Getting beyond headlines to create change

There is an old story about a young, hard-charging engineer who used to spray acronyms around like a fire hose. Some of his coworkers said that the PE after his name stood for "Political Engineer." But most thought he was pretty bright.

As the story goes, his plant manager told him, in front of an audience in the cafeteria, that there was a plague of TLAs in the plant. The darn things were gumming up communication and slowing down all the production and maintenance processes. The trend had to stop and he thought the PE was just the man to identify the cause of all the TLAs and eliminate them.

The young man, too embarrassed to acknowledge that he had just heard an unfamiliar acronym from his boss, resolutely accepted the assignment and marched out into the plant in search of the nefarious TLAs. Of course he didn’t get much help from the old timers.

A couple of days later the plant manager caught up with the PE in the cafeteria and asked him, again with an audience, if he had found the handle on the TLA problem yet. The chagrined young man had to confess that, not only had he not solved the problem, he had been unable to determine what a TLA was.

As we all know, his boss helped him out with the answer. “Three Letter Acronym,” he said. Hopefully, the youngster learned his lesson. Sooner or later, if we hope to create any meaningful change to our organizations, it is necessary to move beyond the headline or acronym level of planning and understanding and dig into the details of what makes things work, or not work. It is in the details that data becomes information. Details make the difference between visions and goals. They differentiate between guidelines and behaviors.

This morning I read a useful, short piece by Tim Kister of Life Cycle Engineering ( about making a maintenance planning and scheduling meeting more effective.

The details of regularly scheduled meetings, with the right people, the right data, the right process and the right key process indicators (KPIs) – pardon the acronym – can create control out of chaos. Read Tim’s article and see if your maintenance team can improve their definition of success for planning/scheduling meetings and start to reduce down time and control the backlog. By the way, rumor has it that our PE began to refer to the plant manager as his “Smart Old Boss,” though sometimes he just used the initials.