Heathrow Terminal Five seems to have settled down a little and long haul flights are easing their way in. Passengers however are still nervous and planes are full of extra hand baggage ‘just in case’ bags are lost or make their way to an altogether nicer destination than their owners.
Much has been made of the installation of a new luggage handling system and whether enough checks were made by BA or BAA as to whether the technology worked. New technology is a risk for any business but the issue is rarely whether the technology works, it’s whether the people can work with the technology.
Careful to ensure that the launch of any new technology project goes well, organisations often test, retest, stress test and emergency test the hardware and software. What they can sometimes skimp on is briefing, training and validating the competencies of the employees who will be working with the new technology.
An assumption of ‘how hard can it be’ is often a recipe for disaster, underestimating the knowledge and skills required to work a new system. Assuming that no other processes will be affected is easy if you take a helicopter view and don’t ensure that someone has checked the people aspects of a new way of working.
Heathrow Terminal Five didn’t crawl to a standstill because the belts didn’t work, it failed to launch because employees couldn’t make their way to their workstations, people didn’t know who to report to or who their colleagues would be, or what to do if there was a problem.
There are many lessons to be learned, and in some ways the fiasco may help many smaller, less high profile failures, as long as project managers make sure they have designed a robust plan to communicate with employees, engage with them, build their knowledge skills and confidence and ensure their commitment.