How to build a reliability department (six off-the-wall tips)

Sooner or later, most companies that are serious about asset performance end up looking at the option of building a reliability department. My personal view is that ultimately, reliability should be like safety. It is everyone's job, it is threaded throughout the business, and there should be no need for a central policeman setting policy or doing the work for you. But ... that is a little bit utopian, I know.

In the real world, there is a dramatic need for someone to physically and corporately own reliability, and for someone to play the part of cheerleader and pied piper. At least until the ideas spreads ...

There are any number of articles out there written by very knowledgeable people on how to build a reliability department. You know the ones, get a leader, get engineers, establish lines of authority and so on. All very practical, and all very stuffy, to be frank.

So here are some impractical and off-the-wall ideas that I have picked up from my time wandering around the place. I hope they help you.  

1) No more champions.

Champions are a sure bet that the project will fail. Champions do a great job and get promoted, they get frustrated and leave, or they get no traction and spin their wheels. Champions are the corporate equivalent of, "Here, just hold this for a while."

Instead of champions, you need to focus all of your hearts and minds stuff on creating a movement. Something that will get a life of its own, something that will build its own momentum and career off uncontrobaly toward better performance. (With or without your involvement.)

2) No more projects!

This is permanent; this is not a temporary thing. During the EAM heyday, I saw so many mid-level managers "dodge the bullet" and avoid the work and stress of change. They were safe in the knowledge that one day this would pass and they could return to the status quo.

Not a project, a program. Not temporary, but permanent. Not a transitional team, but a permanent hub. 

3) No Dilbert-like mission statements! PLEASE!!!

I read a dozen of these every month. "We will ... the best-performing ... for the good of the nation ... and with peace to all peoples ..." Bah ... no wonder people get cynical. 

Instead of the Dilbert model, get yourself the Art of Change direct model. (As if ... right?) Think of the statements that have galvanized corporations ...

- To be the low-cost airline (Southwest Airlines)

- To be #1 or #2 in every market we are in. (GE of course. Who else?)

- To put a computer on every desktop. (Microsoft)

Concise, exact and powerful. "Will this make us #1 or #2 in the sector?" Immediately it sets up everything else that you do.

One I use regularly is, "To achieve minimum whole-of-life costs for a given level of performance and risk." And that's it ... everything else then gets decided based upon on how it contributes to this statement. 

Yours could be far better. How about, "To stop unplanned outages/breakdowns." Or maybe, "To be the leader in predictable costs."

Whatever ... just make it real, and make it something that people will get behind, instead of something they will run away from. 

4) No sacred cows.

There is far too much status in the status quo. And if you fall into the trap of thinking that tomorrow is going to look anything like yesterday, then you are living in the wrong century! (By about 200 years.)

Things that worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. Outsourcing was frowned upon yesterday; it might be the wisest move you could make for cost control today. SAP-like systems were the traditional choice for maintenance management yesterday; eMaint-style systems (Online, cheap and functional) could be the wisest move you could make for tomorrow. 

5) It's all about the money, stupid!

This was a bolt from the blue to me when I was working in the U.K. it suddenly occurred to me that if you want to get things moving, and get permanent support (e.g. not a project but a program) then you need to show rapid and powerful benefits statements. 

Value protection is wise (work on critical assets) but it is never going to create a movement or generate an unstoppable wave of support. Find out where the company is bleeding, fix it, tell everyone about it, and move on to the next dragon you need to slay.

There is simply no better way to be seen as a positive investment rather than unaccountable overhead.

6) Hire people with scars.

The more the better. I have visited with, worked with and led teams of reliability engineers who collectively had less experience than most the people they were trying to coerce into changing. That is shocking! 

Smart graduates are great, and they should be a part of any team. In fact, they should be on the leadership team because they are far more in touch with the information revolution than you or I will ever be (sadly).

But if you want to venture into what is unknown for your company, then it is wise to invest (oh yes, money is very important - believe me!) in some guides who have been there before and have a pretty good idea what the path looks like. 

The greatest mismatch in reliability history is the one that happens in every plant, every day.

The young, relatively green but motivated and thoughtful young reliability engineer versus the hoary, up-from-the-ranks, experience dripping from his sweat maintenance planner.

And the former has to advise the latter what to do ... no wonder these things don't work.

I though this would be an interesting riff to share with you. I am planning on doing more on the hearts-and-minds-type stuff. I think it is somewhere that we could really learn from what is going on out there in the rapidly evolving world of marketing. 

Enjoy it, and if you don't enjoy it, get out of it ... 

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