Changing the Work Environment for Data Collection

People have a nasty habit of not asking for help when they need it, as we often tell ourselves “I’m sure I can figure it out” or “This other person knows how to do it so I’ll wait for them to do it.” Unfortunately, this can make implementing change in the work environment a challenge.

“Then use data!” a diligent reader of my content cries. Well, yes, most changes need to be backed up by data, but sometimes the data can only be collected through change. It’s one of those nasty loops the world keeps throwing at you. You need the experience to get the job, but you need the job to get experience. You need the data to make the change, but you need the change to collect data.

In my experience as a Reliability Engineer, I remember implementing a rule that went like this: “No work order, no purchase order.” This meant teams could not purchase anything without first booking it to a work order. It was so we could collect data to see where the money in our plant was going. Everyone who was affected by this rule had agreed to follow it, thus I was under the impression that they knew how, and felt comfortable enforcing it strictly.

It backfired.

Gill was a guy. A productive guy. He submitted a purchase order. But no work order. So he wasn’t approved. His order was for some contract workers to come in and complete some tasks before he could continue on with his job, so he was pretty upset when he followed up with me. I explained to him the purchase order wasn’t approved because there was no work order attached, and after some heated back-and-forth he finally confessed, “I don’t know how to do it.”

I was shocked. Later on, I asked everyone else if they knew how to attach work orders to their purchase orders. No one did. In all honestly, if everyone saw it as that much of a struggle, I could’ve removed the rule and let everyone only submit purchase orders because that would’ve been familiar and easy, but I knew collecting this data was important, and I was going to fight for it.

First, I helped Gill out with his work order, and the contractors were able to come in on time. Then I taught everyone else how to do it. I used team meetings to regularly show people the value of the data we were collecting when they followed the rule, and they found imputing data into the system rewarding.

There are two lessons here:

  1. Fight for your data – I had to stand my ground, insist on the new rule, and troubleshoot when it was ignored.
  2. Collect data about collecting data – Do your co-workers fully understand what you’re asking of them? Instead of asking, “Can you do it?” start asking, “Can you tell me how it’s done?”

Are you struggling to make progress as a reliability engineer at your workplace? Our Extraordinary Reliability Engineer course will equip you with all the knowledge and wisdom that Peter Horsburgh, your dedicated teacher, wishes he had long ago. Navigate to our Eventbrite page here to register.

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