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)

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?

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?

Prepping for Proactive: Set It Up and Make It Stick

Right now we are fleshing out the details of our proactive reliability plan for 2016.  Proactive plans are easier, and more difficult.  Easier, because we can take a holistic view of the potential work, and then pick where it would add the most value.  Harder to implement because it’s not Urgent.  And since reliability requires everyone to participate, as a reliability leader or ambassador, you have to convince people to look away from the Urgent to spend some time on the Important.

This is not easy to do. Proactive reliability is methodical and exhaustive.

Two thoughts: how do we set it up, and how do we make it stick?

Proactive reliability is predicated on understanding risk. This can seem nebulous, so how can we break it down into workable pieces? Risk is about what could happen, not what has already happened.  We are looking at the potential impact of failure, and what plans we have in place to mitigate it. We are casting a broad net across our shop to see any hot spots, then focusing there first. This is how we’re setting it up.

Making a proactive program stick means we have to know why it’s important and be able to explain it.  More than that, it’s about buy-in (like any change management, imagine that?) I’m tempted to rush ahead and get as much accomplished as possible, to fill out the analysis and get the “results.”  I’m learning that even though it might take longer, involving everyone in the process means more buy-in over the long run.

How do you create buy-in for proactive work? What is the right balance for involving people in the journey and making efficient use of everyone’s time?

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Business Planning

If you have a reliability program at your company, how is it integrated into your business planning?  Is it set apart as a separate initiative?  Or does it show up in many areas of your business planning?

If a reliability program is treated as something apart of the other systems in place, it can be treated as an add-on. Something that needs separate resources, requires extra time, and will likely be treated as optional.

What it should be is a tool used to meet our company’s strategic goals. Productivity, cost, quality, health and safety, environment.  Reliability tools can be applied to these objectives.  There shouldn’t be a separate section in our business plan, because reliability tools are tactics to further your business goals.  Same with capital investments, improvement projects, and all the rest.

Reliability projects may be driven by a different group of people, and the leader of that group should have a list of those projects to make sure they get done. The difference is in personnel responsible for a work process, but all of it should support the same goals everyone is working towards.

We should be able to draw a straight line from our work to our strategic priorities, or we should be doing different work.

Laying the Foundation: Make the Most of the Early Days

If you are a new engineer and you’re starting out in the world of reliability, it’s a great opportunity.  Generally there are two types of engineers – the generalists and the specialists.  The ones who find great satisfaction in depth, and those who add value by making connections through the breadth of their knowledge (then there are some special individuals that can do both – they are really cool people I’d like to know, but I’m not one of them. They usually get that way by a long career and extraordinary effort.)  Everyone starts at the beginning.

The beginning for many is reliability work.  Learn the process before you can change it, learn the equipment and how to maintain it.  Witness some catastrophes, facilitate investigations.  This is how you learn, how you gain traction. Each root cause analysis is a chance to learn as well as a problem to solve.

It may seem like all you are doing at first is asking other people for their opinions and experience.  You were hired because of training in critical thinking and problem solving.  But you can’t do either if you don’t have all the information.  Those rational skills should tell you that you don’t have it all YET, but the best way to get it is to learn.  And the best way to learn is to be as involved as possible. Go and see when something breaks down – witness the mechanisms for failure, and also the way repairs happen.  Take a problem and apply your engineering training to solving it; use first principles to figure out something that hasn’t been figured out before.  Make mistakes.  Ask for advice.  This is the unique position of the new engineer.  You may not have all the experience in the equipment, or process, and you’re not expected to, but what you bring to the table is not insignificant.

You will gain credibility and knowledge, become the go-to person.  Credibility is earned, and sometimes it can be slow.  If you are the real deal, it will become apparent. Quality results and a track record can’t be bought.

What’s your experience getting involved at the beginning of your career? Did it come naturally, or was it something you had to work at? What tips would you share with those just starting out?