Just Not That Into It?

Equipment Reliability is good for the company – it ultimately saves money, which means we keep getting a paycheque.  But besides the extrinsic rewards for practicing good equipment reliability, what are some of the other benefits to us as Practitioners?

Some people (like myself), love engineering and figuring out how things work (machines, systems, businesses, you name it – I’m interested). But I can get a little glassy-eyed when faced with unrelenting details. I could try to convince you that equipment reliability is always new and fresh because we’ve never solved this particular problem before!  But if I’m honest, there is some repetition.

You might not get a buzz just from figuring things out.  Some people enjoy MTAs, have minds that naturally focus on picking out the details.  I’d like to address the other folks today – the ones who are capable, but maybe don’t see why they should give a damn.  The application of equipment reliability principles over and over again can seem monotonous, especially if you’re really bright.  So maybe this isn’t your “forever field of expertise.”  There’s plenty to be gained, though, on your way through.

Credibility – There’s remarkable trust put into the equipment reliability engineer.  We bring a level of rigor to maintenance decisions that many don’t, or can’t without a lifetime of experience.  By owning the details, we gain credibility.

Rapport – Calling on others’ expertise and investing in our operation together builds relationships.

Critical Thinking – Drilling into the details of a maintenance plan forces our brains to make logical decisions, over and over. We develop an innate pragmatism that can be applied across may fields of business.  RCM logic forces us to hone our critical thinking skills in the context of business effects.

Business Knowledge – Two words: failure effects. Truly understanding how a failure impacts the business teaches us about the operation. And what the maintenance community is capable of doing to monitor, repair or replace that equipment. Maybe where the limitations and weak points are in the maintenance systems.  Or what the company does better than most.

Reliability work is not just providing the company with more money. If this work is not your calling, focus on what you are gaining. There are intrinsic rewards – the skills above are applicable anywhere. There’s something in it for you.

How am I applying the lesson above? Part of the reason I decided to blog here was to learn.  The process of organizing ideas and committing to a post a week is a little unnerving.  (I don’t have another 26 posts listed in my head right now.)  Committing to undertaking the work is the hardest part.  What I have to do now is execute.  It’s work I occasionally have to force myself to do, and I know that’s where the growth lies.

What are you doing that’s difficult and will take longer than your interest might hold? What benefits are you discovering on the journey?

Not Just KPIs: Reliability at the Organizational Level

This is the final post in a three-parter about Reliability as a enabler for growth and change. First, on a personal level and how to create a stable base.  Second, at a business unit level, using reliability to guide the forward motion of your ship.  And third, today, at an organizational level – flexibility as competitive strategy.

The flexibility we should look for here is the kind that allows the organization to improve and react.  Market forces are out of our control, and they won’t be stable. Reliability at this level is the kind that our customers can count on, the kind that has everyone working together.  It means we are so reliable and consistent in our achievement of production targets that we aren’t spending a lot of effort fighting to get there.  And when we aren’t spending time fighting fires, or wrestling our process into the spec limit, we can be developing new and better ways to delight our customers. At an organizational level, this can look like a solid culture aligned with our current strategic priorities.  A reliable workforce is consistent and on aggregate, predictable. There’s less wasted effort and busy-going-nowhere-fast people.  And when we want to change as an organization, it’s less painful.

Outside our organization things will always be changing – what we can influence is internal to our facility, which is the clear knowledge of what we stand for and where we want to go.  We can verify reliability, take a deep breath before reacting to market forces or charging ahead with change. Communication is again the key here – reliability is developed by clear understanding at all levels (process, business unit, and organization). Communication to encourage flexibility needs to be timely, but doesn’t take a lot of time if our organization is reliable. This is where the flexibility comes from.

So success breeds success. If production is reliable, we can expend more energy on growth. If the culture is receptive because of success, we can talk about change. Reliability is a precursor to organizational flexibility.

How to create a reliable (and thus flexible) organizational culture? It takes an extraordinary effort by leadership, often over many years. But if we are currently enjoying a solid organizational culture, flexibility is a great benefit. If we understand it, we can capitalize on it.

What’s you experience with this level of reliability? Do you have performance measures that help everyone see where you are and where you’re going? How’s the communication in your organization?

Navigating by the North Star: Business Unit Level Reliability

Last week I posted about individual change and how reliability supports it – we need a stable base to be effective, and that base is built one exercise at a time.  We can’t rush it. Change at a business unit level is predicated on reliability as well.  The main difference here is scale – there are many more working parts and people at this level.  Stability is again important because that’s how a business unit achieves its objectives, how the business plan is met.  There is usually some variation from plan because no plan can be perfect.  Hopefully we’ve allowed for some variation around the mean (the target) and some days we do a little better to make up for the times things don’t go quite as well.

To organize a business unit around goals, there needs to be communication about what is important and why.  And when things aren’t going well, the ability to expand and change is nearly impossible. In those moments, it’s important to contract our focus as a team to the essential business unit goals.  It’s only when we are achieving targets consistently and reliably that we can start chasing improvements.

A key aspect to this is morale.  If our business unit hasn’t been producing reliably, it’s defeating.  It takes a force of will to have the discipline to return to essentials; otherwise we can lose enthusiasm and momentum.  This is dangerous and our ship can flounder, going nowhere.  Chaos just slows us down – people are throwing deck chairs around.  Ideally the ship is heading in one direction and all the people on board are aware and working towards the same end. Success breeds success and when the business unit or ship can stabilize, we can pick up steam and get back to a place where we can start looking outward again.  It takes a rigorous process of reliability to keep it all on course.

How do you rally your troops around reliability? What the key message do you use to focus on safety and production? What is your North Star?

Become A Reliability Ninja

The next three posts I want to talk about why Reliability is an important base for change.  This time, I discuss why reliability at the personal, equipment, or process level enables improvement.  Future posts will focus on reliability and change at the business unit and organizational levels.

The concept is straightforward: understand where you are and where you want to go. A stable base – this is the main point of reliability. With that stable base comes many benefits, and ultimately more profitability. Process control improvement methodology DMAIC begins with stabilizing the process. If you aren’t reliable, there is too much flux and it feels like chaos.  You can’t move forward.

When you have a stable base it’s easier to react, like a boxer’s bounce step.  A base is supported by exercising and training muscles so you can be grounded and ready to react.  Operationally, this base is reliability (i.e. a healthy equipment maintenance program and a stable process).  The exercises that develop your base are Statistical Process Control and Equipment Maintenance Plan Reviews. (Cross-training could be how diligently you train in the school of Root Cause Analysis and Elimination.)

If you need to react to an unknown circumstance or variable, these exercises are important.  If you go on the offensive (i.e. are proactive), equally critical. Before you improve, you must be stable and light on your feet.  Build these exercise habits – become a Reliability Ninja.

Furthermore, a good reliability leader tries to remove the barriers to create these habits. What are some of the exercises you use to build a reliable base?  What are some of the barriers you face? I’d like to help!

You Are Always Making Progress

If you’re developing a reliability program, there are generally two ways work is triggered: reactively, when a failure occurs, or proactively, through a criticality ranking mechanism. Both avenues look to identify failures and mitigation strategies. One way draws on knowledge and experience and predicts consequences, the other begins at the consequence and works backwards.

Proactive reliability seeks to look at all your assets and asks you how to have the least total cost for your organization. You take your best educated guess at which equipment needs analysis first, and get started.

Reactive work is due to a failure and root cause analysis is used to isolate the reason for the failure and prevent future reoccurrences.  It’s a deep dive into a focused scenario. It will produce several solutions for failure prevention (of course, always aiming to avoid the “belt and suspenders”) often recommending a pro-active analysis, which are then incorporated into your proactive project plan.

It can be frustrating to feel like you’re losing ground because of a failure. The “proactive” work has to stop while a “reactive” investigation occurs. A reactive event does not change your ultimate goal. It merely shows you that your first guess at proactive prioritization wasn’t perfect. The equipment is telling you it has more urgent priorities.

Reliability work is often thought of as binary and this leads to the frustration. But what if we consider it as a spectrum? A suite of tools that will get you to your goal. Different paths to the same destination. All reliability work is moving you forward towards the goal.

Dare I say “enjoy the journey?”