Friday, February 26, 2010

Hot Rods and Hand Tools: Saving the Skilled Trades in America

For the first time in the history of the United States we are seeing a long term shortage of skilled trades. These skilled trades include the industrial Mechanics, Machinists, and Electricians who have kept American facilities producing the wealth to which we have become accustom. This has been perpetuated by three compounding circumstances.

·         The common Baby Boomer myth that everyone’s kids have to go to university to be successful. (In actuality the skilled trades have a better lifestyle and higher income than many college graduates)
·         The movement from working on hot rods in the garage with your father to playing video games or working on computers.
·         And most recently, the inevitable baby boomer retirement, which is waning due to the economy, but still is a concern.

Below are six elements that can become part of your solution:

1.  Create clear documented business processes that everyone can understand. This will insure a smooth transitions, continuous improvement and employee involvement (which is key to the new generation)
2. Training done correctly can be both a knowledge and a morale boost. Use computer simulations to both enhance the learning experience and verify understanding.
3. Bringing condition sensing technology (Predictive Maintenance Tools) into your realm of maintenance can bring the “cool” back to the skill trades.
4. Capturing and facilitating the use of history in your Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) or Enterprise Asset Management System (EAM) will allow you to retain knowledge from the retiring generation.
5. Mentoring programs supported by the retiring generation can build new generation skills much quicker than the costly trial and error that many apply.
6. Create a Proactive Reliability Culture (many of the new generation don’t want extraordinary overtime and constant reactive firefighting in the facility and instead strive for the more predictable, less stressful world of a proactive reliability culture.)
Many of the core skills of maintenance were learned under the hood of the car but with the influx of technology our young people will also excel if we start planning now and transfer the elements they need to complement the skills they have. This is crucial if we plan to maintain profitable and competitive industry in America.  What are your doing in your facility to save the skilled trades?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Quick Thoughts on Leadership

The following are just a few thoughts on leadership that I keep discovering...
Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Be Prepared: 
If we as leaders show up without preparing or with the appearance of being unprepared then we create a bad experience for the team or group from the start.

Do not let thank you be a set of words heard only once per year:
They are simple words that mean a lot so we must use them.

Do not ask for more without first using what your team has given you: 
If we ask for a new report or document to be created take the time to look at it before asking for more. If it is not important enough to devote our time to using it then maybe we should have thought about it more before we ask for it. This can be true of resources, time, or money. We must remember not to waste any of them if we can.

We must do the little things for our team:
They both remember them and enjoy them. Don't just send that boiler plate company birthday card, take the time to write a special thank you greeting for their birthday. You should remember what is important to them and see how you can feature it though out the year. If they are big music fan maybe you send them a few itunes credits or tickets to a concert. Personalization is a powerful thing. 

If we as leaders do not provide for the team's and the individual's needs then they may not be able to hear ours:
Take time to see how things are going with your team and the individuals. What do they need? What road blocks can you help with? This extends to their personal life as well because if they are focused on the outside problems then they will not be focusing on the needs of company or the team.

Pull on the introverts and push on the extroverts:
We need to take time to insure that we are collecting the great ideas from the quite part of the team and sometimes that means we may need to hold back on those "gifted in expressing themselves." 

Demonstrate what you expect:
If we like a certain trait we must make sure it is feature in our style.

You do not have to like it to learn from it:
Whether it is presentation style, content, or the message as a whole we do not have to agree with it to take a few new thoughts or perspective from it. If nothing else you have learned how others see the world and what you must work around or through to be successful.

Leaders must remain learners:
We must not stop the study of life once we "reach leadership". Sometimes we need to hear it said "shut up and learn"

Leaders Listen (Thanks for this one Dan)
True leadership requires asking questions and actively listening to the answers. New leaders should spend time talking with the team and understanding the situation before creating new policies, procedures or requirements. In short, Listen more talk less.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Elements of Sustainable Change

One of the key goals of most organization’s is the ability to sustain beneficial change. When we deconstruct sustainable change we are left with five key areas:

Leadership and Management: know what to change and when to change (your leadership style and your processes)
Communication: understand what medias to use, how to use them and at what frequency.
Change Dynamics: know what to expect when those affected by the change start the process.
Risk Identification: understand what could go wrong and what you are going to do about it proactively.
Project Management: know who is going to do which step and when, during the implementation of the change.

The battle to insure that our organization understands and apply each of these elements is the challenge we face. When these areas have been addressed with your change strategies, you’ll be well on your way to the maximum return on investment your project can attain.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Finding the Root Cause of Success

It is that time of year when students are heading back to school. Soon enough, report cards will make their way home from school again. Some will make the trip faster than others depending on their contents. A recent research study tackled the topic of student report cards and how we handle the not so stellar grades that sometimes appear. It found that if a student brought home 3 As, 1 C, and 1 F, only six percent of the parents concentrated on the As. The study went on to say that the parents who concentrated on the As as opposed to dwelling on the F saw the next report card improve by bringing up the F while maintaining the As. Conversely, the parents who concentrated on the F did see the F improve, but at the cost of the As.

This study reminded me of many maintenance organizations and the report cards or metrics we give out. Now, when we have a less than adequate reliability report card, it does not have the effect of sending us to our room, cutting our allowance, or providing a little time out, but it does have the same overall effect on both morale and financial security.

In general, we tend to punish for poor performance and only dwell on the negative metrics. Would you execute a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) on a system or machine that performs flawlessly to discover why? The question then becomes: what does it cost us in both metrics and money to ignore the things we are doing right without understanding or leveraging them for success?

Let’s discuss another example of this phenomenon known as “Positive Deviance”, which occurred following the end of the war in Vietnam. In this life or death example from the book Surfing the Edge of Chaos by Pascale, Millemann, and Gioja, the children of Vietnam’s poorer regions were suffering from high levels of malnutrition. This was compounded by the lack of clean water and sanitation, as well as poor health care. The typical solution for this problem in the past was to provide aid in the way of medical clinics and food from other countries. This was a very costly way to address the problem, and when the money dried up and the aid stopped, the people could not sustain their health and returned to the original state of malnutrition. This pattern has been played out over and over in history.

Save the Children understood this situation and asked Jerry and Monique Sternin to go to Hanoi and develop a new method to end the malnutrition. The solution had to be sustainable by the people once the Sternins moved on from the area. The Sternins embraced a concept out of Tufts University called positive deviance. This concept allowed them to facilitate a process for the people of Hanoi to discover their own solution to the problem. It did not start with a preset group of assumptions or rules, and it did not impose food goods from other regions of the world that could not be sustained. Instead, the process they used included an understanding the culture and the knowledge it contained. The Sternins worked with the locals to study not only the sick children, but the healthy ones as well. They struggled with the contradiction that although the children were from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, some were healthy while others were quite ill. They analyzed the living conditions and diets of the healthy children and concluded that the difference was that parents of the healthy children were doing three things differently. They were insuring the children washed their hands, supplementing the rice-based diet with freely available freshwater shrimp and crabs and vitamin-rich sweet potato leaves, and they were feeding their children more times per day than the malnourished children. The key point here is that they were not feeding them more food, but they were feeding them the right food more often. Once this discovery was made, it was easily leveraged across the culture in that area because it was developed from within; it was Hanoi’s solution. After six months, two-thirds of the children had gained weight and the program was a sustainable success. The Sternins did not take this diet to all of Vietnam and decree that “you must eat more shrimp and sweet potato leaves more often”. Instead, they helped each region to study and develop its own solution, leading to a sustainable solution that was owned by the people. The results are still succeeding to this day.

There are three points that are important to take away from these examples: study and learn from your good actors and not just the bad; develop and leverage the solutions from within the applicable area for buy-in and sustainability; and celebrate and encourage the successes and learn from the failures through a true understanding of the issues.

Many reliability improvement efforts traditionally look at equipment that has high levels of failure indicated by high vibration, oil contaminates, or elevated temperature levels, for example. Then, when the equipment fails, a Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA) is completed to understand why it failed. With this mentality, we are looking at half of the information that is available. This only shows the failures and why they happen. What about the successes? Why did the successes happen? One suggestion is to change your use of the RCFA process by moving the format to an RCA process that can be used to understand both failures and successes in the same format. Just this one small change will allow you to capture more solutions from your process. If you have 26 pumps in an area and only five have repetitive failure history, why do the others charge on? This is where the different way of thinking comes into play. You could complete an RCA on one of the good actor pumps to understand why it is so successful. You could use change analysis or any of the other applicable root cause tools to ensure you find the Root Cause of Success. What you might discover is a solid operating procedure, a good design, a best demonstrated practice, a better rebuild procedure, or any number of positive deviants that have led to a success, rather than a failure. In many cases, we may have preconceived notions as to what the solution may be before we discover it as a team. The key is to let those go and chase the data as a group until the solution is discovered corporately.

Once uncovered, these good practices are much easier to leverage because they are internal, proven, and owned, just like the dietary changes in Hanoi. There is no easier change to make than the one that was developed by the people who are making the change. They trust the information the change is based on because it is their information. They know it will work because they have seen it with their own eyes. They will force it to succeed because it has their name on it. When we develop solutions that do not involve the group that is affected, we lack the buy-in and data this process provides, making success a difficult goal to attain. This applies to your reliability metrics in two ways: one, it provides solutions that improve metrics such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF); and two, it provides a tool for you to use to address and leverage your areas that excel in certain metrics. Just remember to ask the question, “Why am I succeeding?”

As you start to learn who is causing your positive deviance, make sure you apply positive public feedback to encourage it to continue and propagate. Basically, focus the light on what people are doing right. It has been proven that you should give three or more positive comments to every corrective feedback, and the Root Cause of Success philosophy provides you with an excellent vehicle to make that happen.

Because RCFA conclusions, if incorrectly drawn, can stop at human error, they can easily turn into a very negative tool. The perceived error may be with the equipment vendor’s design team, start up contractor’s installer, production’s operator, maintenance’s technician, or management’s supervisor. Some organizations use the RCFA or RCA results as whipping sticks to punish people, instead of as training, system, and policy correction tools. This defeats the purpose and robs the program of the support and information on which these analyses are based. Always remember that no matter which contributing factors are found during the root cause investigation, at least one of them (if not all) are directly due to management policies and systems. It may be that the management system allowed the equipment to be run above the rated speeds, preventive maintenance to be postponed, training to be ignored, or other contributing causes. With that being said, it is hypocritical and ignorant for management to use the RCFA findings to punish the offenders because in most cases, the system is at fault, not the people, and the system is governed by management. Instead, make the findings a positive tool by supplementing your failure investigations with the Root Causes of Success process and find out who is promoting success in your facility. This will allow you to make sure your RCAs are recognized as a positive tool that leads to praise and change within the organization. After learning from both your successes and failures and implementing the discoveries, you must find a way to ensure that others want to be involved in these types of improvements. We have to spread it to the point that we are constantly developing new ideas. In order to do this, we must create energy around our RCA findings. We can do this by celebrating our successes with our stakeholders. It is important to tailor your celebrations to the team, and even the individuals in some cases, so that you get the most benefit. It may be different with each group of stakeholders, but it has to make them want to do it again.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that the positive things that are going on day-to-day are just as important to your success as the failures that we try to eliminate. Many times the solutions to our failures are right in front of us, hidden by the day-to-day fires that we fight. Look at the equipment that you forget about. Why are you able to forget about it? Why does it run so well? What are you doing or what did you do right? These are the locator questions for many of the solutions to the reoccurring problems that tear away at the reliability of our equipment, as well as our bottom line. These solutions discovered from within the organization have the buy-in and sustainability that is so often a struggling point for many outside solutions or cookie cutter approaches. Once a home grown, supported, sustainable solution has been put into place and the sweet smell of success is in the air, make sure you celebrate the accomplishment with all the stakeholders in the way that satisfies them the most. This becomes the fuel for many more examples of positive deviance that can really change your organization into a more reliable and profitable enterprise.

Whether it is your son or daughter’s school report card or your equipment reliability report, always acknowledge and celebrate the positive and discover the Root Cause of Success.

May 2005 issue of Maintenance Technology
Wikipedia entry on  Positive Deviance

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Can You Learn from the Reliability Challenge

Reliable Manufacturing is a constant challenge. Every day we have to strive to eliminate waste, produce more with less and out pace our competition.  Would it not be great if we could practice before the big game? Now we can. Check out the simulation at Once you try the Reliability Challenge read on to learn some of the key points to improving your score both online and within your plant.
We have grouped the elements into three areas: creating a reliable foundation, changing a plant’s culture, and ensuring sustainability.
Creating a reliable foundation
To win the Reliability Challenge, you must start with a structured foundation of core elements that are built in a specific order that’s not arbitrary or ad hoc. For example, a company would not implement advanced Predictive Maintenance (PdM) techniques if they did not have proper work control processes, ensuring that the identified defects could be planned, scheduled, and eliminated or mitigated. Simply put PdM without an effective work execution process is like helicopter without a propeller; it may look nice and shiny but it is not going to get you off the ground.
Changing the culture
Similar to the real world, taking short cuts in the Reliability Challenge is a recipe for failure. The plant did not morph into its current state overnight, nor will it be fixed in a 24-hour period. Take the time to create a master plan that takes into account your project, risk, and communication plans. Don’t rush the change if the resources are not available and take the time to understand the dynamics of change. You do have to be reactive to get proactive – but reactive in a smart way.
Ensuring sustainability
In order to sustain improvements, you must ensure that the facility understands the goals. Once goals have been established, use metrics to insure focus.
Once metrics have been established it is important to drive continuous improvement, as some elements naturally degrade over time. Lean, Six Sigma and RCM – all of which are represented in the Reliability Challenge - provide the processes and tools for continuous improvement. 
In conclusion…
There is not one way to solve reliability or plant issues, just like there is not one single path through the forest. However, when you have a foundation built on best practices, a clear plan backed up by good change management, and established continuous improvement; you have the winning combination to conquer the challenge.
Now don’t forget the most fundamental rule of any game: practice makes perfect! Enjoy the Reliability Challenge and practice the game of change, so you can win our Reliability Challenge and yours!

More Preventive is Not Necessarily the Answer

More is not necessarily better when it comes to preventive maintenance you have to find the right amount done right with the right tools.
Lets first talk in extremes, there are some facilities that are truly reactive in nature and only fix equipment when it breaks. This keeps them very busy and leaves little time to do preventive (PM) or predictive (PdM) maintenance. This can lead them into a death spiral of unreliability. Many of these sites believe that if they could just get a bunch of PMs, then they will escape the spiral.
On the other side there are also other facilities that over time or in response to an incident have created a large portion of their backlog that consist of PM work and again they face many breakdowns and unreliability. If PMs are good why might these facilities experience an increase in breakdowns and unreliability?
One answer is infant mortality. In other words by doing more invasive PM inspections, such as opening a gear box to inspect the teeth, they actually induce failures. These failures can come from dirt and debris that accidentally gets into the box while it is open or improper reassembly upon completion. In this example many of the PdM tools could eliminate this PM activity in most cases and in turn eliminate the infant mortality issue entirely.
So the second enemy in more PMs is the possible loss of effectiveness because of low quality procedure, or poor execution in the field due to labor overload or has a lack of training on the added task. Many facilities ramp up the number of PMs by getting suggested PMs from vendors or coping other facilities PM procedure. This leads to task that don’t address the failure modes and in many case may not even address the equipment in question. 
So if you want to increase your level of preventive maintenance and your reliability take these steps:
  1. Create a plan of what equipment and when. This could be based off of criticality.
  2. Generate solid craftsman reviewed PM task that are failure mode based and detailed to the right level. You can base them off of example if they are reviewed and verified prior to deployment.
  3. Finally use the predictive maintenance tools to eliminate the invasive preventive maintenance that plagues you by adding defects to your system.
Grow a good program a little at a time as apposed to a bad program overnight.