By Daniel A. Raymond Jr., CPT

We often take great pride in coming up with solutions to human performance problems. It is sort of like standing on the bank of a river and rescuing people who have fallen into the river. Would it not be smarter to walk upstream and figure out how to prevent people from ending up in the river in the first place? The use of the Preventing Problems Analysis (PPA) technique is one of the most cost-effective tools available to human performance tecnology (HPT) professionals. PPA uses a systematic approach to increasing the successful achievement of planned personal and professional objectives.

This powerful process is relatively simple:

  1. Write an objective that is important to achieve.
  2. Identify what factors (obstacles) would be likely to interfere with achieving that objective if you did not intervene in advance.
  3. Select and prioritize actions to be taken that would eliminate each obstacle or decrease the likelihood of it occurring.
  4. Prepare a plan to implement each of the actions.

People who successfully use this technique accomplish more of their objectives. This ability to head off problems before they occur is a highly valued skill.  It is like having X-ray vision.

The PPA process is based on Dr. Robert F. Mager’s and Peter Pipe’s diagnostic performance analysis process. In a proactive manner, the process identifies potential problem causes due to a lack of skill or knowledge, lack of motivation, and other potential obstacles (resources, policy, information, communication, equipment, lack of authority, unclear expectations, etc.).

Nearly 1,900 people died in Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. Many residents did not heed warnings to evacuate, putting a severe strain on rescue operations. Government officials learned from the tragedy and implemented better communications and evacuation policies, but how many lives could have been saved if they had conducted a analysis of the objective–“City officials successfully evacuate residents and visitors from New Orleans prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina.”

If the officials had, they would have discovered important factors such as:

Potential Factors: EXAMPLE:
Lack of skill or knowledge about
  • the strength and location of the hurricane
  • how to evacuate (routes, transportation, etc.)
  • what to take and what to do with pets
  • what could happen if they stay
Lack of motivation in that Desired performance may be perceived as punishing:

  • leave house, pets, and friends
  • possible looters
  • leave food, water, and all possessions

Non-performance may be perceived as rewarding:

  • stay home with food, water, and shelter
  • guard their property
  • stay with pets

Performance does not matter one way or the other:

  • perception that nothing will happen if they do or do not evacuate
Other potential obstacles
  • lack of sufficient transportation for 100K+ people
  • family members who cannot travel
  • no food, water, or medical treatment at evacuation centers

With this information, officials could have identified actions to be taken that would have eliminated or decreased the likelihood of these obstacles occurring.

DanRaymondDaniel A. Raymond Jr., CPT, is president of a performance-improvement consulting firm. He has successfully applied the Preventing Problems Analysis process for over 20 years as part of project planning and consulting with corporations, government and community agencies, churches, and nonprofit businesses.

Dan is presenting in the workshop “Building Better Job Aids” at THE Performance Improvement Conference 2013.

To learn more about this and other educational sessions at THE Performance Improvement Conference 2013 in Reno, NV, April 14-17, please go to Register today at!