Climb to the fifth level

The reliability excellence model is founded on a simple principle.  It's a performance level that is difficult to achieve and even harder to sustain.

By R. Keith Mobley, contributing editor

Reliability excellence is the quality of sustained optimum performance from all plant and corporate functions. It’s an inherently desirable performance level, but is difficult to achieve and harder to sustain. Too many organizations seem trapped in a recurring cycle of high-visibility initiatives that yield positive results initially, followed by a drift backward to pre-initiative performance levels. Begun as something new and exciting, these initiatives gradually become less glamorous and yield to the constant pull of perceived acceptable norms. It’s from this environment that a model for achieving a sustainable level of peak performance evolved.

The reliability excellence model is founded on a simple principle: Excellence in the little things yields excellence in the big things. It’s not instant gratification. Rather, it’s a systematic process that first produces an environment conducive to optimum performance from every function and employee in the organization and accepts only the best from everyone. It implements business processes that provide the means for achieving best practices and prohibits deviation from them. Then, it adds methods to optimize and sustain world-class performance levels.

Founding principles
Excellence must be built on a foundation of good business ethics and practices. It instills a value system that governs every aspect of the day-to-day, as well as the long-term, performance of the plant or corporation. Its principles are based on both a vision and a set of values that determine how the company conducts itself. This vision and value approach has received widespread emphasis lately, but is too often implemented inappropriately through corporate fiat. To be of any sustaining value, it’s critical that this be a shared value system, something that each employee understands and believes in. People must come to work each day with a clear understanding of their roles and contributions to the organization.

Creating an environment of performance that has a clear, consistent vision and allows the employees to maximize job satisfaction provides the foundation on which excellence is built.

Work culture
The second level, work culture, establishes the working environment. It’s where the principles the vision and mission defined are transformed into the systems that permit effective and efficient execution of the work in compliance with founding principles. There are many aspects of an organization’s culture that have no direct effect on performance. However, there are three aspects that have a significant effect and must be addressed in this phase of implementation. These include: short-term versus long-term thinking, proactive versus reactive actions and interdepartmental partnerships.

Excellence doesn’t occur randomly; it must be defined, planned and pursued. Short-term thinking precludes planning and prevents the future from being developed effectively. When the total focus is on today’s problems, little positive attention can be paid to preparing for tomorrow’s challenges. This makes long-term thinking -- focusing on tomorrow’s challenges -- a critical component of excellence.

It’s impossible to achieve excellence in a reactive environment. The management behaviors that prompt the question, “How quickly can it be repaired?” must be replaced by a proactive mind-set that asks, “Why did this failure occur and what can we do to prevent recurrence?”

It’s not uncommon to have a committed and aligned organization struggle for lack of coordination and cooperation among interdependent functional groups. An environment of compartmentalized information and ill-defined customer-supplier roles produces what is known as unintended adversaries, or groups that work unnecessarily at cross-purposes. Each department and work group must clearly understand the effect that its actions may have on every other work group, as well as the organization as a whole.

Work processes
Organizations have processes that determine how work will be executed. These processes inherently reflect the culture (Level 2). Therefore, it’s imperative that the preceding level is completed fully and effectively before implementing the processes that will determine how work is to be executed.

Work processes should make the mechanics of running the organization a well-defined, disciplined and effective process that provides the proper balance between structure and flexibility.

Work practices
The forth level builds on the work processes, addressing the effectiveness and efficiency of how work is to be accomplished. Effective supervision, skills training, facilities, tools and technologies fall into this level of the model.

An integral part of this implementation level is the inclusion of specific methods that ensure adherence, and if necessary, enforcement, to the principles, culture and work processes established in the preceding levels.

Continuous improvement
If the preceding steps have been implemented successfully and adopted universally by the entire workforce, the final level is a paradoxical combination of sustainability and continuous improvement. Sustainability implies standardization and repeatability, whereas continuous improvement implies change. This paradox can be avoided when employees realize that excellence is not a static standard. The bar is always being raised, therefore sustained peak performance requires continuous improvement. Truly successful companies are never satisfied with status quo and constantly strive to improve. That is the meaning of reliability excellence.

Contributing Editor R. Keith Mobley, CMRP, is principal consultant at Life Cycle Engineering in Charleston, S.C. E-mail him at

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