It seems the forces of nature are working against our ideas.
I recall being frustrated as a child playing in the sandbox. I wanted to create a ramp of sand to race my cars down. No matter how much I pushed and patted the dry sand succumbed to some unseen force and did not hold the desired shape.
In business, we sometimes experience the same frustration. It’s not gravity.
Instead, we are facing organizational inertia.
Organizations Don’t Like Physics
Once a group of people setting into a routine way of accomplishing something, it is not a simple matter to change the process. You may have experienced this resistance.
Like the physics concept of inertia (recall a body at rest tends to remain at rest…) people that are familiar with a ‘way’ something currently happens, tend to want it to stay that way.
Just as with a physical object on the frictionless plane, no amount o cajoling, presentations, or commands will move the object.
Unlike the disk on the plane, we are not allowed to strike our fellow workers with some force to change their state from resting to in motion. Generally frowned upon.
So, what can we do? We know change happens, we know our ideas have merit, we know there is value in making improvements.
Improving a Reliability Program
In my experience when asked to conduct a reliability program assessment the host is really asking how to change the organization and sometimes asking to change the culture.
Sure an assessment will result in recommendations for improvements. I have found that those recommendations, no matter how compelling and obvious are of not value unless implemented.
That is where inertia comes back to play.
Overcoming Organization Inertia
Here are a couple of tips that may help you implement reliability improvements while overcoming the organizational inertia.
- Work with key influencers
- Make the current reality visible
- Celebrate successes
Every organization is different and every situation warrants it’s own approach, yet these three tips may help you look for opportunities to accelerate the implementation of your proposed changes.
Work with Key Influencers
Some people within an organization have the ability sway many others. Get them on board and it may provide the credibility, support, and influence you need to move forward.
These people are the ones others look to for advice. They are to goto people for a range of topics, including reliability, if you’re lucky. They may or may not be managers.
What’s motivating them?
Start by understanding what motivates these key people. If they want the credit for the idea — give it to them. If they want only what’s best for the company — show how improving reliability does so.
A couple one to one meetings will determine if you have their support or not.
Change in the organization is easier with their active support. As in the sandbox, adding a little water to bind the sand together would have helped my build a ramp. In an organization there are those that provide the ‘binder’, used as part of your project, you are well on the way to implementation.
Make the Current Reality Visible
I’ve found that many teams say they understand product reliability and that it is valuable to our customers, the company, and shareholders. Yet, few can tell you the cost of unreliability.
Make the cost of failure visible.
No one really likes to look at failures too closely, unless they are a failure analysts. Profit and sales volume is so much more fun. Product failures, while we all know they happen, often would rather avoid acknowledging they actually do occur.
Track down and publish internal the warranty per unit sold, total warranty spent. Then compare these numbers to cost of goods sold and net profit. You may find the cost of failure in these terms to be useful for others to understand the magnitude of the opportunity that reducing product failure represents.
Besides, to make good decisions we need the cost per failure type information to balance the other information also provided in terms of money, i.e. production costs, material costs, sales per day, etc.
Coupled with a clear plan to reduce the cost of failures, it may just garner enough attention to gain acceptance of your ideas.
Someone somewhere in your organization is doing the right things already. Find them and help them gain the recognition they need.
Tell stories about what they did and the difference it’s making. Highlight their work as an example of what can be done in our organization.
As one or more people start to implement your ideas for reliability program improvement, work them to be successful. Then celebrate with them and herald the success across the organization.
This is similar to the grass root method to organization change, with the added feature of fanning the flames of success as you go.
In the sandbox year ago, I saw a friend use a bit water to change the material to something that worked a bit better. That idea sparked finding a wooden board to use instead. I changed the material thus finding a much better solution.
As you work to improve your reliability program, keep in mind you are working with people. Like sand sometimes they need to find support, sometimes they need to understand the goal, and sometimes they need a little pat to firm up resolve.
Obviously, change happens. We can encourage change to improve product reliability and share the benefits. There will be plenty to go around.