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 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.
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. This calls for thoroughly understanding how humans behave, to make sure that the system successfully performs its mission, together with the humans using it, and 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.