Operations – Villain or Victim?

Down town Lac-Mégantic

On the evening of July 5, 2013, at about 10:50 p.m., a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) train arrived at Nantes, Quebec, carrying 7.7 million litres of petroleum crude oil in 72 Class 111 tank cars. Originating in New Town, North Dakota, these were bound for Saint John, New Brunswick. All of the 63 derailed tank cars were damaged, and many had large breaches. About six million litres of petroleum crude oil was quickly released. The fire began almost immediately, and the ensuing blaze and explosions left 47 people dead. Another 2000 people were forced from their homes, and much of the downtown core was destroyed. http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/rail/2013/r13d0054/r13d0054-r-es.asp  Conclusion of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is “The tragedy in Lac-Mégantic was not caused by one single person, action or organization….” You would think, that’s the end of it. Not so. Tom Harding, former engineer and some of his ops colleagues are still in the courts facing a life time prison sentence.

This case adds to the growing sound of legal footsteps reaching further down the operational corridors. When I was going through my training we were taught to imagine a reporter standing next to you and everything you say and do as a trainer will be taken out of context. What our instructor meant was, we won’t get chances, we get tested, like Tom Harding. A powerful lesson that changed the way I look at my job. Data was especially important and no one but a trainer was allowed to touch it. During our four years of study, we were taught the power of training data and how to use as a blueprint to build our tradecraft. That data became our armour. HR has convinced some trainers not all the responsibilities are theirs alone. Like when a learning management system manager/supervisor/administrator shows up claiming to offer a mere data base tool to make your job easier. Once you step through that door, the data is no longer just data. The data becomes a network, transforming everything it touches. Network architecture co-op’s processes, pushing the trainer into a middleman, disintermediated and removed from future transactions. That was the whole point from the beginning. Under this model however, you will not be able to extract yourself, especially in a court of law. (I think it’s time for a new workplace hazardous symbol, process control software hazard). It matters little what you call the data base, learning management system, content management system, human resources information system etc… or under what process, instructional design, assessment etc… expect someone else on the other end to be using it for a completely different purpose.

We have we set the bar so low, one only needs to take a normal step to clear it. When it comes to actually setting standards for the design and development of the system used to convey requirements, we have marginalized ourselves leaving the ops employee to stand alone, to no fault of their own. I see a current flowing with two irreconcilable narratives. One is made up of enterprise business partners (content managers, training specialists, competency managers, curriculum managers, delivery managers, change management advisor, etc…) and the other, our indictable operations employee drowning not waving. The court trials that follow emphasize only one. The prosecution crafts a detailed story about what may have happened, leaving the defense to respond in pieces along the way.

At the heart of the issue is ownership and the duty of operations personnel and all matters of information entrusted to them. If you don’t have control over your training you will violate your standards quicker than you can lower them.  – Fut McGorphy