Guest post by Fred Schenkelberg, Reliability Expert for FMS Reliability

In a previous posting (Five Steps to Building a Better Reliability Culture”, posted on 10/06/2015), I discussed equipment reliability, reliability engineering, and reliability management. But this Holy Trinity of reliability does not operate in a vacuum. Creating a sustainable reliability program within an organization requires an understanding of its culture as well as its structure.

Every organization or product is different. The technology, expectations, and environments are all different. Consider two organizations, each of which has a reliability professional well versed in a wide range of reliability tools and processes. One of these professionals provides coaching and mentoring across the organization and encourages every member of the team to learn and use the appropriate tools to make decisions; the other performs nearly all the reliability work independently without support or consultation with team members. It is easy to see that the first organization’s team, being empowered to make decisions about reliability, will be better equipped to meet its reliability goals. 

Thus differences in the basic culture of an organization can lead to vastly different approaches to how reliability is incorporated into its operations. An organization that incorporates reliability into its internal processes starting from the design phase will inevitably experience fewer failures and make more efficient use of its design team and suppliers. How the reliability professional functions within an organization have a strong impact on its culture.

The organizational structure of an organization is also intertwined with its culture. There is no single organizational structure that leads to improved product reliability performance over any other structure. Both centrally and distributed reliability teams have successfully created reliable systems. Even the presence or absence of reliability professionals on staff is not an indicator of reliability performance.

Top-performing organizations use a common product reliability language and possess a culture that encourages and enables individuals to make informed decisions related to reliability. Individuals across the organization know their role to both use and share information essential to making decisions. There is an overriding context for reliability decisions that balances the need to meet customer expectations for reliability along with other criteria. Alignment exists among the organization’s mission, plans, priorities, and behaviors related to reliability.

Equipment reliability is not the only element that benefits from a proactive culture. Whether top-performing organizations enjoy a proactive culture that naturally includes reliability activities to make decisions or evolved while improving product reliability to become a proactive organization with collateral benefits for other areas of running the business remains unclear. The latter is more likely since it takes leadership to build and maintain a proactive organization, although some organizations focus on building a proactive reliability program and develop the benefits later in other functions of the business.

Moving the organizational block around the organizational chart may have some value, although it is not directly related to improving reliability. It entails a more fundamental change than developing the reporting structures to transition from a reactive to proactive reliability program.

Once a group of people gets settled into a routine way of accomplishing something, it is not a simple matter to change the process. Doing so requires overcoming organizational inertia. For reliability professionals to implement reliability improvements, overcoming this inertia entails working closely with key influencers, making the current reality visible and accessible, and celebrating successes. Although every organization is different and every situation warrants its own approach, these three paths to overcoming inertia may facilitate the implementation of any proposed changes.

Overcoming organization inertia is one crucial aspect of changing a reliability culture. Some organizations tend to react to reliability issues. Prototype testing and downing events continue to surprise the team. The worst organizations fall into a cycle of always finding someone to blame. Better organizations set out to work to understand the problem and quickly resolve the issue. Some have better ‘fire departments’ than others. However, responding more quickly is often not the best way to deal with reliability. The very best organizations prevent issues from creating surprises in the first place.

Understanding the reliability culture is the first step to changing it.

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, by Yolanda Lopez