Water woes, trouble, and training

My side trip yesterday, griping about the less-than-helpful response to a local water problem, has blossomed into a case study. From today’s Washington Post (Montgomery’s Alert System Stayed Silent):

  • “…The two employees who know how to operate [the county’s e-mail ’emergency alert’ system] were out of town…”
  • “…A third employee who was supposed to run it said that he had never been trained…”
  • “…A fourth employee who was found eight hours later knew how to operate it but failed to send out any alerts.”
  • “The e-mail system is the county’s primary method for contacting residents in emergencies without relying on radio or television.”

According to the county’s homeland security director, “The system worked. We failed.” He also said, according to the Post, that no employees would be disciplined but that “he would look into training issues.”

I’m not sure what “worked” — the fact that they noticed a 48-inch water main had broken?

I don’t want to pile on here. It’s more that “training” in this context is a hidden discrimination — a sort of cognitive clown car with its doors shut. We each look at it and associate it with our own particular experience of cars, not necessarily another person’s experience and not necessarily what’s in this particular car.

My hunch is that under the “training” label, you’ll find lots of things: paper-based systems rather than automatic ones, an e-mail distribution list that doesn’t include outside addresses for the sender (so he’ll know people got the alert), competing expectations, dosages of “training” given about as often as tetanus shots…

So here’s a one-page guide to performance problem analysis, just in case the cause of the problem is not restricted to a lack of skill or knowledge. (Click for full size.)

Quick guide to analyzing performance problems

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2 thoughts on “Water woes, trouble, and training

  1. Harold: thank you — I felt the strong urge to tinker with some graphics package and improve it, but a stronger urge to at least get it out.

    You’ll recognize what this owes to people like Gilbert, Rummler, and Brethower. And you could build a nice case study by creating situation-specific answers to the questions. Like:

    1. Does an alert come to the email-alerter? How? Can the alerter find the water-leak alert, or is it buried in the day’s batch of routine email?

    2. Maybe we don’t have sufficient staff…

    6. Maybe we have steps we don’t need… or steps that don’t work…

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