Beyond Basic Theory: Develop Yourself

Training is one of my top three passions. It’s a main part of professional development, even though 70% of learning is experiential. A lot of that can be in conjunction with classroom studies, reinforced in the field.

A reliability engineer uses the same principles they learned in school, applied to reliability problems. And just like other engineering focuses, continued development is important. As a new engineer starting out, it seems like the principles of reliability are straightforward.  But there are ways to get better, build on bodies of knowledge, become specialized.

If the equipment reliability is your thing, there are many professional organizations that have certification programs. With all professional development it is most powerful when applied in the field and produces results. This is where you learn the intricacies of applying the theory and gives you a pragmatism you won’t get otherwise. Learn when to hold your ground because the principles need to applied in a certain way, and when to give ground to get the end result.

Too many training programs focus on building technical skills at the expense of the development of individual style. I don’t think there’s one style is ideal and that’s another post, but learning the syle that works for you is just as important as the technical skills. Underneath all the tasks you can learn (presentation skills, time management, etc.) reflecting on your emotional intelligence gives you an opportunity to see what you are good at, and how to make you a better engineer.

To improve professionally via training: keep developing your technical skills using courses and application of theory; and consider personal style as part of your toolbox.

If you are a specialist, what equipment reliability raining helped you develop your expertise?  How did you determine how your personal style helped you?

KPIs: Use ’em and Lose ’em

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are a hallmark of business practice.  They should help us manage our business and drive improved performance.  But KPIs are tools to achieve our goals, not the goals themselves. Many struggle with how to choose the right ones, and there are some good guidelines out there. It’s just as important to determine what level of detail is appropriate and how to say goodbye.

A KPI has to be meaningful to the person being held accountable.  There should be a direct link to the business and strategic plans for our organization. We should always know how our work adds value, and it’s particularly important when determining KPIs.  One way to figure that out it to use a KPI tree. Start with the strategic business objectives and work down into the details. The level of KPI we care about should be the same as the level of the business you can impact. It’s demotivating to be held accountable for ones not in our control.

We can’t track everything.  KPIs should reflect what is important right now. “Right now” can mean the time horizon that the strategic objective is valid, but KPIs can change as progess towards to the objective is achieved. Consider:

  • How we communicate KPIs and their link to performance will make the difference whether we are successful. 
  • Too many KPIs and we become over-saturated and don’t know what to work towards.  Maybe we have too many strategic priorites (which means they are not sufficiently strategic). Maybe we can’t let go of old KPIs because they feel comfortable and successful. 
  • The effort that goes into to tracking it. Is it worth the effort, or would we be better off using that energy to make progress? 
  • Who needs to know? (see above for what we can control)

A organization’s KPI is “tons of steel per year.” An Operations shift may have KPIs for safety, quality, etc. Tracking OEE might give us insight into what to work on, a way to focus some effort. But it won’t fundamentally change what our business is about. It’s an enabler and should be treated as such. Maybe that’s why we struggle.  

When priorities change, so should KPIs.  We can’t change priorities every day, nothing would ever get done. But don’t invent useless or noise-generating KPIs, and don’t cling to ones that are out-of-date.

How do you manage KPIs in your organizaion?  Do you struggle with any of the items above?  What would you change?

Choose People Over Logic and Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Something we’ve been working on recently is the level of analysis we chose to do. Two parts: what piece of equipment? And what level of detail?

We can start with a criticality assessment   Absolutely a useful tool to map out our prioritization.  If we have 100% support from all areas, and a lot of time, this is the most logical way to go about it. There are other factors at play.

If we treat EMP development as a knowledge transfer tool, spend the time on the assets of the experienced millwright who is close to retirement. Their knowledge can’t be replaced, but we may capture enough to avoid disaster, and to remember why the machine is set up that way (not “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”) This strategy is a good reason to break down an analysis by craft.

Chances are, maintenance folks know what the biggest headaches are and will want to work on them. If we’re starting (or restarting) an EMP review process, we may want to let them lead and choose the topic. Establishing buy-in is worth the investment and our interests will dovetail before long.

If we are learning a new software or type of analysis, choose a subject that we’re comfortable with to start. It’s a smart way to ease into a new technology.

These are these factors we’ve been using to prioritize our EMP Development work lately.  The level of detail depends on the time and people available.

What other factors impact your EMP Development projects?  

Keep on Truckin’

Focusing on the intrinsic rewards of some difficult, extended work is a good way to get the most out of it.  How can we continue to execute after our interest has waned? Two ways: committment to a default, and habit development.

For me, running, and learning about my new department can be viewed in this way.  I recently transferred into Steelmaking and I find the amount of things to learn exciting and exhausting.  I make it my default to take advantage of opportunities (breakdowns, special projects, etc.), to learn who and what and how is what I try to do.  The default means I’ve made the decision ahead of time, knowing these actions support my long term goals. This committment also helps with the randomness of these opportunities – I’m ready to seize the moment.

Habit strength is what keeps us moving forward during hard times. Seth Godin calls that time The Dip, when the excitement wanes, but you have to push through to something amazing.  If you have a habit formed that gets you out of bed and out the door with your sneakers on, it’ll see you through that time. The tasks of laying out clothes the night before, making sure the coffee maker is on auto are the steps I take to keep my habit of morning runs as easy as possible.  Because it’s the habit of running that yields the benefits.  I feel the stress melting away and the sheer joy of movement once I’m out the door, but they don’t help me get started.  The habit is getting out the door.  Starting is the hardest part.

As in Reliability – a little at a time builds up to a complete body of work, and makes the professional.   Commit to involving yourself everytime. If there’s a breakdown, take the time to learn about it and become a reliability detective, even if you aren’t leading the investigation.  Make that your default.

If there is no crisis, do proactive work with little steps every day. Make it a habit, and remove any barriers to action. Set out your tools the night before (like assembling the research for your MTA or CII as the last thing you do before you go home), and make it the first thing you do when you get to work. Start with 30 minutes. The emails can wait.

What are your reliability habits?  How do they help you in the long run?