Understand the factors influencing decision-making at your plant

June 8, 2022
With effort, you can minimize a future engineer’s hindsight criticism of your own work.

“Everyone should have realized that won’t work the way they wanted,” is a refrain heard all too often. However, engineers are not machines that convert an input (information) into an output (decision) based on purely objective factors. How we make decisions also counts.

Understanding how bad decisions get made can reduce their frequency. The psychology of decision-making, which already is used in safety analysis, provides insights. So, let’s look at some elements to see how they can influence design choices, maintenance criteria, control system design, and other areas. All these elements involve cognitive biases — factors that can affect decisions without us noticing or controlling them.

Anchoring is the process where the first idea or piece of information presented becomes the reference point for comparing all other ideas. Anchoring gives undue weight to the first information you have available. One example is where the initial proposed design choice for equipment becomes the favored option automatically, even if it was simply a throwaway idea mentioned casually.

To learn more, read "Management Advice: Don’t Say 'What Were They Thinking?'" from Chemical Processing.

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