Hiding in plain sight

May 3, 2009

I have ranted and raved about the curse of criticality here several times in the past. While criticality is very good for separating clients and their money, it's use for implementing reliability is somewhere between severly limiting and a fatal flaw..depending on the urgency your company has.

I have ranted and raved about the curse of criticality here several times in the past. While criticality is very good for separating clients and their money, it's use for implementing reliability is somewhere between severly limiting and a fatal flaw..depending on the urgency your company has.

Recently we saw a large number of extremely talented, extremely ambitious and hard working individuals lose their lifes work as the financial sector went down the tubes. How did this happen? easy...mindless following of their peers. 

Criticality seems to have a similar effect on many in the reliability field. But aside from that there are other reasons why it is a safe bet for reliability engineers.

As we have established here previously critical assets are generally running well. Why? because they are critical of course. Everyone knows they are critical! They get attention, money, resources, you name it - they get it.

So what does a reliability project (say an RCM project) acomplish on critical assets?

You end up telling th esponsor that her critical asset (the one that was working well) is going to keep working well.

Maybe some minor pfaffing around with direct costs, but ingeneral the benefits are limited to reduced risks of failure.

Something that is exceptionally difficult to prove, (particularly to a lay person) and exceptionally difficult to explain to someone with no real understanding of the maintenance function. (They're the guys who fix stuff right? Grease and such...)

So here is what happens. The CEO, or VP (whoever) gets it in her head that we need to be doing more about reliability.

They contract a consultant, a specialist, or promote someone internally, to run the project.

This well intentioned person starts a program based on criticality assessments, a flawed concept even technically, and then proceeds to pick off the assets based on criticality.

And the impacts that are shown to the projects benefactor. Reduced risk of course.

Does she understand this? Not intrinsically... does she get the implication? (Less failures of important assets.) Of course!!

And on it goes.. the project winds on, spending months and years even working on tactical work for critical assets without showing a jot in cashable returns.

Safe, secure, long lasting little project... wonderful!

Reliability engineers find it all too easy to hide in these projects. Their is no financial presure to perform, no hurdle rate in terms of financial ROI, and they can explain the benefits away to the uninitiated as "reduced risks".

 It is a cowards castle...they are efectively hiding in plain sight.

 Do I think that critical / vital assets should be well managed to avoid loss of life/production/environmental integrity? Of course I do... it would be foolish to argue against this. 

Do I think the current practice of criticality answers this question, or is a useful way to gain momentum at the beginning of a project? Emphatically no!

Criticality is the cause of failure of more reliability projects than you could imagine. Far more than I could have believed when I started out some 30 years ago.

Don't fall into the trap, and if you are already working through myriad criticality analyses and are starting to understand how bereft of value this is - then change direction immediately!

Good luck! 

 You can network with other reliability practitioners here, ,and see the latest in reliability jobs here.

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