Ideas on changing the reliability culture
Have you ever wished your organization would work together to achieve a reliable product? Not just a few individuals and a heavy reliance on the reliability team to focus on highlighting and fixing reliability issues.
Some organizations tend to react to reliability issues. Prototype testing and field returns continue to surprise the team. The worst organization fall into finding someone to blame. Better organizations set to work to understand the problem and quickly resolve the issue. Some have better ‘fire departments’ than others.
Responding quicker is not really the best way to deal with reliability.
The very best organizations prevent issues from creating surprises.
If you are in an organization that tends to react rather than prevent, how do you set about to change the culture? Change by itself is often difficult, and here we want to change the way nearly everyone addresses product reliability.
Here are few ideas that you may find useful as you approach this challenge. These ideas have been foundational for at least five corporate level, organization-wide, culture shifts focused on a change in how the teams approach product reliability. Of course, there is still more to learn, yet the basic structure to invoke culture change seems to be sound.
1. Reflect the current situation back to the organization
An assessment that examines the current way the organization includes reliability in their discussions and decisions, creates a picture of the process, tools, and attitudes that form the current culture concerning reliability.
Is the organization simply saying ‘reliability is important’ and then focusing on other priorities? This often occurs when reliability is difficult to measure whereas cost is directly measured. How are tools such as FMEA and ALT being used in the organization? If done only to satisfy a checklist, that is one approach. If done to prioritize work and understand specific failure mechanisms then that is simply another approach. Either way, the degree that the organization selects and uses tools to make decisions is a reflection on the overall culture.
Create a short report that includes what the organization does well, areas for improvement, and specific recommendations. The reflection of the current practices is not a judgment, just a reflection. Make the current program visible and available for examination.
2. Create an image (vision) of what could be
If working to change a culture, what would success look like? How would you know the culture has actually changed?
Include concrete examples of what customers are saying, market share graph, the sounds in the office or factory, comments from co-workers, etc. Paint a strong sensory image of what it will feel like when the culture has changed. Make it compelling.
One technique is to describe the ‘day in the life’ scenario highlighting the changes that the proposed cultural change will affect.
3. Map out the steps to attain the goal
A compelling vision is a goal, and it is insufficient to motivate change across your organization. Provide a roadmap or plan to make it happen. Be clear about obstacles and hurdles that the organization will overcome. The idea is to show how to get started. Explain the first step and how that will lead to the steps necessary to achieve the objective.
For changes to an overall reliability program, the steps may include
- improved data analysis
- changes in ways we request data from vendors
- the creation of a reliability/availability model
- starting to use HALT or FMEA
And other tasks specific each specific to the needs of the organization as they step toward the objectives.
4. Set expectations
Within a larger organization, you should set expectations for key individuals (change agents, respected individuals, community links). This creates a very clear connection between their role in the organization and the proposed changes.
With a handful of influential (note: these folks may or may not be managers, they are the leaders within your organization independent of their title) individuals working together to achieve change, it is very likely the change efforts will succeed.
5. Provide support and encouragement along the way
Change is hard work.
It involved personal risk, learning new processes or techniques, and moving away from the known to the unknown. Change does not occur with a single meeting or announcement. You will need to be regularly involved all along the way, especially at the start.
Some best practices include:
- Continuous encouragement of attempts to move along the proposed path
- Support to answer questions, provide training, and shore up confidence
- Regular check-ins with key change agents to understand hurdles and suggest ways to overcome obstacles
- Reward successes
- Highlight value obtained along the way
The improvement a reliability program provides the unique hurdle of changes today do not immediately reduce warranty, for example. Many of the reliability improvements have a significant delay before the benefits are realized. Providing tools and processes to estimate future value are essential. Teach your team how to calculate value based on actions today that improve reliability.
Showcase significant progress and associated value.
Change happens – you can make it happen in your organization. Reliability culture change may take the coordination of one person and the support of a small team. The change of the conversation to include data, value, and customer reliability expectations may be sufficient to significantly prevent reliability problems.
Change will not be easy and will take some time to accomplish. In my experience, it seems to take three cycles of product development to create permanent change.
With clear assessment of the current situation, a vivid vision for the future, a basic guide to get everyone started, and the regular addition of your energy to continue making progress, change is possible.