Very few reliability decisions are made by reliability engineers. Yet, reliability engineers are asked many questions concerning reliability. How reliable will this design be for customers? How will the system likely fail? How many failures should we expect next month?
How you answer these and the many other questions received does impact the reliability of your product or system. The information provided those that ask reliability related questions, with useful and practical information, can make better decisions which improves reliability performance.
Relationship Between Questions and Decisions
As I’ve said before, ‘Reliability occurs at the point of decision’. When an engineer selects one material type versus another, or one component versus another, or a vendor over another, those are decisions. These decision directly impact the product’s reliability performance.
Implied within each decision is a question. For example, when deciding on a vendor to provide power supplies, the underlying question is ‘which vendor should we select in this situation?’ We make decisions to resolve questions concerning optimizations, comparisons, objectives, measurements, preventions, priorities, and resources.
A team developing a new product may initially have an objective question, “how reliable should we make this product?’ Once an objectives is set, the team moves on to questions involving how to achieve that objective.
Some questions are to gather facts or information which inform decision makers when addressing other questions. For example, when considering which material to use for an enclosure, a supporting question may be what environmental conditions will the item experience? Having that information provides the necessary information to select the appropriate material.
Some questions are directly related to a decision that impacts reliability. Some questions are requests for information necessary to make a decision.
Help Others Ask Better Questions
Besides responding to reliability related questions, a key role for a reliability professional is to assist others in the organization to ask better questions. Consider the difference between a questions such as, “Is it reliable enough to ship?” compared to, “Given our current understanding, what needs improvement to meet our reliability goals?”
Better questions are more specific and clear. Better questions invoke implementation of a clear reliability vision, or seek specific and actionable information.
Many organizations use product life cycle guidelines to frame milestones over the course of developing a product. The reliability team may, in addition, provide design guidelines, lesson learned summaries, vendor assessment rubrics, and more.
Creating frameworks to assist clear thinking and decision making enables those in your organization to craft meaningful contracts, specifications, assessments, and test plans that all support achieving the organization’s reliability vision.
Do not create checklist. They help other avoid thinking, and that results in less understanding and less consideration of reliability impact on product performance. If the question posed is, “Did we do XYZ tasks?” may indicate a checklist mentality as opposed to the question, “What did we learn and implement from XYZ tasks?”
Set Expectations Around What Decisions To Make
One hurdle to overcome is that some folks in your organization do not know that the decisions they make impact the resulting reliability performance of the product. They may be focused on cost or time to market, which is common, yet that does not mean they should ignore reliability.
Besides guidelines and frameworks, you can also provide training, coaching, and always provide an example of how to consider reliability in balance with other priorities. Demonstrate how to frame better questions, to incorporate reliablity information into decision making, and expose the thought processes along the way.
Realizing there are thousands and thousands of decision made during a product’s lifecycle and many of them have the potential to improve or degrade the product’s reliability performance is a first step to extend your reliability program beyond just responding to questions you receive.
Enabling others to both ask better questions and to make better decision will have a net positive effect on achieving the desired reliability performance of your product.