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August 2005 Contents

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UPA Supports Maintaining Human Engineering Standard

by Baruch Sachs
Lead Human Factors Engineer
General Dynamics C4 Systems

Six months ago, I approached the UPA with a request for sponsorship so that I could join the Department of Defense’s Human Factors Engineering Technical Advisory Group (DoD HFE TAG). The UPA graciously offered its sponsorship and I plan on periodically reporting the group activities in the UPA Voice.

Meetings of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) are held twice a year, but outside of the meetings, one of our main activities is keeping an eye on events that impact the field of Human Factors Engineering. Before I detail our most recent activity, I wanted to share a little bit of background on the TAG for those of you scratching your heads over what this group is about.

What is the DoD HFE TAG?

The DoD HFE TAG was founded in 1976 for the purpose of coordinating and communicating research and development at the working level among the military services and other Government agencies involved in Human Factors Engineering.

Within the TAG, there are multiple sub-TAGs. One of these is the Technical Society/Industry Sub-TAG (TS/I TAG). The TS/I TAG's purpose is to address HFE issues of a general or continuing nature where the DoD can utilize the background and insights of technical societies and industry groups with HFE interests.

All the members of the TS/I sub-TAG represent a different society but are employed by industry. At meetings, we take off our company “hats” and attend purely as Human Factors professionals from different technical societies. That way we can ensure there is no marketing or competition and we can focus altruistically on helping solve problems for the military user in the field.

All members bring their industry and society's knowledge base to the table then report back to our respective society’s on the findings and unique solutions that precipitate from the TAG. Societies are used to represent knowledge in this Sub-TAG to create connections between seemingly obscure solutions in a particular facet of HFE that one society might know about that might be adaptable to another society or the DoD.

What’s Happening?

An announcement was made at the most recent meeting held May 23-26, 2005 that the DoD will no longer support the maintenance and technical upgrades to MIL-STD-1472, Human Engineering.

MIL-STD 1472 is considered one of the most comprehensive standards document for Human Factors. If you ever work on a US Government or Military contract, chances are you will need to look at MIL-STD 1472 for guidance.

Unfortunately, MIL-STD 1472 has not had a comprehensive update since 1989 and was last updated in 1999. Needless to say, the standard has not kept up with the latest Human Factors research and has forced those of us who work on Government contracts to look elsewhere for guidance, especially in the area of software usability. This is a huge disservice to those working in the Human Factors field and to our users.

As the UPA representative member of the TAG, I was sent a letter of petition asking for my, and the UPA’s support in asking the DoD to reconsider their decision.

Why Should We Care?

In addition to being a design “bible” of sorts for government contractors, a majority of commercial Human Factors and Usability standards have borrowed a lot of their information from MIL-STD 1472.

Standards give very specific details about all varieties of design and give insight into the best practices of an item or process. MIL-STD 1472 provides Human Factors practitioners with a baseline from which we can further our research and feed our findings back into the standard, continually improving the baseline for established colleagues and assisting those new to the field. MIL-STD 1472 is an important teaching tool that goes a long way to ensuring a consistent, positive user experience.

With the decision of the DoD to stop funding this MIL-STD, the baseline knowledge becomes fractured and inconsistent. This inconsistency seeps into the products we design and flows down to the user. The use of MIL-STD-1472 as a benchmark of HFE requirements ensures consistency and compatibility across systems; without it, ensuring the same consistency and compatibilities of systems potentially built to different standards will be time consuming and expensive. These issues are similar to the ones we face with emerging technologies without standardization but are still expected to help integrate into products for human use.

In addition to the time increases, the impact of the DoD’s decision will most likely generate cost increases as well. The costs will be far beyond what it would cost the DoD to maintain MIL-STD-1472 properly. Why? Without MIL-STD-1472 government agencies and contractors will have to invest money on a program-by-program basis to determine which standard to apply and/or what data/findings to use to update the standard of their choosing. Every dollar not spent upfront on the maintenance of MIL-STD-1472 has the potential to significantly increase the cost of future programs. These programs are funded by the taxpayer’s money and thus are an issue that affects everyone, not just Human Factors professionals in the government-contracting field.

As of this writing, all members of the DoD HFE TAG signed the Letter of Petition and sent the letter to the Director of the Defense Standardization Program Office. I plan on keeping you all apprised of any developments in this area in future UPA Voice articles.

To see the full text of the Letter of Petition:

For more information on the DOD HFE TAG:

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