Learn how to eliminate unnecessary reactivity and manage the remainder

Jan. 27, 2022
In this episode of Assets Anonymous, George Williams and Joe Anderson explore what reactivity is and how it can benefit your plant team.

Assets Anonymous is a 12-step podcast series designed to help you get grounded in reliability basics and create a culture of continuous improvement with your team. This series will feature interviews with George Williams and Joe Anderson of ReliabilityX. ReliabilityX aims to bridge the gap between operations and maintenance through holistic reliability focused on plant performance. The first episode in the series focuses on understanding reactivity.

PS: All right. Well, let's take that first step then: Reactivity. It's a term which I think is not fully understood as to the benefits it can bring to a team. So, can you walk us through a couple of the things that our listeners should know about what reactivity can do for them, and the ways it may work against them?

GW: Reactivity for me is a really large topic and a misunderstood topic. What's interesting is, what we see in industry today is, “we've got to not be reactive, not be reactive, not be reactive.” And in reality, what we have to do is eliminate unnecessary reactivity and manage the reactivity that remains. And people are so focused on, how do I become proactive? That they're not understanding that even if you are in that state, part of proactivity is managing reactivity well. We'll go back and forth here with Joe and myself and try to understand what reactivity really is, so that we can eventually get to the points of how do we manage it.

JA: I think, first, you have to understand how it works, right? And to understand proactivity and reactivity, it's like a sliding scale. It's not one or the other. You can be more proactive or more reactive, depending on the tasks that you're doing. The way that I look at it is they get confused with run to failure. Run to failure is a domain, and then you have your preventive domain, your predictive domain, where all of those are reactive at some point, but some are more proactive than others. Distinguishing between a domain and the sliding scale of reactivity and productivity, understanding that first I think is key.

I think the problem is that run to failure is a business decision, whether it was come to strategically through an equipment maintenance strategy, or that's the culture and it's taken over anyway. And you just stand around and wait for stuff to break and you respond, which is run to failure, and it is reactive. But again, it's kind of a sliding scale. It's not this black or white, you're either this or you're that, to understand it.

PS: That was one of the first things when I really entered this industry seven years ago, that was a wake up for me was, again, I had heard also that being reactive was, you wanted to avoid that mode. And the more I learned about the industry, and I'm going back to the slide that Klaus Blache always talks about, he says best in class is about 10% reactive. You're never going to eliminate that. And most actual reactive is about 35%. It is simply a fact of life and has to be managed and worked with.

GW: I'm all for statistics and what's best in class. But even that is a sliding scale based on your industry, right? If you're in a service industry, you're at some university campus or some research facility where there's lots of customers, right, you're going to get tons of things like hot and cold calls and nuisance things, like, "My door's locked” or “My desk is locked" that as a maintenance organization you have to respond to, and they are certainly reactive responses.

In a manufacturing facility, your typical reactive response is either to operations not operating well or to breakdowns. And it's not necessarily to a customer in an office on some frequency. So even your industry will play a part in what you can or cannot achieve, and I don't even like to say achieve or not achieve in this space. It's how much reactivity do you have to have a plan to manage as a baseline normal, right? Our goal is to minimize that as much as possible, but what's possible in one industry may be a far cry from what's possible in another industry.

JA: Because it's about control. And in an industry like a university, you have no control over people. If I forget my keys at home, how is that a maintenance problem, right? And then, because we say 10% reactivity is best in class, I'm getting dinged for things that I can't control. When it comes to assets and equipment, those are things that you can control. And so it's a smaller margin for reactivity for best in class when it comes to dealing with equipment, than dealing with people. The best-in-class benchmark opens up a lot wider when you're in those types of industry. And so you have to be careful with these black and white, best-in-class things and understand your industry and how it relates to what you're doing.

PS: I'm curious, you guys have had a lot of experience across various verticals, do you find that one or more verticals lend themselves to more reactivity, and others much less reactivity? I just got back from the Rockwell Automation Fair, for example, last week, and heard a lot of case studies in oil and gas about how they're automating so much of the process to try and eliminate some of the reactive maintenance modes. But there's other industries where it may simply be more embedded in the process of manufacturing.

JA: The problem with the whole thing is the fact that we think maintenance is the problem. And until you truly understand your business, you understand losses and things like that, you come to realize that truly, when defined well, maintenance really isn't the problem. Maintenance gets the blame because we don't define things well.

We just say unplanned downtime equals maintenance. Well, within unplanned downtime, only one loss type is tied to maintenance. Everything else is either operations related or possibly engineering related. But no one takes the time to break that stuff down, and so everybody thinks maintenance is the problem, therefore we need to automate, we need to do this, we need to do that, thinking that we're going to make the maintenance problem go away, when maintenance wasn't really a problem in the first place. And so, it's more fixing your operational side of things that will alleviate a majority of the issues that you're seeing in your facility.

GW: And that's still managing the reactivity. Right? So that's still understanding how many folks out there have a work order type that says, "I helped operations with their setup because they don't have good setup standards?" How many have a work order type that says, “I responded to the line, but there was no breakdown?" What's interesting is understanding reactivity. And as we go through this 12-step program, we're going to understand how to go after the reactivity to eliminate as much as we possibly can.

Your question around industries and what we see more or less of, I think their starting points are different. Certainly in a service industry, you have much greater starting points. But I think it's also a question of the maturity of the organization as to where that end goal looks like. Because even in service industries, depending on your company and your company's culture, you can get to a point of calibrating thermostats, and if it's between 68 and 72, based on the building automation system, we're not responding. Bring a coat, wear a sweater, take the sweater off. But if it's 62, then we're responding because something's wrong with the air handler.

If we have documented evidence that we calibrate our thermostats, we no longer have to respond to those hot and cold calls. But to get to that point, we have to eliminate other issues around the facility to free up the resources so that we can calibrate those instruments. There's a maturity progress that takes place in that type of organization that allows them to get to that point. Or maybe there's no ROI to get to that point, so what they end up doing is, well, it's not worth calibrating the instrument, so we don't even do that. All of it is about understanding, “What is the reactive work that you're doing today? And what is the strategy to manage it? And to what level do you need to manage it?”

PS: Interesting. Next question then, George, is how would you recommend to plant teams they start understanding that work? Because a lot of times this work by its nature, you sort of get thrown into it, and then you do it, and you get it done. And it often feels like there might not be time for the paperwork after the fact of the investigation. What are some things people can do, again, to get a handle on this work? And then maybe the next question after that would be how do you start sifting through that list and identifying, okay, what can we manage? What can we not?

GW: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. That's like episode 7, 8, 9, 10.

PS: Sorry, too many steps. Well, then let's keep it at step 1 then.

GW: This will be a really short 12-step program. Just to throw one piece out there to whet people's appetite and come back for those episodes, from my perspective is, people measure planning and scheduling. What was my schedule compliance? What was my schedule compliance? But they're not digging into the weeds of what did I do that was not on the schedule? Because a lot of that work is repetitive, and that's the reactive work, if it is repetitive, that you can go after. So for me, the first thing you have to do is document everything. Everything is a work order. That's step 1 for me. Because you can't gain the understanding if you're not documenting.

JA: Right. But there comes an assumption, if you're that reactive, that you're actually planning and scheduling. So, to start, maybe you should start planning and scheduling. And then there's a lot of folks out there that, just talking this past week to a bunch of individuals, they don't even have a CMMS system. Which to me in this day and age, right, we make assumptions that everybody does, but when you come out of Fortune 500 companies, you take that as a truth and that it's going to be there. Then you start talking to some of these, like, facilities, organizations and stuff like that, and they're like, "Well, we're using Google Sheets to manage work orders.”

Listen to the entire interview

The problem with industry is there's one extreme to the other, and everyone's at a different maturity level, and everyone has a different level of understanding. So starting with some basics, I think it’s key. You said, like, people don't have time to do the investigation and do the paperwork. Well, I would stop you right there and say that's your problem. Why don't you take the time to solve one problem? Just solve one problem every day if you can, right? And slowly, that reactive cycle begins to break, and you start developing more time to focus on things that you should be.

But you also have to start with an understanding of what right looks like. If you don't know what right looks like, this is the life we've always lived and we're always going to live it. And so, I think the second step starts to lend examples towards what right looks like. But I think we have to start there with an understanding before we jump too far.

For us, like George and myself, we make a lot of assumptions because of things that we've seen from our experience, but there's a lot of people that aren't even close to the area in which we're making those assumptions, like planning and scheduling, or having a CMMS system, or, some of those types of things, those things don't even exist. And so even with us, we have our own biases. But for us to take a step back and take a look at it, I think will be key.

PS: That makes a lot of sense. I can see where even just getting a handle on the kind of work being done, let's say someone doesn't have that CMMS system, that might be the first step to understanding, "Okay, we do have to go be on Google Sheets and Excel, and get a management system which can actually capture the work we're doing." Because you're right, how do you understand what right looks like unless you have that list of tasks out to look at.

JA: Your understanding of what right is your current state, if you have no other understanding.

GW: And there should still not be a roadblock to an organization that has no CMMS. You can talk to your maintenance staff, build a good relationship and ask them what their headaches are. If you take away their headaches, it is likely you have eliminated the recurring issues, so you can start with nothing but a good relationship.

PS: Okay. Well, I'm going to ask a question to end this podcast episode on which comes up a lot at events, and I'm sure you guys have heard this question before. It's the issue of the people on the teams who might like being a firefighter, right? The folks who...it's like a writer like myself, for example, being on deadline and not writing the last piece of the magazine until the night before, because it somehow feels more urgent and that you've done some urgent work and it feels better or different. How would you approach those people in plants and talk to them about shifting out of that reactive mode, and helping them understand that there's a value and meaning in not waiting till the last second? And by the way, as a writer, I'm listening closely.

JA: I think there's a good quote, it says, "Good things come to those that wait. So why is procrastination a bad thing?” Putting things off until the last minute drives a sense of urgency. From a reactive standpoint, like I said, part of the problem is getting a gauge and understanding of what right looks like. And it's really easy to Google “maintenance best practices” in your Internet Explorer and start taking a look at what some people are saying and trying to get a gauge of what right looks like and focusing on...just pick one thing.

Typically, my recommendation is to start with lubrication, cleaning your equipment, and having standards on tightening techniques using torque wrenches, torque screwdriver, stuff like that. Because statistically, 70% of problems that exist in facilities are tied to those three things. So if you learn to manage those three things well – and you can do it even without a CMMS or any of the other things – just try to become excellent at those three things and it'll start alleviating problems.

GW: It's an interesting question, Thomas. For me, I think there's a couple of things. First, if the organizational culture continues to reward the site-saver or the firefighter, then that's what you'll get. You'll get folks that enjoy that. For those folks, we've got to start rewarding them positively for the right behaviors for executing a PM we didn't have to go back to, or it didn't cause a future problem. Then there's another section of people that just basically need the overtime. Because they're so used to it, their lifestyle requires the overtime to continue. That's a whole different animal. And unfortunately, for those people, you can't really help them much because you're hoping the overtime goes away. You're not really there just for the sake of overtime, and you didn't make their life choices.

So there's going to be a certain proportion of people that you can, through the right evolution of culture, get to understand that the reward is actually being unknown, right? Being the not-so-in-the-spotlight, right, which is where maintenance should be highlighted. They should be highlighted by not being in the spotlight. And then you've got a portion of the population that is their lifestyle requires the overtime, and you're not going to convince them, no matter what you do, because their bread and butter is relying on it, on being a site-saver and being called up at 3 a.m. They're not going to like it, no matter how good it is to shift to a more proactive approach.

JA: The problem is in environments like that, people think that those superheroes are their best mechanics, and they cling to those guys thinking that they're here to save the world. So these are my best guys, I've got to focus on them and make sure everything's okay. When you start to take a step back, you realize a lot of the time they're not your best mechanics because they're doing more harm than good. Now, I've seen, from my own career, some of these superheroes come around to being champions for reliability. But I would say 8 times out of 10, that's just not going to be the case.

GW: I've seen people sabotage equipment so they could get overtime. "Wait, nothing's on the list for tomorrow? Let's go make something on the list for tomorrow."

JA: Well, even the operations group will do that, too.

GW: Yeah, no doubt.

JA: I've seen that happen.

GW: "Oh, man, we're working our butt off because this box is very small in weight. So we're doing millions of boxes a day. So I'll go break a conveyor so I can go take a long lunch. Maintenance will get called, I go take a long lunch.” This stuff happens!

JA: "And then we have to work Saturday and I get my overtime."

GW: This stuff happens, Thomas, so it's a matter of policing it. This is all managing your reactivity. Part of it's going to be a people issue, like you bring up, some of which you can affect, some of which people's bad choices are going to make them leave. Because they're going to have to go get a raise because their lifestyle now requires it.

PS: Interesting. And especially, Joe, you outlined the three basic work types to start with to help managing reactivity. It occurs to me that may be the simple starting place where you simply start with the tasks. And then once the tasks are more under control, suddenly the culture is going to start changing.

JA: You start rewarding those that become great at managing those programs. And if you're an attention hog, you're going to want to be the champion. If you're an overtime hog, which a lot of them are, you're going to start weeding them out. Right? And so, again, I've seen about 20% of them are attention hogs, and so they realize, "If I want attention, I've got to manage this program well," then they'll do it. Normally, it'll be the unexpected people that have the wanting to change that will become your superstar mechanics, versus the superheroes that did exist.

PS: And let's say you are one of those mechanics who wants to make change from the ground up, I hope you're listening to what Joe and George are saying because they're identifying the kind of tasks you can recommend to your supervisors that would come first as well, the kind of tasks to become expert at. Well, guys, I think we can wrap up this first episode, "Understanding Reactivity." The next episode in this series is going to be "Understanding Proactivity." We'll focus a lot on what right looks like. So for this episode, George, Joe, thanks for being with us today.

About the Author

Assets Anonymous | Assets Anonymous

Assets Anonymous is a 12-step podcast series designed to help you get grounded in reliability basics and create a culture of continuous improvement with your team. This series will feature interviews with George Williams and Joe Anderson of ReliabilityX, which aims to bridge the gap between operations and maintenance through holistic reliability focused on plant performance.

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