Asking Questions is Reliability Engineering
Finding solutions is reliability engineering too.
Have you noticed that finding solutions often requires just the right question, the proper framing of the issue, the query that reveals the problem and solution?
One of the best ways to lead a team and provide a focus on reliability performance is to ask the right questions.
Understanding objectives, risks, and failures is what we primarily do as reliability professionals. We work with teams to achieve or improve reliability performance.
We ask questions.
Types of Questions to Ask
A great question will lead to more questions. Ask great questions.
When judging an elementary school science fair, one student stood out. Not because her poster was elegant, nor that she discovered some delightful insight, it was her question. More so it was her way of asking questions.
Her project examined whether soccer practice really helped. Did ball handling and shooting drills help her during the game when the skills had to be second nature? She did an experiment to explore the ability of muscle memory with and without specific sports training.
She asked an interesting question. It was
Her initial question didn’t make her remarkable, it was the many other questions she asked and wanted to explore. We had less than 5 minutes to discuss her project. She quickly explained the experiment and its results, then she got amazing.
- She asked why the results occurred as they did.
- She examined how to improve the experiment.
- She pondered ways to extend her questions to improve practice and game performance.
She asked questions to improve her understanding of what was happening in the world about us. Her questions were not those of a cub reporter.
She was not satisfied with who, what, when, and, where. She wanted to know more about how and why- specifically why.
The Common and Great Questions in Reliability Engineering
Early in a project, we set reliability objectives. This includes asking questions concerning customer expectations, business objectives, and technology capability.
The common questions help us gather facts and data. How long does a customer expect the product to last? What is the target warranty accrual and profit? Is this choice of material appropriate for this application?
The great questions may include:
- How well do we understand the customer expectation concerning reliability?
- What is the relationship between reliability performance and customer satisfaction?
- How will we set and use the priorities for decision making including reliability concerns?
As the project progresses, we examine the risks facing the eventual reliability performance. Understanding what will fail helps the team prioritize and mitigate potential problems. FMEA and hazards analysis framesets of questions to help the team identify risks.
Better questions involve examining the decision making processes and frameworks that lead to reliability related decisions. How does the set of motivations and constraints frame how the team views reliability risks?
Are we asking enough questions concerning reliability risks?
When failures do occur we quickly ask another set of questions. We want to understand the circumstances, the conditions, the root cause of the failure. We may also explore the potential impact of the failure. How many other products may succumb to the same fate?
Another way to approach a failure is to ask where in the process did the process fail. What decision led to the failure, not to assign blame, but rather to understand and improve the set of organization constraints, priorities, and information that led to the less than optimal decision?
Asking the question, ‘what is the reliability goal?’ may elicit a response that provides a reliability goal statement for the project. Instead of asking ‘what is the right reliability goal?’ may lead to a discussion concerning determining a goal that better serves the development team and customers.
Instead of asking what caused a failure, focus on why those conditions exist. Frame the solution space by asking why not only to isolate the root cause. Instead of asking will the proposed solution solve the problem, be sure to also ask about the potential impact on causing other failures.
Asking questions such as, ‘what is the range of use temperature profiles?’ may not be an easy question to answer. Yet is it important to know the answer for the proper design to meet customer reliability expectations.
The follow-up questions then explore the various ways you can determine a good enough answer. Then ways to vet and improve the understanding of temperature profiles.
Another broad range of questions to ask concern the why for any inquiry, experiment, evaluation, or test. Reliability activities should always add value. So ask up front, where and how and to what extent will the proposed activity add value. See the ebook Finding Value for questions related to estimating value.
We ask questions. We work to answer questions. Working to answer the right questions is doing great work.
We work to understand reliability objectives, risks, and failures. It is the questions we ask and answer that makes the difference in your organization.
Learn to ask great questions. Never stop asking questions.
What questions do you ask? What questions have the best results? Which ones are your great questions?
Also published on Medium.