Self Assessment 63b48e83ab3c9

Knowing where your plant stands: How to conduct an honest self-assessment

June 14, 2022
In this episode of Assets Anonymous, George Williams and Joe Anderson explore how to take an honest assessment of your plant and document the process.

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. In this episode, George and Joe explain why knowing where you stand is an essential first step in your maintenance and reliability journey.

PS: So far, you've walked us through the first four steps of Assets Anonymous: understanding reactivity and productivity, and then understanding what the Circle Of Fire is and how to become a fire marshal to handle that. And those four steps have led us here to step five, which is “Knowing Where You Stand.” That's something which Plant Services is fully on board with of course. You've published articles with us talking about the importance of knowing the maturity of your plant team, and we're focusing this year especially on topics like self-assessments. But, George, could you explain to us what the importance is at this point in the Assets Anonymous process, why is knowing where you stand a crucial point in this?

GW: So the first four episodes really focused on a broader understanding of reactivity and proactivity and I think this is the first step in taking some action. The first four episodes are kind of knowledge-based. And today, we're going to talk about, well, how do I know what to do. In order to know what to do, there's a couple of key factors. Beyond the technical capability of doing those things, you have to know where you stand and our subsequent episode, “Where You're Going,” really helps create the strategy and the direction for you to move into a more proactive state.

For me, knowing where you stand is a never-ending cycle. In my previous life, we had lots of sites that varied in their maturity. And I used to explain to them that the goal was not everybody necessarily be at the same level, the winner's not who is further along in maturity, the winner is who closes the gap the most, who takes effort and puts knowledge to action. And so for me, knowing where you stand is the start of all of those things. It's really a slap in the face sometimes but we need that.

PS: Joe, your thoughts on the importance of the plant understanding where they are before the journey begins?

JA: You can't begin a journey if you don't know where you are, right? The hardest thing for people is to understand first what “right” looks like, and then second, where they compare to what right looks like so they can begin the journey towards that direction. And the thing is, you assess, you close some gaps, you reassess, and you just continue that cycle over and over and over again.

Being honest is difficult for some people because the mentality today is to look green, not red. But your goal is to find the red and go after the red, and typically, in most organizations, that red is low-hanging fruit. So it's quick wins, it's an easy driver to get people engaged in the success and get them off the fence and getting them to jump in. So understanding that and assessing honestly, I think, is the key to this whole thing.

GW: You bring up a great point in saying honesty, Joe. I think one of the hardest things to do is to absorb that information and put your ego aside, right? There are going to be areas that you can improve upon. And in some cases, they may be eye-opening areas. Regardless of your position in the company you should take it as an opportunity and not as a judgment. I think that's one of the critical pieces of knowing where you are.

JA: Well, when you lack systems and processes and you start assessing, your default is to automatically blame people and say, "Well, these people aren't doing this and these people should be doing that." And that isn't the point. The point is, is do you have a system and do you have processes to build that system so that you can plug people in and be successful?

And when you're not honest about it and you lack systems and processes, which we've seen in most organizations, and then people get the blame and we say, "Well, this operator is better than this one." The question is why? Why is this one better? Some people are self-driven, so of course they're going to be better. Some people aren't, but if you give them the skills necessary, they can compete with the best of them. And instead of blaming them, assess why it is you're in that situation. Is it the fact that you quit investing in people? Which is part of it, you know.

GW: We tend to be talent reliant. I mean, when we have a great operator on a specific shift or a specific line, that line does well, but to Joe's point, why is that not replicated? And it's not so much teach them what this operator knows, it's documenting that process and I think people devalue what systems and processes do for the organization. If all you have are people in place, then you are talent reliant, and that's not a good place to be, especially in today's environment where people just up and leave and it's difficult to replace them.

JA: Or you can't find help or any of those things, right? We always look at the McDonald's system as the system to have. To ring people out, there's a cheeseburger on the little touch panel and you touch the cheeseburger, so you're doing everything you can to mistake-proof the system so that you can plug anybody into it and the system works. Whether you get a cheeseburger in California or you get a cheeseburger in New York City from McDonald's, they're pretty much the same, you know what you're getting when you go there. And that's how your system should operate, it should have that level of consistency. It shouldn't be relying on people.

PS: You guys are bringing something out that I think is really interesting, which is that the topic is knowing where you stand, so it's a sort of personal topic, of course, people need to know where they stand in terms of these maintenance initiatives. And yet, a lot of the proof in showing that people do know where they stand isn't with the people, it's actually with the processes in place that everyone can align to. We're not talking about the binder on the shelf, we're talking about simply the existence of a way of doing things that's documented, and not only that but also documented to work, instead of just documented because that's what we did 40 years ago or 30 years ago. So it's interesting way to think about it.

GW: Anyone that's gone through the assessment process, whether they do that internally or they hire a vendor to help, the process of the assessment itself should be looking at some critical areas. “Does a process exist?” and “Is it followed?” all come before, “Is it any good?” Then you assess if it's good using the data and information from the plant performance and whether or not they're seeing failures or whether or not they're performing well. But the first two questions are always does a process exist and is it being followed?

Sometimes processes exist but they were developed 10 years ago and no one follows them. So do they get a great score for the process existing? No, they do not. And sometimes the process exists, but it's terrible so no one actually follows it, and same thing, the score is going to end up low. In order to achieve very well and consistently, the processes need to exist, there need to be systems that support those processes, and you have to be able to measure the behaviors inside that process. The assessment process is really looking at not only what the opportunity in the plant is – because our assessment process at least for us includes a loss analysis in the manufacturing space or the assessment of the operational practices – but also an assessment of whether or not systems and processes exist that support the people that execute them.

JA: Which is something that you have to, one, if you're doing it internally, you have to know the right questions to ask and how to ask them to get that information out. And two, if you hire an outside firm, you need to make sure that you have some way of validating how thorough the assessment is.

I'll give you an example, you have two types, you have one that's looking at action and denoting whether or not they are doing what they say they're doing (or they're not doing). Then you have another one that's a check the box type. So what I mean by asking the right questions, if I say, on my assessment, “Do I have a planner?” vs. “Am I planning?” It's two different questions, and then you can assess how you're planning. If you have a planner, that's great, but that doesn't mean anything. What they'll do is, is people check that box and say, "I have a planner, I have PdM, I have this. We're okay." And it's like, no, are the tools being utilized properly? It's not if you have it, it's if you have it and are they utilized properly? And so you have to be really cognizant when you're assessing as to whether you're asking the right questions or not as well. So it's just a word of caution.

PS: I'm curious about if you think that there's any particular part of the maintenance function that should be driving this process of getting everything documented, making the processes available to people. Can that be anyone in the maintenance team from front-liner to supervisor? Is this the sort of initiative where you get the plant manager or Ops VP on board to help drive it down? What have you seen?

GW: It's a loaded question. So the short answer is it can be anyone. We see folks like Paul Crocker at the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, a maintenance supervisor, and he drives reliability throughout the entire organization, so it's not limited to someone in senior leadership. However, senior leadership, their entire role is to make sure those processes and systems are in place so that they can be successful. So if they're not doing that, then obviously we strongly encourage them to understand where they stand today, and what gaps exist so they can close them and create some consistency in how they deliver.

Listen to the entire interview

JA: A lot of the problem is, which is an elephant in the room that no one wants to address, but a lot of the senior management got into the role they did by ignoring those processes, and acting like they did something that they didn't in order to get promoted. That's the politics that live within the corporate environment. And so having them do the very thing they didn't that would expose them becomes a very touchy and difficult task.

There's a lot of great leadership teams out there that would support it. And there's times where...I'll give you an example for my own career, is you end up creating enemies that you didn't even know you had, especially when you're at the mid-level. Me as a maintenance manager, I'm just trying to do the right thing, and do well. And my initiative that I'm bringing to the facility is getting great results.

The problem is, is those great results are countering the upper leadership folks' initiative that said they could save $3 million by doing X, Y, and Z and what I'm doing, I'm doing A, B, and C, and it's contradicting – unbeknownst to me, I didn't even know it existed, right, this initiative – I'm contradicting it. Now I have this gentleman who got promoted based on the great savings and things he sold the company, he doesn't like me at all. He's up at the top, bad-mouthing me to everyone, and I don't even know the guy exists. But my results got put on the radar because I'm now the number one facility in the organization and more profitable and doing a lot better.

That was a moment that helped me become more self-aware. Me, I just came in and I did my thing, and I wasn't aware of things like that until I got hit by it. I wasn't being told no, everything's going great and then all of a sudden, I hit a brick wall. And so I'm trying to understand, well, where did all the support go?

PS: And there was a brick wall there all along which you weren't even aware of at the time.

JA: Well, when your results outdo the results of those above you that got into the position because they made a big promise of this great initiative that was going to change the organization, and it's not working and yours is, you're exposing the fact that they don't know what they're doing, or they don't know how to implement it. And so you just got to be careful there.

GW: Knowing where you stand goes beyond the technical aspects of asset management. It also includes your environment, right? Joe and I did a presentation called "It's Not You, But It's You." And the premise behind that is, if you're not seeing the support you need, then there are other environmental factors to that. Maybe you don't understand your boss's motivation, maybe you don't understand the political atmosphere of the organization, but they're all things that you have to be cognizant of in this space.

PS: And all things that need to be overcome if you're on a program, like the one we're doing with these podcasts where you're thinking through, "Okay, let's take that broad view and now let's really dive into the more self-reflective, self-assessment part of this."

JA: Well, what I learned, what I learned from all that is, adopt the current language, but continue to do the right things. What I mean by that is if, for example, they do Total Quality Management, and that's their system of doing things, I'll just adopt the language of total quality management and call it whatever you want me to call it, but I'm going to continue to do those things, so that I'm showing support for the system and I'm being a team player but I'm also doing what I know is right to do. To me, to do maintenance the right way, it's not just the right thing to do, it's an ethical thing to do because of safety, quality, lowest costs, all those types of things to me are ethical things.

PS: Well, let's close this podcast with a question on knowledge transfer. And this seems to be a relevant topic to knowing where you stand because of the way that you sort of mapped out the space where you’ve got to understand what processes are in place, you’ve got to understand what the team is doing and why they're doing it. When it comes to documenting where you stand, when it comes to stashing these processes in place, there's a lot of ways that can be done. What are you seeing is best practice in plants when it comes to either a combination of binders plus phone-friendly directions, plus putting the job plans in the CMMS? It's a big question, but what are you seeing people who succeed do when it comes to making sure these processes are available?

GW: That varies by industry and regulations, so we'll just kind of set that aside, some regulated industries require specific approaches to that. If it's related to actual maintenance task work, whether it's performed by an operator or a maintenance technician, it should be coming out of the system, of your CMMS system. Personally, I prefer to have that embedded in the data of the system and not as an attachment, that’s just my personal preference. For standard operating procedures or CILs, clean inspects, center-lining, those types of things should be mounted directly at the line.

The key to everything is accessibility. The key to all of those things, proceduralizing things, is the accessibility of the information. It cannot take a half-hour to go retrieve a document associated with what to do with a piece of equipment. I mean, if it is an operator's duty on a daily basis or a per changeover basis, that should be mounted directly to the asset, just like your lockout tagout procedures should, it should be mounted directly to the asset. If it is a job plan associated with the maintenance organization that requires parts and maybe specifications, then that stuff should be stored within the CMMS and be part of the overall work pack.

JA: I think step one is just get somebody to do something, with the knowledge transfer. I mean, you think about it, I don't care if it's a notebook, if it's a bunch of sticky pads, right? There's not really a best practice per se around it, the best practice is to document the knowledge, not really how to document the knowledge.

The point is, is that it's got to exist somewhere. Like George said, accessibility is key. I can have a 6,000-page document on a file of my own thumb drive if it's not shared with everyone else. The other piece is, the thing that kind of gets me at times with the knowledge transfer, is why aren't you cross-training folks who learn what this person, at least to some degree, what they know. Instead, we want them all to download their brain onto an IDrive so that we have it for safekeeping. Why wouldn't you have an apprentice or the lowest tenured person, sit and spend a year walking side by side with the senior person if you know they’re going to be leaving, right, trying to capture everything. To me, the true knowledge transfer comes from employee to employee, not on a piece of paper, which is great to have, but it's always there in case you need it, but you will never use it again. Where if I transferred all what I could transfer into other people, then I don't have to worry about it so much, I'm not losing as much if the senior person leaves.

GW: It's a fair point. We see this all the time. You'll have folks that are literally announcing to everybody the countdown of their retirement and the organization is doing absolutely nothing until about two weeks before they leave, then they start posting the position to replace the individual. They spend six months overlapping, and then you know, it's just gone, the knowledge is gone.

PS: And you're losing that important sense of where you are. Because the way things that are being done aren't going to stop with that person leaving. It's just, do you know what effect that person had on everyone?

GW: Yeah, and I mean, that's all part of knowing where you stand. I mean, knowing where you stand includes your organization. And if you have people that are a year away from retirement, and you have no strategy whatsoever to disseminate the information they've learned over the past 30 years, well, then that's on you. I mean, it's not you, but it's you.

You've got to figure out a strategy and convince your leadership team that you have to hire now so that you don't get stuck behind the eight ball later. And if they're not sure what it's worth, just figure out the asset that this person happens to be the resident expert at repairing, and when that goes down what it's going to take somebody who lacks any skill whatsoever or knowledge of that asset to get the most critical piece back up and running. What’s the cost the company if it's down for a day or two days or three days? Because that's the value of having them shadow somebody for six months.

PS: Of have all the steps you've mapped out, I do think this is one of the trickiest to do. It’s deceptively simple on the surface, know where you stand. Well, of course, I stand right here where I'm standing, but it's a lot wider than that.

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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