One of the Keys to a Successful Reliability Implementation
It is always encouraging when research “proves” that your long-held beliefs are correct. We asked the maintenance, reliability, and condition monitoring community about their reliability improvement program via a detailed survey.
We had over 1.000 responses from around the world and across a wide variety of industries. The goal was to determine what the difference was between the programs enjoying success and those that were still struggling to achieve their goals.
The results were quite interesting.
Are surveys perfect?
It must be said that it can be difficult to get perfect data from surveys. Or to put it another way, it is impossible to get perfect data from surveys. Everyone is busy and if you ask too many questions people will not complete the survey. If the information you request is difficult to access, once again, people will not complete the survey. However, with 1.000 responses, we felt we had good information to work with.
What is reliability success?
The first challenge was to measure “success” - what is the definition of a successful reliability program? In an ideal world, we would receive detailed financial information about production output, maintenance costs, asset value, and other key information, and we would be able to normalize it against industry type – and we would be able to measure the contribution that reliability improvement made to those results.. However, as you may imagine, too few people have that information, and even fewer are willing (or able) to share it.
Instead, we chose to go with three metrics: maintenance cost as a percentage of asset value, equipment availability, and the percentage of reactive maintenance. As it turned out, the information we received on the first metric was either unreliable or too few respondents were able to provide that information. Instead, we combined the other two metrics so that we had four levels of success, as illustrated above.
Our next challenge was to analyze the data and attempt to determine what the people in Group 1 did differently to the other groups. We asked questions about training, the techniques they use to develop their reliability strategy, the age of the program, the software and instrumentation they used, and many other factors. But what appeared to come from the survey was that the programs with the best culture achieve the best results. The programs with the strongest management support had the best culture. And the programs that developed the financial business case had the strongest management support.
Our conclusion, therefore, was that developing a business case was one of the root causes of program success.
Do surveys and correlation prove anything?
Stepping back for a second, it is fair to say that it can be challenging to distinguish between causation and correlation.
As I like to point out, global warming is statistically correlated with the number of pirates in the world. As the number of pirates has steadily decreased, the temperature of the globe has steadily increased, as illustrated on the next page. There is a mathematical correlation.
But I think most people would agree that the size of the population of pirates has had little to do with global warming.
And thus, it is the same with the author’s interpretation of the survey results. Can I say, categorically, that it was the existence of the business case that resulted in achieving the support of senior management?
I expected that to be the case, therefore I may be guilty of confirmation bias. But a close examination of the data showed that 95% of the organizations that have a business case also had strong senior management support.
It is also true that there may be other reasons why an organization had a culture that supported the concept of reliability improvement. But we did find that 96% of the organizations that either had strong or moderate senior management support had the right culture.
And finally, it is also difficult to prove, without a doubt, that the nature of the culture influenced the success achieved by the reliability improvement program. But approximately 90 percent of the organizations in Group 1 reported:
- Everyone understands the benefits [86%]
- Everyone is encouraged to provide suggestions for improvement [90%]
- Everyone understands the mission [95%]
- Everyone is actively engaged [90%]
As mentioned earlier, we examined other factors, mostly technical, but none of them achieved the high percentages listed above. As the owner of an international training organization, I was disappointed to learn that the level of training and certification did not strongly correlate with program success. Fifty percent of Group 1 and 2 said they had strong training, skills, and certification while another 40 percent said they had “somewhat strong” training, skills, and certification.
Why is it so?
In the author’s opinion, and in the author’s experience, no amount of technical expertise and investment in instrumentation and software will guarantee a successful program. Yes, the program will be enhanced if the expertise, instrumentation, and software exist, but the technical people will always be hamstrung by the people who make decisions that ultimately lead to premature failure. Those decisions include:
- Making design, engineering, and purchasing selections that reduce the upfront cost but ultimately lead to reduced reliability and maintainability (and thus increased lifecycle costs).
- Storing spares and materials in a way that results in degradation of those items (due to vibration, humidity, heat, and dust).
- Installing and repairing equipment without the appropriate tools, skills, procedures, and standards thus leading to premature failure and rework (when the mistakes are made again).
- Placing the equipment under undue stress and strain when starting, operating, and shutting down the equipment.
- Failing to care for the equipment by allowing it (and the lubricants, filters, etc.) to get dirty and stay dirty.
- Failing to heed the advice of condition monitoring and reliability professionals to respond to pending failures and eliminate root causes.
And the list goes on…
No amount of technical skill, tools, and technology can overcome apathy, poor motivation, and lack of appreciation for the benefits of improved reliability.
Therefore, developing a culture where everyone is motivated (personally and professionally) to achieve high reliability and operational performance is the only way to achieve high reliability and performance.
So, what is the key ingredient in culture change?
It has always been the author’s opinion, as has been borne out by the survey results, that you must have strong leadership from senior management. Unless the leaders of the organization are saying and doing the right things, the rest of the employees in the workforce will not change their ways.
Senior management must be as vocal about reliability as they are (or should be) about safety. They must constantly repeat the mantra that “safety and reliability are key to success.”
They must not simply say the right things, they must do the right things: being willing to spend a little more on a project to achieve reliability and maintainability; invest in awareness training, skills training, and the tools and technologies; standing strong when short-cuts are available; and “punishing” those who do not do what is necessary to achieve reliability and high performance.
But how do you gain management support?
In an ideal world, it would be possible to “simply” explain the “common sense” philosophy of reliability improvement and they would be convinced and thus do what they must do.
But that will not work.
Most senior management cannot translate between the common sense technical need to improve reliability in the financial and other benefits that will be achieved. Senior management are motivated to increase profits (or operate within a budget), improve customer satisfaction, achieve the highest level of safety and environmental protection, and to meet the requirements of the regulators. It is up to you to demonstrate how improving reliability will enable them to meet their goals.
In the author’s opinion, as has been borne out by the survey, the best approach is to develop a financial business case using the terminology they use to assess all the major projects: internal rate of return (IRR), net present value (NPV), and so on. Do not just talk about the “saves” you expect to make – no one sees what you avoided, but they do see the net benefits of the failures you avoided: increased production output, reduced maintenance costs, safety improvements, and so on.
Ninety-five percent of the organizations that had developed a business case were in Group 1. Whether you are starting a new program, looking to improve the performance of an existing program, or searching for ways to sustain a successful program, you must develop the financial business case – and constantly report on the financial (and other) gains being made by the program.
The rise of maintenance droids
A popular vision of a future with robots was created by the immensely popular Star Wars movies. The word “droid” is so ubiquitous that it is hard to believe the word was created and trademarked by George Lucas, the films’ director. In fact, Star Wars robots have motivated real science. As an example, NASA’s personal satellite assistant was inspired by the lightsaber training droid used by Luke Skywalker. If a minor droid in Star Wars can influence NASA, can R2-D2 and BB-8, the movies’ two nonanthropomorphic robots, have an effect on how we conduct repairs?
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