I often talk to engineers who have just been told that they are now a ‘reliability guy or girl’ for their organization. The CEO or perhaps a director decides that reliability is now important, so a group of poor unfortunates are hastily and collectively anointed as ‘the’ reliability program. Is this familiar?
Sometimes this works. Sometimes these rebranded ‘reliability guys and girls’ create amazing programs that identify key reliability activities that are a nice fit for the product, system, or service they are creating or maintaining.
But sometimes, things don’t go so well. Newly minted reliability engineers are often overwhelmed by responsibility and underwhelmed with authority. They feel like they are in a no-win situation. And this means their organization won’t get the reliability improvements they were hoping for.
So what separates success from failure? It comes down to the 3 P’s: perspective, purpose, and partnership.
Perspective is important because a reliability program is never ultimately responsible for reliability. Reliability happens at the point of decision – design, manufacturing, maintenance, and operational decisions. These decisions are not made by a separate and distinct reliability program - who are (by definition) separate and distinct.
When it comes to the perspective of successful reliability programs, it is all about people. Reliability programs need to teach and empower designers, manufacturing engineers, plant managers, and everyone else to use the vital few reliability tools that help them make good ‘reliability’ decisions. The reliability program obviously needs to first come up with the strategy that identifies those vital few reliability tools. But, it is the non-reliability engineers who need to use those tools.
When a reliability program becomes the ‘church of data analysis’ or a ‘nation of testing,’ people-first perspectives are replaced by ad hoc efforts of non-decision makers. So reliability doesn’t happen.
Once we have nailed perspective, we need to focus on our reliability program’s purpose, starting with working out what our organization values. Do we want to increase availability or decrease maintenance downtime? There is a (huge) difference – and many organizations shoot themselves in the foot by rushing to ‘comfortable’ metrics and goals. If we don’t get this right, then we can’t create a coherent reliability strategy.
If we do get our strategy right, our reliability program’s role now becomes transforming an organization into one where every decision maker understands their role in achieving reliability, how their efforts directly contribute to organizational success, and the satisfaction that their efforts will be recognized and rewarded. In short, they have purpose.
Which leads nicely into our last ‘P’ – partnership. A reliability program must be a partner in whatever it is your organization does. Too often leaders create programs just to say that they have done something about reliability. They then point to this monument (represented by our reliability program) to convince themselves and others that reliability is taken seriously. But once this monument is established, they go back to pressuring everyone to save costs, do things faster, meet milestones, and realize other goals that compete with our reliability program. This is not a partnership. You can’t leave reliability up to the reliability team and no one else.
People aren’t stupid. They are good at working out what the leaders of an organization personally value. And if leaders don’t personally value reliability, it is professional suicide for their employees to take reliability seriously. Half the people in our reliability program are working out how to get out of there. The other half don’t have the competence or motivation to follow suit.
So what do you do if you have recently been tasked with establishing a reliability program? You need to follow the 3 P’s … from beneath.
Explain to your leadership team that your perspective needs to be the people who make decisions and not a checklist of tests or data analyses. You can’t make reliability happen on behalf of a decision-maker, but you can empower them with the vital few designs for reliability (DfR) tools that matter to their role. Which is based on an overall strategy derived from your main purpose. You may have to do this on behalf of your leadership team. You may need to convince them to focus on operational availability and not maintenance downtime (for example). And then finally, you might explain what partnership looks like and how your leaders need to be part of it. Schedule weekly meetings to focus on reliability and the good news stories you are trying to create. Link organizational success to their success as leaders. And otherwise, help them buy into whatever it is you are trying to do.
If you don’t, your efforts and the team around you will simply become a monument to effort and not outcomes.
My name is Chris Jackson and I help organizations do anything from solving ‘simple’ reliability problems through to facilitating cultural change that sees reliability baked into their products, systems, or services. If you think I can help out ... please reach out to me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading!