Last night on the Italian National Geographic channel, I watched a reconstruction of the November 2011 American Airlines flight No. 587, in which 265 people lost their lives. At the time the cause seemed almost natural and unavoidable: The AA’s Airbus got caught by the turbulence that a JAL 747 left behind when taking off just before Flight 587.
I live close to Malpensa Airport, probably Italy’s second largest, after Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci, and one the most important European hubs. The aircraft industry is very important here, its birth going back to the early years of 1900.
At the time of the accident, the local media commented that the most immediate containment action should be a longer time between one take off and the next. However, the reconstruction, which seemed to document the official investigation quite well, pointed out one thing that made me shudder. Although the show’s producer insisted on emphasizing the heartbreaking images, the disaster’s root cause did come up now and again: It was poor training for AA’s pilots, to the extent that, according to the script, Airbus Industries revised its training program and plan for AA’s pilots.
This is one of many good examples of a very bad risk assessment and subsequent analysis for prevention.
Just before watching the dramatic images of Flight 587, I watched a Ferrari Challenge car race held on the Imola racetrack in north-central Italy. The commentator spoke at length about how the drivers knew and used their cars’ electronic tricks to get the best performance they could. But they are alone in their cars, and the spectators are well protected. In the worst case, the drivers can only kill each other, but they are aware of the risks they run, well in advance.
I don’t mean to trivialize the issue, but when was the last time anybody from a car-rental agency helped you understand how to use the evermore-numerous switches in the vehicle you will soon be driving? Improving people’s experience, knowledge, understanding, and training remains a low priority in service and manufacturing. I still see too many cases where people are first told to do, and only afterwards taught how to do it.
I have a particularly low opinion of the automotive industry’s much-loved visual aids. Do I use my eyes to operate the vehicle, or my hands? Can any picture or image, regardless of how well it’s rendered, give me the feel of the “thing?” Do I get any practical knowledge when looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s Gioconda? Would I be able to reconstruct it, even after looking at the painting for years?
It’s true that visual aids are a quick way to pass along—I don’t mean teach—information. They also have the advantage of being understood without having to translate them into different languages. But as for how effective they are—well, that discussion would take much time. Is there such a thing as an effective “learn-o-meter?”
It seems to be a truism in manufacturing that any widget which is used daily by an increasing number of people gets more and more complicated. Just think of the many seniors having to cope with the bewildering proliferation of menus and buttons on TVs and touch-screen phones, not to mention trying to puzzle out medicine leaflets written in specialists jargon. My mom, aged 87, is at risk when using her credit card: Should I take her to school to learn how, provided there is one?
A last point: What about ranking the quality of users’ manuals and instructions? These documents aren’t just a product’s window dressing. They are a basic, critical component and should be subject to the same quality care as the item itself.