Bad Weather is Part of the Transportation System

Posted on January 6, 2014  Comments (4)

The job of managers is to create a robust system that delivers value to customers. A system that fails constantly (fails during the continual variation the system faces) is a failed system. Bad weather is part of the variation airlines face. Any management system has to cope with the variation that it faces. The management system must be designed and managed so that the organization successfully delivers value to customers under the conditions the organization will face.

The air travel system in the USA is a disgrace for so many reasons it is hard to catalogue them all. One, of many, is how fragile the system is; causing massive (nation-wide) customer harm multiple times a year due to weather. Weather is sometimes bad. If your organization fails when there is bad weather, fix that problem (make your system robust in the face of bad weather), because you are not going to be able to fix the weather to let your un-robust system be effective as it is.

Instead airlines only response seems to be to get their friends in government to approve anti-competitive mergers to eliminate competition and allow failed organizations to become even larger and harm even more people. Airlines should design robust systems that work in the environment they will face (which they don’t do now).

Their planes don’t fall out the sky when they face bad weather. The engineers behind designing planes have made them very robust. Pilots have been trained to handle variation they will face. And yes, the system has been designed with adjustments to avoid flying into conditions that are risky.

The safety of the air transportation system is very good. The management of airlines in most every other aspect is pitiful, and has been for decades.

The managers running the airlines have done amazingly bad job of creating robust organizations capable of delivering given the variation they know they will face (weather, mechanical problems, IT problems, etc.) for decades. Poor management is the cause of these failures that result in harm to customers. Weather is not the cause. Poor management, over decades, resulting in incredible fragile systems that constantly punish customers is the responsibility of the airlines. And they have done an incredibly bad job at creating a robust system to deliver value to customers.


This post was prompted by Mark Graban’s post about failures at American Airlines: “instead of just saying ‘we’re doing all we can,’ that they actually do a little more to explain exactly what that is through a blog post or an email to customers.” While it is true that should be done, it is much too little. They need to manage the air travel system and their companies so they perform during the variation that will present.

We all know there is going to be bad weather (and increasingly more bad weather due to climate change). You can’t design a system that fails to perform based on the variation they system is going to face and then blame the failure of your system on the variation. Designing a system that can’t cope with the variation that will be experienced is a failure to manage.

Related: Southwest Not Delta or UnitedAirline Managers Disrespect CustomersUnited Breaks GuitarsCustomers Are Often IrrationalEuropean Blackout: Human Error-NotCEO Flight AttendantTrust Your Staff to Make Decisions

4 Responses to “Bad Weather is Part of the Transportation System”

  1. Jared
    January 15th, 2014 @ 11:47 am

    “Their planes don’t fall out the sky when they face bad weather. The engineers behind designing planes have made them very robust. Pilots have been trained to handle variation they will face. And yes, the system has been designed with adjustments to avoid flying into conditions that are risky.”

    Not quite. See an example of an airplane that fell out of the sky and killed 228 people because of unanticipated bad weather in addition to engineering & pilot errors.

  2. Peter Cook
    January 21st, 2014 @ 11:36 pm

    Compared with the airlines’ management, their planes are well-designed and engineered and more likely to capable of facing bad weather. I think this is the meaning of the quoted paragraph.

  3. A Good Management System is Robust and Continually Improving » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
    May 22nd, 2014 @ 4:32 am

    An organization succeeds because of the efforts of many great people. But the management system has to be created for an organization to prosper as what we all know will happen, happens: people will leave and need to be replaced…

  4. Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple » Curious Cat Management Blog
    June 5th, 2014 @ 5:39 am

    “As a consumer it is annoying enough to cope with the failures companies force me through due to bad management systems that don’t mistake proof processes.
    Companies creating extra opportunities to foist mistakes onto customers is really something we shouldn’t have to put up with.”

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