TargetReliability is all about hitting targets, consistently. Creating stability around the mean, predicting failures and intervening early if economical.

I’ve talked about why I think reliability is important. How many people in our organization know what the targets are? And how many know what progress is being made?

If reliability is an important tenet of our business (and I think it should be), making sure everyone knows the targets is also important. Targets and tactics should be in full view, tied into our business and individual goals, and repeated often for all to hear. Just because leadership decided on it once doesn’t make it fact. (I was reminded of this recently – just because it’s straight in my head doesn’t directly translate into everyone else’s brain.)

In other words, if you are a Reliability Worker, you probably live in the system. We attend meetings and understand how our work matters. There are only 24 hours in the day and everyone else isn’t in those same meetings, hearing the same message we are. Goals – and the steps to reach them – may be obvious to us, but others haven’t been on the same journey. We need to communicate often, to our teams and those invested in the outcomes.

Two reasons: a consistent message helps with credibility (ours and the target’s), and it becomes easier to remember and thus act upon.

Help us out: how do you communicate, communicate, communicate?

Proactive-Reactive Spectrum

This post is a little lighter.  Occasionally we can argue whether or not a particular action is proactive (because who doesn’t like the sound of that?)

What is proactive? What is reactive? For certain we can say developing a risk assessment to plan work is proactive. A Root Cause Analysis is reactive. But what about the inbetweener items? The extra step taken to make sure every other product isn’t affected in the same way after some bad product ships? When you update your PFMEA with the new control strategy created to avoid the thing that just happened? And if you see a piece of equipment failing though still performing and you intervene before complete functional failure? You could argue these are “proactive activities” though they are instigated by external circumstances. If you want to be really nitpicky…your proactive analysis is often driven by business performance (an external circumstance).

I think it’s a spectrum, similar to the predictive testing on a piece of machinery, or decreasing variation on an already in-spec product. The more proactive, the better, and the less damage or impact a potential failure could have.

But if you’re a purist, and you like dualities, then let’s say anything you instigate is proactive, anything that is triggered by an event is reactive. In any case, failure eradication is a good thing.

(P.S. for anyone keeping track, it’s day 42 of the new streak)

More Than a Recurring Meeting: Habits Involving More Than One Person

I had a comment from a previous post about habit development from a colleague. How to help others develop habits that are not necessarily as internally motivated. This is a tricky, complex thing and I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers.  There are some theories about what works for differently motivated people, and I suggest some ideas below that have helped either myself or those I’ve worked with. There is also the subtlety of whether you seek to motivate peers or direct reports.

In either case, there are a few preconditions that should exist before any attempts to create a “habit” with others.  It certainly helps to have leadership alignment. If everyone’s boss also sees the value in the work you’re doing, so much the better.

Creating buy-in from your coworkers is the largest part of the work, whether you are working with someone or trying to lead a team. The habit needs to have value for two people, the underlying purpose needs to matter to everyone (This is particularly true for me as a Questioner – I’m a bit biased).  It is harder to just force a habit and expect long term benefits someday, because now you have to compete with the demands on two or more peoples time. If you find a way to make life better, eliminate a source of frustration or pain, simplify a process – all of these are good reasons to come together. I can’t tell you what the reason is that will motivate your co-workers because it is specific to your situation and relationship – ask the other person. You can be upfront about it…how do we make this work for you? Without this, you may get people to show up, but you are leveraging your relationship with them, and this is not necessarily a good long term strategy.

Recently, my colleagues and I have found increasing value in our regular meetings and working sessions because we are working to improve our process, keep everyone engaged in upcoming changes, and ensure everyone has a say in how we do our work. When we all want to be there because there is value, moving forward is much easier than the inertia when there is no habit, no ritual.

Once the hard work of getting everyone to see value in the work and to agree to commit time to it, you can start looking at some principles of habit development. They can be employed to keep things moving, fun, or interesting for both parties.

Anchor habit: a way to create habit strength by picking one thing to commit to that makes it easier to stick with other habits. For instance, if you meet to review safety concerns and all the same people are in the room, it could also be tthe time to review reliability action items (not hijacking the agenda, but piggybacking).  Generate momentum this way.

A spoon full of sugar: include items that could be considered task-oriented with something more fun.

External Accountability: Some people like to see progress and so a visual tracking system can be useful. Maybe some healthy competition can help. Knowing you are meeting someone else and they are counting on you can be enough for some one. Showing up regularly to work with someone can do two things: encourage their habit by accountability and demonstrate how you value the work as well.

I find most people I work with have a high degree of personal accountability and so don’t need tricks to complete work. Sometimes it can be the difference between making something on the important list get put on the urgent list as well.  (Though the long game is rarely about urgency.)

If you are a supervisor, freeing up time for people and protecting that time, despite other urgent demands, will mean your team knows that work is valued. Otherwise it can be seen as lip service (this is a whole other topic).

In conclusion: know why, show up, add value and then be diligent about the habit you develop with your colleagues.

Any ideas or stories of what’s worked for you?

Habits: When Roadbumps Occur


This is the beauty of having a blog: I can put myself out there and committ to something, and then two days later I can roll my ankle and have to start again. And so it is.

Let’s compare this situation to Reliability work, and look at some strategies for not getting frustrated when your best intentions are thwarted. A similar situation could be when you have a schedule you’ve set for yourself to get your work accomplished, but you are relying on another’s input.  And those people are unavailable.

When you can’t move the train forward on the tracks you’re on, there are still things you can do to make the time productive and worthwhile. Three things I learned during this speed bump:

1. Train your weakness.  In my particular case this means focusing on strength training and nutrition.  For a reliability worker, it could be studying the first principles of the machine, going out to see the problem and learn something new you didn’t have time to learn before, or working on that difficult project you’ve had on the back burner because you don’t really want to start it.

2 . Recovery and preparation: switching out my shoes, doing some foam rolling to work out lingering tightness, planning future routes and workouts. For the other: gathering all the data you need and setting up the analyses, talking to other experts to understand what they do (context), planning your next project beyond.

3. Reflection:  If you’ve been committed to a habit, and it has to pause…this is a good time for reflection.  Is there anything missing in your overall approach? Is this habit still serving you?  This is the time for introspection and questioning.  For me, I can start again, and my committment is more sure because I’ve taken that time to question and decided it is for me still.

All these things can help when you are ready to go again.  Often its better to change direction instead of stopping all together.

What are your thoughts on restarting when you get hung up?

Consistency and Habits: A Positive Feedback Loop to Greatness

(Happy Canada Day, folks!)

I’ve learned about myself and my habits over the last few months.  After Around the Bay, I pretty much stopped running for a month and a half.  Not because I don’t like running, but because the race felt like the finish line, an end.  That was not part of the plan when I set out to make running a part of my life.

Turns out results – sustainable results – don’t happen in one big shot for me.  Habits drive consistency everyday, and that’s where the magic happens.  Gretchen Rubin clarifies why habits are especially powerful: when something is truly a habit, we don’t have to use willpower to convince ourselves to do it.  Getting over the hump where we have to force ourselves to do something to where it is a part of our daily routine happens when we commit to consistency (a positive feedback loop between consistency and habits).

Consistency should be one of the Virtues of Reliability. Because “big R” Reliability is not about the Hail Mary pass. Every day, the same focus and effort. Every day, the attention to detail. This is where heros are made. The daily grind, the habits, the commitment to excellence (not perfection). Reliability is not about the finish line.  I don’t think we’ll ever be “done.” Positive steps in the right direction day in and day out it what will make change for our business (and our careers).

Is habit strength something I struggle with?  Of course! Currently, I’m committing to a 100-day running streak (running every day), and I’m on Day 32. This is my attempt to make running a part of my routine. Some days I just go a mile, but it’s the habit I’m after now, (I assume greatness will follow!).

Here are some of my favourite habit strength resources. They all use the intentional development of habits to build something great.

Are you working on developing any habits? Any tips for effective routines?

Why Proactive Reliability? What’s in it for me?

In the last post I wrote about what proactive reliability is, and why it is important to your business. Today I want to be a little finer in resolution – the person performing the work. Many people are motivated by internal rewards, this is what I want to highlight.

Proactive reliability analysis involves a certain philosophical trust in the analysis tools (FMEA, etc.). Going into the analysis it can be daunting, and the outcome and benefits may not be clear, especially if we’ve never done it before. It’s a lot of detailed work to commit to, and all without a failure occurring that calls us to investigate (see previous post on the sexiness of firefighting). We are taking a step back and imagining what could happen – these tools help us quantify risk, which is a bit ethereal.

Why is doing the analysis important? How do we benefit from the analyzing? If you are relatively new, or even if you have been around a while but haven’t applied a systematic analysis to your process or equipment risk, it is worth noticing what happens while you are grinding through the details.

I’m talking here about motivation. To be a good reliability professional it is important to have the right motivation – it will keep you going through the details, when the outcome is unclear. Daniel Pink talks about the three tenets of intrinsic motivation: mastery, purpose and autonomy.

1. I touched on purpose in my last post. And if you don’t take pride in making your plant more reliable and your company more successful, you’re done before you begin.

2. Completing an FMEA will improve is our mastery. We will know our process better when we apply this methodology. We also get to implement recommendations that improve our process and reduce risk, increasing mastery further.

3. This will eventually feed our autonomy as well because our decision-making can be backed up by our analysis.

Notice the next time you are required to apply an analysis that seems like a lot of work, without a sure outcome. We will benefit from the journey too.

Understanding Risk: What is Proactive Reliability?

The next few posts I’d like to talk about what Proactive Reliability is and why it’s important.

Today, I will introduce the philosophy behind Proactive Reliability. Whether you are an equipment or process reliability person, the point is the same.  To understand risk: identify it, rank it, and prioritize action to mitigate it.

What are the structured tools to use to quantify your risk? There are several – FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) is a standard tool used to used objective criteria to determine which process devations or failures could cause the biggest impact to your business. Other tools can be used, the key is to apply them consistently across production lines.  In this way, the risks can be ranked relative to each other, and you can take action on the biggest hitters.

There are several tools available to quantify risk, but any risk will always be relative to all the other risks in our shop.  There is no crystal ball to say WE NEED TO SPEND OUR TIME AND MONEY AND EFFORT HERE. Proactive reliability gives us a structured way to be smart about the resources we do have, and a way to exercise due diligence to minimize the risks we face.

We can’t chase down all risk.  That’s too expensive – putting in redundancy, having extra engineers or operators or maintenance folks and holding extra inventory is expensive.  So applying these principles means we can prepare for the biggest risks, using the available resources.  Biggest bang for our buck.

In the next post I’ll talk about how the exercise of systematically analysing the risk to our business benefits those performing the analysis.

Race Car Mentality: Proactive Maintenance


When we do equipment reliability work, there is a mentality we can run up against – a culture that values firefighting over installing fire detectors and checking extinguishers. I should be clear – people that can “fight equipment fires” or excel at fixing emergency problems are invaluable, and it’s not a skill I possess. However, it is probably not the best strategy to rely on it, if we are trying to give ourselves an edge based on a relatively smaller operating budget.

A different way to look at it is to consider our process line as a race car. The maintenance crew spends a lot of time understanding which components fail when (usage based? time-based?), have the right spares on hand, execute pit stops (shutdowns) with precision, get feedback from the driver (operator) – all because they know they are critical to winning the race.

What if we treated proactive maintenance like a pit crew, instead of performing fire extinguisher maintenance?

It is not one individual that can make this shift on their own, but culture change has to start somewhere – why not shift our perspective and see if makes a small difference?

There are many articles and further reading out there (NASCAR presented at a conference I attended), if you are interested in taking the analogy further.

How do you view proactive equipment maintenance?

Old Dogs, New Tricks? Or, Tension is Key for Problem Solving

A colleague responded to my post on listening to those with wisdom to remind me that it goes both ways…listening to the younger generation means new ideas, fresh eyes, different skills sets can be tapped to solve problems.

We get further as a whole when there is respect on all sides and everyone’s contribution is valued. Sometimes that means those who think it’s all figured out (because they did the figuring) will have to retread some ground. I also think there’s value there and so patience is required again.

Training the next generation is part of it, but there is more value there then just passing the torch. When two fundamentally different perspectives work together at a common goal, it can be magic. Make no mistake, it takes more work to find the middle ground where the team is performing (maybe the storming phase takes longer), but the power harnessed for good is much more than it would be if you only had one perspective at the table.

Getting to the End Goal: I Like Metaphors

This one is about running.  I find it a pretty good metaphor for reliability work, and I’m all about the metaphors. I’m still a novice, and I’m looking to achieve new distances right now. This involves me following a training plan with set mileage and gradual improvements towards an end goal. This past weekend I finished the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, with a dramatic improvement in my time.

This one is also about discouragement.  Bumping up against my perceived limitations and realizing I’m going to have to change something, going to have to get a little uncomfortable. I haven’t been logging the splits I wanted to meet my Around the Bay goal (see my 2016 goals here).  Getting distracted by pace is discouraging if the end goal is distance.  It’s helped me to look at where I was and how far I’ve come, but even that doesn’t always work.  Similarly, reliability work can mean taking the long route to get to the end goal.  It helps to have that end goal clear in sight, and a plan to get there.  It can also be hard to keep going when you don’t really know what the end goal looks like (a complete, perfect maintenance program? Reduced budget? Reduced risk? Engagement of others to build a foundation?).  Uncharted territory means a few stumbles and wrong turns and detours.

This one is about persevering and prevailing. Not to be the best that ever was (though certainly that’s a laudable accomplishment), but to be the better than you were.  Better than you used to be. So you can accomplish things quicker, more surely, than in the past.  Figuring out what the end goal feels like, not having it be a sentence or line item.  This could be developing rapport with a colleague as you work through a project together.  Or it could be nailing a maintenance strategy for a piece of equipment, and knowing what to do next time.  My run last weekend felt like victory to me for these reasons.

And this one is about getting comfortable again fast, so you can conquer the next goal or project.  Always learning, getting steady with your feet under you, and using that new base of experience to do more.

Either way, I’m learning a lot.

How about you?  Any favourite metaphors for reliability?