The essence of creating a reliable product involves making informed decisions. Informed related to the implications of the various options on reliability performance. Yet, these decisions, made nearly every day during the early stages of a product’s lifecycle are fraught with uncertainty.
There is an approach that instead of making perfect decisions every time, we instead focus on making decisions that allow us and others to learn the necessary information to then make better decisions.
What is a Reliable Product?
How good is good enough? This question, like the question about a reliable product, is subjective and in the purview of the customer, not the design team.
A reliable product is one that functions as expected without failure over a suitable duration or beyond such that the product provides amble value in relation to the investment of its purchase, installation, maintenance, and use. The product does what it should do over time and we can count on it to do so.
Understanding and documenting the customer’s definition of reliability for your new product is difficult. Each customer has a different criterion for your product to be labeled reliable.
Furthermore, your product may only provide one option available to the customer for a particular task or function. Your product is judged in part by the perceived reliability of other potential solutions.
Plus, there is a business decision that may define the desired reliable performance to achieve. Your organization may want to create the most reliable solution, or not. Whatever the intended reliability performance vision, it should be clear and documented, then translated into specific product reliability goals.
The Motivation to Create a Reliable Product
Given a reliability goal and an understanding of how customers define a reliable product, it still takes determined work to realize a design that meets both business and customer expectations. Having a goal and the means to achieve it are foundational for a team to work toward meeting those objectives.
Just having goals is not enough. The team also needs to receive regular feedback on progress toward achieving the intended goals.
Your organization also may need to analyze the range of business objectives, award or bonus systems, and the communication of priorities and allocation of resources to ensure there is a balance that enables an appropriate focus on creating a reliable product. The team may need enough resilience to both balance competing priorities, and allow the investment in revealing enough information to make informed decisions, including the impact of product reliability.
The Balance of Resilience and Resolve
Creating a reliable product is a bit like walking a tight rope. It’s easy to fall off and not achieve the desired reliability performance. Yet, adding a harness and ability to clip in, so the team can ‘fall off’ the rope and still get back on is a way of saying we need to learn more, find more information, or understand this tradeoff a bit more before making a decision.
Better is creating a bridge that has clear support, like handrails, to enable the team to make informed decisions. One method is to have clear measures of previous products, clear lessons learned from past failures, etc.
Even better is to create a culture where adding multiple options along the bridge (adding branching rope bridges) allows the team to find a better way to achieve the reliability objective. Seeing, exploring, and using a better option may not have been in the original plan, yet may provide an appropriate solution.
The ability to have options, explore opportunities, identify and work to learn what is essential all while working toward a clear reliability objective is the essence of making informed decisions. Too many constraints or a sole focus on one business priority hamper the ability of a team to balance reliability with the range of other business objectives.
Yes, reliability occurs at the point of decision – let’s work with our teams to allow them to find the right information and path to creating the desired reliable product.