Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Want Success with Root Cause Analysis? Prove Yourself Wrong

As practitioners of Root Cause Analysis (and generally hard headed engineering types) one of our worst enemies is well... us.  Over time we see failures and reoccurring problems and we start to draw general conclusions. Then a few months later we see something similar and we apply past experience maybe a bit two freely and we end up using the tools of root cause to focus on proving our theory correct. This can lead to missing causal chains and pursuing solutions that will not solve the real problem ergo return on investment is not achieved.
To combat this issue I recommend that if you feel the itch to make a "know it all" proclamation to the RCA team first, take a few minutes to at least try to prove your self wrong. Use the tools to look for evidence and data that does not support your theory. It is not about proving yourself right, it is about proving yourself wrong. If you can not prove yourself wrong then by all means proceed.

This advice applies specifically to RCA facilitators but is good advise for others as well. This is not about stifling brain storming it is more about preventing railroading by the more out spoken types.

What advice would you give to new RCA champions?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Learning through Application for Return On Investment

As we develop new curriculum for our clients, we have put an incredible amount of focus on moving them from "training for training sake" to training for a documented return on investment.
Today I thought I would share a few of the elements that you might look for or create for your training efforts to drive a return on investment.

  • First determine your organizational and individual training needs. Then you can match the curriculum with those needs.
  • Create a charter for application of the training in their facility. This should include the task that will be used to apply the learning points from the curriculum and the expected return on investment from completing those task.
  • Ensure that this charter is approved and owned by both the student and their manager.
  • Verify that those that will be affected (above and beyond the student) by the training application work are aware and properly motivated. This could be operators, maintainers or supervisors in the area of application.
  • Create course material that is not just hundreds of power point slides. It should be interactive and social. We use simulations, games, case studies, e-learning, and teach back single point lessons to ensure that we are engaging all of the learning styles of our students. Our goal is to spend only one quarter of each hour on material directly from the slides.
  • Don't just have a training class. Connect your training with coaching in the field and project work that allows for application of each required learning point. This demonstrates learning while also driving your return on investment. 
In the end we want to verify that the learning objective have been retained and applied within the facility correctly and through this application we will then see the return on investment for the training effort.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is Your Maintenance Organization Centralized Or Decentralized?

During a recent conversation with a group of clients we were discussing the idea of centralized and decentralized maintenance or in other words should maintenance report to a maintenance leader or an operations leader by area. Based on that conversation I wanted to share my thoughts on how I see the two and why you might want one over the other based on your maturity as an organization and then solicit your opinions on the subject.
If I were to discover an organization that was very reactive and lacked reliability maturity I would recommend a centralized maintenance structure where all of the maintenance organization reports up through a mature maintenance and reliability leader. Reason: if you are trying to improve reliability you need a strong central leader to drive the message early on and then build a coalition that moves the understanding out into the organization and ingrains it into the culture. As the organization reaches a higher level of maturity where operations understands the guiding principles of reliability that will help the organization to continue to improve then we can look at decentralization.
If you make the move to decentralized maintenance too early then you risk the craftsmen being stationed by operations next to a machine "to stand guard". Of course they would do this to facilitate faster reacting to failures and reduction of their set up and down time. What we want to occur instead is for those crafts to identify and eliminate the failure modes and prevent re-occurrence through root cause analysis, improved craft skills, precision maintenance and other tools not just learn to react faster.
What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Five Hats for Reliability Engineers

I was recently meeting with some new reliability engineers as they were getting ready to step into the role for the first time. They were asking what kind of things they should expect to be doing in the role. I came up with five hats that they will wear on a regular basis.  I have listed them below with a bit of detail.
The Technical Reliability Hat
Reliability engineer first and foremost are there to analyze failure history and prevent or mitigate failure in the future. While wearing this hat they will use tools like RCM, RCA, statistics, PdM, FRACAS, experts,  and the internet.
The Trainer Hat
Reliability engineers will wear this hat when they begin to share new techniques for predictive maintenance or precision maintenance as well as any other technique that have not been used in the past. Here they will be looking to introduce the “best practice” and demonstrate how it should be done and why it is important. While wearing this hat you will see them use training manuals, equipment manuals, single point lessons, experts from outside the company, and maybe even a bit of Power Point.
The Coach Hat
Successful reliability engineers will put this hat on when they go out on the floor after providing training.  They will work with individual to ensure complete understanding of the improvements to the process. While wearing this hat you will notice the engineer using tools like his ears to listen and understand the concerns of the individual and his hands to demonstrate the concepts while answering the questions that linger in the minds of the students.
The Sales and Marketing Hat
Reliability Engineering is not understood as of yet by the masses. That is why you must have a sales and marketing hat. When you wear it you will be marketing the value of precision maintenance, RCM, RCA, FRACAS, and the cost of not doing it. You will also be selling the predictive maintenance tools to both the maintenance crafts as well as the leadership. You will feature the “saves” to build a basic understanding by the affected parties until everyone “buys in” to the concept. When wearing this hat the RE will be using samples of past success, failed components as props,  pictures, case studies, and benchmarking results.
The Meeting Hat
This is an ugly hat in some organizations where they exhibit the traits of a “Meeting Manufacturer”. These MM sites seem more focused on making meetings that they are on making products. In general however, the RE should expect some time with the meeting hat. Wearing the hat is the only way to get many things accomplished within the organization. While wearing this hat you may find that you need to take along all of the hats above to be successful.

Avoid the Fire Helmet
This is the one hat that reliability engineers need to avoid as much as possible. If you are continuously forced to wear this hat you will not be able to put in the time wearing the others. To say it differently, If you are focused on today's spot fires you can not be focused on tomorrows forest fires and will be held back from improving overall plant reliability.

What other hats do you keep lying around to wear as an Reliability Engineer?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Hunger for Reliability

So summer is here in the US and when I think of summer I think of food from the grill, cold drinks and fun on the water around the Charleston area where I live. Just this last week I was out on the boat doing a little fishing after work. As I drifted down the river enjoying the water and the cold beverages, I begin to smell the third component of summer… grilled food. Since I had the first two I progressively begin to want the last one. Soon I was obsessed with the thought of ribs, hamburgers, steaks and BBQ. Can you relate? Have you ever had the intoxicating smell of the grill call you away from your afternoon activities?
So what does this have to do with reliability? When I think about profitable manufacturing I also think of three things I enjoy: production demand, safety, reliability. With the turning of the economy many now have increased production demand. They have spent time focusing on safety and have great performance in that area. The only area they lack is reliability. We know that if we can get all three of these working together then we can enjoy a lower stress business profitability. In fact, one should expect to spend more time away from work not worrying about the day to day issues, the breakdowns, and the missed deliveries. Instead we can enjoy our version of summertime fun.
The problem is that if you have never witnessed reliability and you have spent your whole life in the reactive world then what would drive a desire for change? You become comfortable where you are. You can't imagine reliability much less have a hunger for it. To get past this you need to get a picture of it at least in your mind.
How are you communicating what it looks like to your plant and why it is so desirable? What are you doing to fan the flames and create the hunger for reliability? Below is a list of ideas that you might use to first create awareness and then demonstrate what’s in it for your people and why they should hunger for it. 
  • Invite your informal leaders on plant visits to world class sites; Let them see what it is like in the less chaotic world of Reliability. Look locally and not just in your industry and you may be surprised how close world class can be.
  • Share best practices through pictures, stories, case studies, and single point lessons. I like to see them incorporated in the daily tool box meeting or kick off meeting. Many samples can be found on the internet via blogs and Linked-in.
  • Send individuals to conferences like the SMRP and IMC where they can talk to their peers in other organizations and bring back that excitement to the plant. Have them share what they have learned.
  • Create a newsletter celebrating your internal reliability successes.
  • Have guest speakers come to your site from world class plants and let them share their success but more importantly help your site understand how they can do the same.
  • Invite corporate leadership to share their vision for reliability, why they care about it, and don’t be afraid to pre-coach the leaders a bit if required to ensure alignment.
Two things you can expect to hear is: “Yea, but we are different” and “That will never work here” so make sure you are ready to answer why it will after each step you take. Without answering these questions and creating this desire or hunger the transition from reactive to reliable can be a long and slow process, that is good for pulled pork but not for corporate profits.
What are you doing in your site to build the hunger for reliability? Leave a few examples for others in the comments.