour. Things that can go wrong by humans acting in unpredicted ways are caused for example by:

Actually, in these examples, the humans aren't acting unpredictably at all, because it happens again and again in many systems, and in many projects. If we don't learn to recognise and understand why people act like this, projects will continue to be affected by these issues.

Real human behaviour
Based on our cultural, social, and technical background we consciously, or even subconsciously assume people to display a certain behaviour. When humans do not behave like we assume they should, the behaviour seems unpredictable. When behaviour is unpredictable, it is difficult to create proper control functions with humans in the loop. Even if the engineers don't forget to include human behaviour, they may find out that the humans in the system don't behave as expected, with unexpected results.

The engineers who designed and built the baggage handling system of London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 claimed that their system was a huge technical success, and that the failure to get tens of thousands of bags on board of the proper aircraft was caused by "human error". After all, the terminal was delivered on time and on budget, which admittedly was quite an achievement. However, a passenger is not interested in the technical detail of baggage handling in one airport. Normal people aren't interested in the technical details of a terminal.
They only want:
      To check-in their luggage as easily as possible
      To get their luggage back as quickly as possible and in acceptable condition, at their destination

They didn't. Everything in between is irrelevant to that passenger. One of the problems is to determine what the project (or work in general) really is about.

If we can overcome our intuitive tendency to assume how people should behave, and start studying how people actually behave, human behaviour turns out to be much more predictable than we think. Therefore, understanding of real human behaviour, and the incorporation of this behaviour in the loop should be an integral part of Systems Engineering in order to create really successful systems.

The behaviour of people responsible for success
Project Management is responsible for delivering a successful system, however, all other workers in the team also influence, or even determine the success, so they are at least as responsible. The team is also responsible to understand the behaviour of all people involved in the project, and adapt to this behaviour to make sure that things that can go wrong don't go wrong. As part of the work they can reach all these people involved, observe how they actually behave, check what might go wrong, and make sure it doesn't.
Systems Engineers, or developers in general, have an even wider responsibility, being responsible for the success of the system not only during the project, but also after delivery, in operation, maintenance, and disposal. After the project, our system has to deal all on its own, by design, with the behaviour of its users, as the designers aren't available anymore to 'hold hands' of the system. This calls for thoroughly understanding how humans actually behave, to make sure that the system successfully performs its mission, together with the humans using it, as well as other humans being affected by it.

Before understanding the particularities of other people's behaviour, it's good to start with understanding our own behaviour, and from there extrapolate and extend our understanding of all types of behaviour. On the following pages we'll discuss some elements of human behaviour which may pose risks for the successful, and timely delivery of the systems our projects are supposed to produce.