Persuasion and Influence
Reliability engineers usually work in support of an organization. We support a development team as they design a new product. We support a factory as they operate equipment to produce products. We support using our specialized knowledge to create and maintain reliable products or assets.
The teams we work with consider cost, time, function, technology, environmental impact and many other factors as they find a viable solution. Reliability is just one of the many considerations.
In the support role, we also are not making the final decisions. The choice of selection a vendor may include the reliability of their components, yet will also include consideration of business and technology factors as well.
Effect of Reliability Measurements/Estimates
Let’s simplify the elements design and maintenance teams consider to
The first three are relatively easy to measure. A function either works or it doesn’t (or not sufficiently); An item is either too expensive, or not; and, we may have a long lead time to receive a component or not (this could be long lead time for spares, or an impact on time to market goals, or an impact on downtime).
Reliability is often only an estimate and the estimate is often faulty. Vendors are overly optimistic. Field data and failure analysis records may be incomplete or inaccurate. And, we often do not have the time or resources for thorough life testing.
The teams we support need to make decisions. Using the best available information is a best practice. The reliability data is often not as specific or definitive as other available data and may be discounted as a consideration factor.
A contributing issue to the lack of reliability consideration includes the complexity of reliability. There are a myriad of ways a product fail due to individual and cascading potential causes. Failures occur due to materials, assembly, design, over-stress, deterioration or a combination of these or other factors. Failures may be due to a lack of information or changing conditions. Failures occur and it may be equally difficult to know either what will fail or when.
While the cost of a product is often fairly obvious, the durability is often not clear. It is this ambiguity that leads to discounting the consideration of reliability for decision-making.
The individuals we work with generally agree that reliability is important. And, then discount or ignore the reliability information we provide when they are making decisions. At this point, remember is rarely is useful to say, “I told you so”.
The disconnect is in part due to three factors
- Poorly supported or understood reliability information
- The inherent complexity of understanding what will fail and when
- The lack of reliability thinking across the organization
To be effective as a reliability professional we need to be able to overcome all three obstacles.
Build your ability to Persuade and Influence
My supposition is to be effective we have to be heard, understood and trusted. As reliability professionals we have to master our area of expertise sufficiently to make it easy for others to understand and use all the tools at our disposal to help our peers fully consider reliability in their decisions.
First, we have to provide clearly stated reliability information.
Use graphics, for example, instead of tables of numbers. This provides a powerful way to present complex information in a way that the relationships of time and failure can be quickly grasped.
Use clear statements about assumptions and the impact of those assumptions.
Use clearly stated logic connecting the source information to business objectives. In other words, speak in management’s language, which is often money.
Second, be accurate as you can be and stated magnitude of unknowns and uncertainties.
Use the best available techniques to determine the required information. For example, do not use MTBF when meaning reliability.
Use clear language to explain simplifications and reductions of the data. Avoid using statistical or reliability specific jargon, for example.
Third, provide your expertise to others. Offer coaching, mentoring, support, and encouragement for you peers to consider reliability with every decision. Teach the tools and techniques so they can do the analysis directly.
Forth, listen. Listen to your colleagues so you understand. Listen for motivations, distractions, hurdles, challenges. Look for opportunities where reliability engineering can provide a solution or advantage. Listen for what is important. Use reliability information that actually solves problems and provide value in line with important goals of the organization
Fifth, build rapport. Listening is a start. Understanding the challenges is part of the process to build rapport. Empathy is part of this recommendation. This is not engineering, it is the human side that reduces barriers to others hearing and understanding what you are trying to communicate.
Lastly, deliberately learn from every interaction. What is working and what is not. Focus on improving your ability to persuade and influence.
Persuasion is the ability to have others do or believe something. Influence is, in part, to convey information such that others will materially use that information to make decisions. In either case, the approach we use matters.
When was the last time you worked on your people skills? If you don’t recall and are frustrated by your effectiveness making a reliability point – it’s time to look for information, courses, books on the topics of persuasion and influence.
One of my favorites is Smart Work by Lis J. Marshall and Lucy D. Freedman.
Getachew Dgeefu says
Thanks for this very informative and enlightening piece. Time tested good practices such as this help avoid unnecessary pain and wasted effort. Also, I believe having at least one person at the executive level who really understands the value of reliability exercise will go a great length in making sure that reliability related efforts are not wasted and reliability engineers are heard.
Fred Schenkelberg says
Thanks for the note – part of our role is to make it easy for those around us accept and use reliability information. Having senior manager champion certainly doesn’t hurt.
Don (Engineering Training) says
Great advice Fred, and much needed in today’s world. Beside preaching to High Schools less memorizing useless facts and more problem solving skills exercise, I also emphasize even High Schoolers need a class on sales (Persuasion and Influence). Not only will they need that skill to sell themselves at an interview, but in the workplace as you pointed out in this one example. Thanks Fred.
Fred Schenkelberg says
thanks for the note – I agree sales training earlier would be better. I came to it the hard way and basically told to take the class – only later finding it to be one the most useful classes I’ve even taken.