A Profile in Leadership - Mr Steve Turner

This is the first in a string of interviews we are planning to do in this column called "Profiles in Leadership". The game is filled with people who are really nice guys, innovators, and who work day in and day out to bring about change in our managerial discipline. This series is aimed at recognizing some of them and bringing them out of the shadows at least for a little while. Steve Turner is the owner of OMCS, and the brains behind such products / methodologies as PMO2000, RIMSys and others. I have known Steve since around the turn of the century and it has been fascinating to watch his company grow from where it was then, to where he has taken it today. Not only is his story a profile in Leadership, but he is one of the games truly decent guys as well. Q1: OMCS is part of the reliability landscape now. But what initially inspired you to start the company? Would you recommend entrepreneurship to others in the reliability game? Answer: I was inspired to consulting by the reward of helping people- particularly shop floor people, improve their understanding and job satisfaction at work in what are normally difficult situations. Typically these are situations where management takes insufficient notice of their knowledge and capabilities. I love working with the shop floor people and facilitating their creative abilities to the point where they formulate comprehensive and logical improvement plans for their business. My first real taste for this was when I was working for General Motors on their Supplier Development Program. This program involved facilitating production operators who effectively conducted lean manufacturing and line balancing analysis on their own production lines – stop watches and all. From that I moved to a Big Six consulting firm where I was able to continue this passion. This worked for three years but eventually I found that work was mostly compromised by a policy to deliver a certain type of process, which I thought was mostly a bad fit with client needs. The program was an RCM program. I felt that most organizations were 80% of the way with respect to their maintenance program and that RCM amounted to setting aside what had been developed and starting from scratch: Throwing away the old and creating a new one. I wanted to work on a program whereby companies could start with what was already in place and rationalize and review this, and fill in the 20% that was missing. Developing something better was a key driver of starting my own business. Another key driver was the diminishing satisfaction I was finding at working in a large firm with an unseen layer of intense internal politics. Additionally, my work was often compromised by directions from project managers who had a cost cutting view rather than a revenue view of businesses. Consulting in those days was primarily concerned with cost reduction and I felt uneasy in this situation; particularly in revenue businesses that can sell all they make. I did not see myself as a partner in such an organization so I decided to do my own thing and see what happened. I am now very happy in what I do even though there is an enormous workload. Fortunately I see work as a hobby and so I don’t mind devoting my spare time to developing new ideas and working on keeping the organization on a growth path. I now find myself mostly in a management role though I still work with the customers when we need our people trained or I sit in on my consultant’s/ client presentations. I would do the same again so I would have to recommend this to others. I do know however, that many people start out in this business and don’t succeed. It is certainly different to corporate life as an employee. I have not had many holidays in the past decade and in the early days, with growth and product development costs, we did not pay much off on the mortgage. I think that for many people, the risks and the low initial rewards are incompatible with family and personal needs and so they don’t last long in consulting. Q2: Finding talented people seems to be a common thread among consultants and client companies today. How are things with you given that your international reach gives you a broader pool to choose from than most? Got any tips that have helped you find and keep good people? Answer: I don’t think we have a broader pool to choose from than most. First of all, few people come with the knowledge-set we need so we can’t easily hire people that have experience. People with the experience we need are easy to come by. We therefore need to find people with the right personality and work ethics and spend three months training them before they work unsupervised. Even people with RCM background need to learn with us – and often, if they have been using complex or statistical RCM programs, they often fail to move to our way of thinking. Our needs are also ultra high in the computer skills area. This means that 80% (just a rough estimation) of the people in the 40+ age bracket are not suitable. For these reasons, our target employee is someone in an age bracket between 28 and 35. They have to be able to travel. The reality is that most of the people in this bracket are starting families or looking for the partner of their dreams. The needs of consulting often conflict with their personal needs so it is tough to find people that fit the criteria and are likely to do so for five or so years. Like most companies we advertise for people and try to find the best from the applicants. We have also recruited from references. Keeping the good people is high on the list of company goals. We work hard to keep tabs on our consultants’ personal lives – not in an intrusive way, but we try to keep the Mrs and kids happy. We often send the spouse or partner to the location where the consultant is working and allow them time together at our expense – even if this is overseas. Q3. To take a broader perspective; how is the market reacting to reliability these days? You see it across a number of continents, industries and cultures so yours is a pretty unique viewpoint. Answer: It is good to see more people at reliability conferences. The current resources boom has loosened the purse strings a bit and got a focus on revenue back once again. I am still very disappointed in the poor improvement and the lack of real initiative. I have learnt not to get too frustrated and to lower my expectations. The biggest set back for our industry is that we are engineers. We are people that can do. By and large we have an attitude that we can solve problems ourselves. If you tell an engineer the problem has no solution, he is likely to take it on and not stop until he has fixed it. This means often that our specialist advice or assistance is not sought often enough. We are called in frequently to do the initial work on projects, but most times, the engineers want to internalize the program far too early. Without exception, the total potential benefit not realized in these cases Financial controllers often see maintenance improvement programs as risky business and that compounds the problems – finances for these projects are often half or less than what they should be. Secondly, I think that the engineers have made the processes of improving maintenance overly complicated. This is becoming an increasing problem and I have been doing my best to change the direction. It seems easy to develop something that is complicated but it takes a lot of courage to go in the opposite direction. Complication seems to support a lot of consulting firms who have developed elegant statistical methods and hence say to their customers, “this is too complicated for you to do”…. This model feeds on itself unfortunately. I believe, these consultants think they can get and sustain the work this way. Unfortunately, I think these complex approaches are having a major negative effect. Maintenance is not about failure statistics and models. There is rarely any source of reasonable data in maintenance yet we are seeing a significant increase in the number of packages that deal in a statistical way. The problems with this are major. First and foremost, such approaches drive improvement from the shop floor into the engineering back office staffed by young engineers who know a lot about statistics but very little about maintenance. Their output is usually founded on guesswork and unsupported assumptions… the shop floor people are not involved in the analysis and think it is flawed – and it usually is. The latter being the second major problem. The move to statistical methods in maintenance is my biggest concern for the future. It will be a fad – but we will lose a lot of ground going this way. I hope we get back to simple fundamentals soon. Q4: What do you see as the biggest barrier to embedding improvement initiatives, and what are your tips to help people overcome it? Answer: I think the comments above are one of the barriers – statistical programs that are flawed. The second barrier in my opinion is the inability of companies to think big and invest the right resources. They are still unable to release people for reliability improvement work. On the other side, most embark on overly resource intensive programs – but that drags out the argument of PMO rather than RCM so we will leave the discussion at that point. Reliability Engineering is not mature by a wide margin. Reliability engineers are still confused and lacking in knowledge. Many of them have not received decent training and become reliability engineers by changing their position title. Unfortunately many of them are receiving training in complex methods which makes life tough for the man trying to sell simple things. My tips are: Keep it simple and stay away from statistical analysis methods, Get a decent budget for your improvement program and get the help you need. An improvement in reliability has a bigger ROI than any project on the books at your company, however understand that financiers see it ashigh risk business. Start small with a pilot program and then go in for the big budget armed with a successful pilot study in your pocket. Q5: What’s in the next 24 months for OMCS? (New markets, products, partners?) When are we going to (finally) see the book on PMO? Answer: In the next two years will see our business further expanding into Europe and USA. We hope to make some ground in Latin America where we have been for 12 months with limited success. Asia has been good for us and we hope to see growth continuing there. We have also written our training material and software in Russian for a Russian power company so we may move seriously into Russia. We are looking for a Russian partner to help us. We are releasing new product in the area of Enterprise Data Analytics (based on simplicity) and making improvements to our other software packages. We think we have developed a very good two-day training program – got great reviews so far so we will be seeing if there is a market for public courses again. The training course development has information that can go straight into the PMO book I have been working on for a while. The book is back on the work list again and I hope to have it out this year. Our software offering continues to evolve. We have written software to do the PMO of inventory management using the Inventory Cash Release system developed by renowned author and speaker Phil Slater. We are going web with all our software and doing further integration between CMMS systems, and our own products. If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing in a reader, or you can also receive The Art of Change by Email.