Dealing with Complexity in the Marine Industry

The world we live in is  more complex than that of 40 years ago.  Technology, globalisation, instantaneous communications and 24 hour media have all added to complexity. 

In the marine industry the causes are many and covered in more detail in the linked pages and the complexity booklet. (links below)   To some degree the increase in complexity has come as unintended consequence of the battle against oil pollution.  This can be traced back to the failures of the flag state system in the 70's and 80's and the need to replace or supplement the system with vetting and port state.  Adding ISPS and a raft of environmental issues means that those aboard ship have difficulty coping with the workload and in making decisions in keeping with the often conflicting goals.  The result of this is increased risk of incidents and reduced profitability.

Complexity in vetting and assurance organisations can result in high workload, high opportunity cost and increasing risk as process conflicts render the system  more difficult to manage.  

Complexity has many drivers as shown in the figure below.   There is a tendency to see complexity as something created by others but the easiest and quickest source of complexity to fix is the one nearest to you.  

There is no turning the clock back to a totally simple world as a level of 'sophistication' is required to manage today.  The oversimplified company will generally be as unsuccessful as the over complex.  A balance of sophistication and a maturity to deal with the world as it is is what is required.   In a complex world the unexpected happens and for this reason front line ships staff are critical.  They need to have the technical and non-technical skills to deal with the unexpected and the confidence in themselves and their management to know they will be supported in doing the right things.  They need resilience.

A resilient front line is not the only answer as complexity grows exponentially.   The figure below shows there is a need for strategy that expands technical and non technical skills while reducing complexity. 

Strategy for dealing with complexity

The efforts by IMO, the Danish Maritime Authority and others to reduce workload is a good beginning to action on the subject but does not deal with issues such as the many actors involved and the variety of linkages, conflicts of goals and in some cases perverse incentives.  Organisation such as the UK MCA's Human Element Advisory Group (HEAG)  are considering the issue.  Link to HEAG meeting minutes HEAG 18 Minutes

MOAMS will continue to research and raise the profile of complexity

martin shaw,
17 Sept 2014, 03:48
martin shaw,
10 Dec 2013, 02:51