9.1. Supporting Development and Maintenance of Alternative Working Methods

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The card supports the development and the maintenance of Alternative Working Methods (AWMs) in case of system failure. System failures are situations in which an essential component to ensure continuity in the service offered by the organization is either lost or functioning in a degraded mode and there is no backup, emergency or contingency solution available by design. Applying an AWM means performing one or more activities within the organizations in a way which is remarkably different from what described in existing procedures or practices, in order to bypass the constrain created by the system failure. It may imply following different steps in the way to perform the activity, using different tools or cooperating with different people (or all of the above) with respect to what is normally done without the system failure.


Implementation

Introduction

What is needed to manage Alternative Working Methods (AWMs)

  1. Identify major system failure scenarios affecting the critical infrastructure capability managed by the organization to ensure continuity of its service
  2. Define AWMs to ensure business continuity in the event of system failure:
    2.1 Revise existing working methods;
    2.2 Consider the applicability of older working method;
    2.3 Propose new AWMs.
  3. Disseminate the information on the AWMs inside the organization and/or organize training activities to ensure mastery of them by the personnel of the organization.

The triggering questions provided for the before/during/after phases are intended to guide the different actions suggested by the card through self-assessment. The questions should be selected in a flexible way depending of priorities within the organisation. Once a question is considered relevant, the response to it should always come with a rationale. Simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers will not suffice.


Before a crisis

1. Organize a Focus Group with representatives of the managerial levels and front-end operators to address the topic of AWMs.

2. Identify major system failure scenarios affecting the critical infrastructure capability managed by the organization to ensure continuity of its service:

  • Focus on major system failures such as loss of essential functions or degraded modes of operations with a potential of jeopardizing the business continuity of the organization and the safety of people inside or outside the organization (normal maintenance operations or activation of backup systems in ordinary scenarios to be considered out of scope);
  • Consider the analyses made through the CC Noticing brittleness (if available);
  • Involve experts of specific system failures as appropriate to receive specific advisory.

3. Define alternative working methods to ensure business continuity in the event of system failure, while maintaining the safety of people inside and outside the organization:

  • Revise existing AWMs;
  • Consider the applicability of older working methods;
  • Propose new AWMs;
  • Consider the analyses made through the CC Manage available resources (if available);
  • Consider the analyses made through the CC Adapting plans and procedures during crises (if available)
  • Select on or more alternative AWMs for each of the identified system failure.

4. Assign to a person or role in the organization the responsibility to approve the adoption of the AWM in case one of the considered system failures will occur.

5. Write a report describing the defined (or revised) AWMs.

6. Organize awareness campaign to disseminate the description of the defined working methods to the relevant personnel and/or arrange training activities focussed on the same contents (training activities should be preferred in case the adoption of the AWM is not straightforward for personnel who never applied it and if allowed by budget constraints).

7. Inform other organizations that may be impacted by the application of the AWMs, as appropriate.

Triggering questions

Identification of System Failures
  • What kind of system failure has the potential to compromise the continuity of the service offered by our organization?
  • Can we think of an unprecedented system failure with the potential to compromise the continuity of the service offered by our organization?
  • Can we think of a system failure for which there is no straightforward backup, emergency or contingency procedure identified by design?
  • For which kind of system failure the identification of an AWM represents a priority for our organization?

Review of Existing AWMs

  • Is our personnel aware of the AWMs we identified for specific system failures
  • Did we verify if the AWMs we identified for specific system failures are still applicable and fit for the purpose? Did the last check occur too long ago?
  • Did we check if the tools necessary to support the identified AWMs are still usable?
  • Did we check if the tools necessary to support the identified AWMs are still accessible to the personnel?
  • Are the skills and competences of our personnel adequate to apply the AWMs if needed?

Consideration of Older Working Methods

  • Can we revert to ‘old school methods’ that existed before the system affected by the failure was available in the organization?
  • Would the older working methods be capable of managing the complexity of the process that we previously supported with the system affected by the failure?
  • What is the level of obsolescence of the tools used as part of older working methods?
  • Do we maintain the tools formerly used in older working methods in a way that would allow us to reuse them in case of system failure?
  • Can we make adaptations to the tools used as part of older working methods to compensate for their obsolescence?
  • Are we periodically refreshing the skills and competences that would be needed by the personnel to reuse the older working methods?
  • Does the cost to rebuild skill and competences to reuse older working methods exceeds the expected benefits?

Definition of New AWMs

  • What kind of physical redundancy we may use to compensate for the system failure?
  • What kind of functional redundancy we may use to compensate for the system failure?
  • What kind of human backup we may use to compensate for the system failure?
  • Can we provisionally use a tool to compensate for the system failure in a way different from what originally intended in its design?

Limitations of Selected AWMs

  • Is the AWM we have identified expected to reduce the level of safety of operations until the system failure is not repaired?
  • Does the AWM we have identified rely on the same infrastructure that has caused the failure of the main system?
  • Does the AWM we have identified rely on resources of other organizations on which we do not have full control?
  • Is the AWM we have identified at risk of causing undesired side effects on other organizations with whom we collaborate?

Dissemination and training on AWMs

  • Did we inform properly all the relevant personnel in our organization regarding the identified AWMs?
  • Do we need to organize a dissemination campaign in order to make sure the relevant personnel in the organization is aware of the identified AWMs?
  • Do we need to inform the point of contacts of other organizations of the AWMs we have identified?
  • Do we need to develop training modules to make sure the relevant personnel in our organization have the necessary competences and skills to master the identified AWMs?

During a crisis

1. As soon as a system failure occurs, check whether the failure corresponds to one of the typologies for which an AWM was identified and start the process for applying it.

  • Ask approval for the application of the AWM to the person or role to whom this responsibility was assigned
  • Adopt measures to inform about the application of the AWM all the personnel whose activity might be impacted by the alternative methods
  • Check whether the alternative working method requires on-the-fly adaptations
  • As soon as permitted and at regular time intervals, verify whether the system failure has been recovered and if the adoption of the AWM can be suspended


2. If no AWM was previously identified for the ongoing system failure, establish a task force to identify an AWM aimed at ensuring business continuity and safety, until the system failure has not been repaired. The task force should:

  • Consider the applicability of older working methods
  • Propose new AWMs
  • Consider the analyses made through the CC Manage available resources (if available and allowed by time constraints).
  • Select one or more AWMs to operate until the system failure has not been repaired.

3. Disseminate the information on the AWMs being selected inside the organization, making sure that the relevant personnel is informed as appropriate

4. Make sure that the personnel required to use the AWMs have sufficient mastery of them, also by organizing ad-hoc training activities, if allowed by time constraints.


5. Inform other organizations that may be impacted by the application of the AWMs, as appropriate.


6. Inform the relevant personnel in the organization (and the point of contacts in other organizations, if involved) when the failure requiring the AWM has been repaired and it is possible to revert to the normal working method.

Triggering questions

Identification of System Failures
  • Are we experiencing a system failure that could be managed with one of the AWMs we have previously identified?

Review of Existing AWMs

  • Based on the information we have, is the AWM previously identified for this type of failure fit to manage the situation?
  • Does the available personnel possess the necessary competence and skills to apply the identified AWM?

Consideration of Older Working Methods

  • If no specific AWM was previously identified to address the ongoing system failure, can we revert to an older working method in order to manage the situation until the failure is not repaired?
  • Does the available personnel possess the necessary competence and skills to apply the older working method?

Definition of New AWMs

  • If no specific AWM was previously identified, what kind of physical redundancy we may use to compensate for the system failure?
  • If no specific AWM was previously identified, what kind of functional redundancy we may use to compensate for the system failure?
  • If no specific AWM was previously identified, what kind of human backup we may use to compensate for the system failure?
  • Can we provisionally use a tool to compensate for the system failure in a way different from what originally intended in its design?

Limitations of Selected AWMs

  • Do we expect that the use of the identified AWM will maintain operations at an acceptable level of safety?
  • If the application of the identified AWM relies on resources from a different organization, are these resources currently available?
  • Do we expect that the use of the identified AWM will cause undesired side effects in other organizations?

Dissemination and training on AWMs

  • If a decision was made to use an AWM, did we inform all the relevant personnel in our organization?
  • If the identified AWM is expected to have side effects on the work of other organizations, did we coordinate properly with the points of contact of these organizations?
  • If not all the personnel at hand is adequately trained to use the identified AWM, can we organize ad hoc training sessions to manage the situation until the system failure is not repaired?

After a crisis

1. Organize a Focus Group with representatives of the managerial levels and front-end operators to analyse the use of AWMs adopted during the crisis (if any). The Focus Group should:

  • Assess to what extent the AWMs were successful in maintaining business continuity and safe conditions until the system failure was not repaired
  • Check whether the skill and competences of the personnel were adequate to apply the AWM
  • Check whether the AWM caused undesired side effects in other organizations cooperating in the management of the crisis (If available, the analyses made through the CC Adapting plans and procedures during crises may also be used as input).

2. Consider whether any AWM emerged during the crisis (and previously unknown) proved to be successful in managing the crisis, to an extent that makes it a potential candidate for similar cases of system failure in future.

3. Propose new AWMs to manage the system failure that occurred during the crisis or other potential system failures identified during the post-hoc analysis of the occurred crisis.

  • Select or revised one or more alternative AWMs for each of the system failure identified

4. Assign to a person or role in the organization the responsibility to approve the adoption of the AWM in case one of the considered system failures will occur

5. Write a report describing the defined (or revised) AWMs

6. Organize an awareness campaign to disseminate the description of the defined working methods to the relevant personnel and/or arrange training activities focussed on the same contents (training activities should be preferred in case the adoption of the AWM is not straightforward for personnel who never applied it and if allowed by budget constraints) .

7. Inform other organizations that may be impacted by the application of the AWMs, as appropriate.

Triggering questions

Identification of System Failures
  • During the development of the crisis, did we experience a system failure that compromised the continuity of the service offered by our organization?
  • During the development of the crisis, did we experience a system failure for which there was no straightforward backup, emergency or contingency solution available by design?

Analysis of Emerging AWMs

  • During the development of the crisis, did we observe any recovery action that we consider a valid reference to define a new AWM in case of system failure?
  • Does the comparison between work-as-done and work-as-imagined during the crisis suggest that a new AWM would be required to manage a given system failure?
  • During the development of the crisis, did we observe any successful informal practice that would deserve being converted into an official procedure?

Review of Existing AWMs

  • Did we experience situations in which an AWM was used but came out not to be applicable or fit for the purpose?
  • Did we experience situations in which there was an attempt to use an AWM, but the necessary tools were not properly maintained?
  • Did we experience situations in which there was an attempt to use an AWM, but the necessary tools were not accessible to the personnel?
  • Did we experience situations in which an AWM was not used because the relevant personnel did not have the necessary skills and competences?

Consideration of Older Working Methods

  • Did we experience situations in which the adoption of an older working method resulted inadequate to manage the complexity of the process managed with the ordinary working method?

Limitations of Selected AWMs

  • Did we experience situations in which the use of an AWM degraded the safety of operations to a level considered unacceptable?
  • Did we experience situations in which the use of an AWM was not successful, because its functioning relied on the same infrastructure causing the failure of the main system?
  • Did we experience situations in which the use of an AWM was not successful, because its functioning relied on the resources of another organization that came out not to be available?
  • Did we experience situations in which the use of an AWM caused undesired side effects in other organizations?

Dissemination and training on AWMs

  • Did we experience situations in which an AWM was not used because the personnel was not informed of it?
  • Did the crisis reveal that a dissemination campaign concerning an identified AWM was not adequate to the purpose?
  • Did we experience situations in which the use of an AWM was not successful, because the point of contacts of other organizations were not informed of it?
  • Did we experience situations in which the use of an AWM was not successful, because the training modules focusing on it were inadequate to prepare the personnel of our organization?



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Understanding the context

Detailed objectives

The card supports the development and the maintenance of Alternative Working Methods (AWMs) in case of system failure. System failures are situations in which an essential component to ensure continuity in the service offered by the organization is either lost or functioning in a degraded mode and there is no backup, emergency or contingency solution available by design. The ability to adopt alternative AWMs in case of system failure cannot be taken for granted, since crises deriving from major system failures are relatively rare and can take different forms. Therefore, the identification of the AWM appropriate for a specific situation can be quite challenging. First of all, it is important to capitalize on the experience from previous cases of analogous system failures (if any). Then it is important to understand if there is room for reverting to older working methods, but only after a thorough assessment of the applicability in the new context and of the adequacy of the skill and competences of the personnel that is supposed to use it. Finally, the benefits of provisionally adopting the AWM until the failed systems has not be restored should be properly balanced with the negative side effects and potential issues for the safety of people that the use of the AWM might imply. Applying an AWM means performing one or more activities within the organizations in a way that is remarkably different from what described in existing procedures or practices. It may imply following different steps in the way to perform the activity, using different tools or cooperating with different people (or all of the above) with respect to what is normally done without the system failure. AWMs differ from contingency plans and procedures because they indicate solutions that are not included in the design envelop of the organization and can be used only for short periods. Once they are identified or successfully experienced in practice they can be used as input to design new contingency plans and procedures, but only after adequate trials or tests.

Targeted actors

Executive management roles, Management and Operational roles

Expected benefits

Increased capability of the organization to ensure business continuity in the face of system failures for which there is no straightforward backup solution defined by design.

Relation to adaptive capacity

The capability to adopt AWMs in a wise manner during the development of a crisis resulting from a system failure may represent a very effective way for an organization to adapt to new circumstances that are not covered by existing rules and working practices.

Relation to risk management

Illustration

Example of the measures adopted in a European Area Control Centre to recover from a radar loss event lasting more than two hours during the morning shift. (see Save L., Ruscio D., Cedrini, V., Cafiero L., Mancini M., The Organizational Response to Automation Support Degradation. Identifying Air Traffic Control Sources of Resilience in Cases of Radar Loss, in Proceedings of the 6th Humanist Conference, The Hague, Netherlands, 13-14 June 2018).

The real event occurred in 2017. A minor technical failure occurred at an airport and then propagated into unexpected cascading effects to the Area Control Centre (ACC), causing the freezing of radar screens of the Controller Working Positions (CWPs) for more than two hours, during morning operations. During the emergency, the frozen radar screens prevented all the Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) from visualizing the evolution of traffic for more than two hours. Despite the criticality of the situation, the emergency was successfully managed with limited impact on the business continuity of some Regional Airports and no negative effect on the safety of air transportation in the concerned area. Different ‘sources of resilience’ were activated, which included the use of ordinary backup systems (e.g. recruiting of ATCOs on relief during the emergency), of older working methods (e.g. use of paper flight strips) as well as of alternative working methods. For example, the supervisors were helping the ATCOs on duty by taking advantage of a still active and separate controller working position, normally used only for training and simulation purposes. The full recovery to the normal ACC functionality was achieved in less than four hours.

Implementation considerations

Challenges

Implementation cost


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Relevant material

Relevant Practices, Methods and Tools

References

  • Hollnagel, E., & Fujita, Y. (2013). The Fukushima disaster–systemic failures as the lack of resilience. Nuclear Engineering and Technology, 45(1), 13-20.
  • Lundberg, J., & Rankin, A. (2014). Resilience and vulnerability of small flexible crisis response teams: implications for training and preparation. Cognition, technology & work, 16(2), 143-155.
  • Madni, A. M., & Jackson, S. (2009). Towards a conceptual framework for resilience engineering. IEEE Systems Journal, 3(2), 181-191.
  • Rankin, A., Dahlbäck, N., & Lundberg, J. (2013). A case study of factor influencing role improvisation in crisis response teams. Cognition, technology & work, 15(1), 79-93.

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Healthcare references

Examples of Alternative Working Methods in the healthcare domain

  • Fairbanks, R. J., Wears, R. L., Woods, D. D., Hollnagel, E., Plsek, P., & Cook, R. I. (2014). Resilience and resilience engineering in health care. Joint Commission journal on quality and patient safety, 40(8), 376-383.

ATM logo

Air Traffic Management references

Examples of Alternative Working Methods in the aviation domain

  • Save, L., Ruscio, D., Cedrini, V., Cafiero, L., & Mancini, M. The Organizational Response to Automation Support Degradation. Identifying Air Traffic Control Sources of Resilience in Cases of Radar Loss.

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