Learning a Natural Habit

In the previous blogpost I introduced you to Root Cause Analysis and the 5 Whys. These processes are most effective when being used by your whole team. I briefly touched on this in the last blogpost, but will elaborate on it here. How do you encourage your workplace to adopt new habits like the 5 Whys and RCA?

One of the ways I did it was by teaching our trusts and trades how to do the 5 Whys, so as to implement it at every level. We chose the 5 Whys because it’s a simple, easy-to-understand process that perfectly encapsulates RCA. We tailored our explanation to all three maintenance groups, ensuring they understood it in terms and analogies that were relevant to them.

To elaborate, we did a workshop for each group, where we each found the cause of a problem by working through the 5 Whys process as a team. It started out in groups where they worked with the instructors who offered hints and guidance, and then split them into pairs to work independently. Then we checked to see if they found answers that would lead them to a solution to the problem.

From there, we asked supervisors to check if the 5 Whys process had been completed on breakdown work orders. If they discovered something during the process that no one else knew about, new protocol commanded further investigation. Team meetings involved people sharing their 5 Whys process and results so all workers could understand the problem from all known angles thus far, allowing for an equal, confident understanding among them. This meant that machines were actually fixed rather than “held together” by means that only hid or treated the symptoms.

Through this method, we made RCA and the 5 Whys the norm by introducing it as a simple, yet integral part of the workplace. In summary, teach everyone the habit until they are confident with it, then actively encourage them to use it, then make it necessary to workplace processes. Note, they should find the habit helpful before you make it compulsory, otherwise they’d be wasting their time with a process that will not improve their work. This is about people adopting the same habit to work smoother together, after all.

Want to learn more about learning useful habits and implementing them into your workplace? Peter Horsburgh teaches that and more in his Extraordinary Reliability Engineer course. If you’re interested, you can register at our Eventbrite page here.

Chronic Issues – Plotting Trends

Problems always leave traces.

I’ve discussed chronic issues multiple times in previous blog posts. As a refresher, chronic issues are large problems that manifest from numerous small and easily missed issues. There are two basic steps to identifying your chronic problems. You need to find these smaller issues and look for trends between them. Allow me to elaborate on both these steps.

Finding the Dots

As said in a previous post, a lot of little issues are symptoms of a larger problem, the unknown chronic disease. You’ll need a fine, widely cast net to catch these smaller issues. If you miss them, or deem them too inconsequential to deal with, they will continue to build until you have a real mess. It’s like allowing hairs to wash down the drain in the shower, and then when it gets blocked, having to fish out the gunky wad months later. But what exactly do you look for? Well, do you ever find yourself encountering several small issues that constantly interrupt your progress? They’re like bricks slowly building to create a barrier between you and your goal. It’s frustrating, I know, but on a sunnier note, you’ve found your dots.

Connecting the Dots

Now we get to the fun part; plotting trends. As part of your loss elimination process, routinely check for chronic issues across the site. You can do this monthly, quarterly, or annually, so the trends have time to develop. (Side note, if someone comes to you outside the meeting room to discuss a potential chronic problem, pay attention. These issues aren’t always easy to find, so listen to them and analyse information when it’s freely served to you.) I recommend grouping common types of failure together (Eg. Electrical, mechanical) across sights. Then it’s easier to spot which ones have the greatest negative impact. My favourite way to do this is creating 3D plots of all the groups together. I can add to it as I gain more data, thus highlighting any rising trends. If something is getting worse, like rapidly increasing cost, you know where to act. When spotting chronic issues, plotting trends is essential. Since most issues are small, they fly undetected by Pareto. Therefore you must brush through the whole plant with a fine-toothed comb. Do not allow the little things to grow big. Do not allow the wall to build. Once you’ve found your chronic issue, you’ll know what you need to fix. Hooray!

 While some problems make themselves known like a slap to the face, chronic issues are more “passive aggressive”. Hints suggest something wrong, but an obvious answer refuses to present itself, and it can be agonising. Knowing how to identify these problems is key since, as we all know, you can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it exists.

Want more information on dealing with chronic issues or other hurdles you face as a reliability engineer? Peter Horsburgh’s Extraordinary Reliability Engineer course could be for you. If you are interested, register at Eventbrite here.