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.

Curing Problems

Last blogpost I talked about introducing important habits to your workplace. This week I will further explain why this will help you solve your problems. Think of it this way, your plant and/or machines are sick, and if you arm your colleagues with knowledge and good habits, they become the immune system created to eradicate “diseases” and “heal” what is broken and/or “infected”.

Human bodies are massive, and infections can hide, but less so if there are armies of leukocytes (white blood cells) stationed everywhere. Infections can also be tough to beat, hence why so many leukocytes are used. And some infections are so unfamiliar that leukocytes don’t know how to deal with them initially and thus need to learn how to. That is what you want your colleagues to be, an army of leukocytes learning to search for, recognise, and solve problems in order to keep the plant healthy together.

If you try to explain a concept in an overly complex way, it will pass through them like a ‘ghost’. You need to find a simple, memorable ways to explain it. This is a skill had by all great leaders. A guy called Wayne Bissett once told me you should run your plant “smooth, clean, cool, and dry” Short. Sweet. Roles off the tongue. People love it. If we do run our plants smooth, clean, cool, and dry, it won’t vibrate itself to bits, it won’t build up foreign contaminants, it won’t overheat, it won’t corrode your water ingress, and it will live a long life. The solutions to four major issues summed up in four words only. These simple, snappy phrases can help experienced people make clearer sense of what they already know, and explain it to those who are new.

Another thing I like about that phrase is how it can relate to RCA. It tells us exactly what a healthy plant should look like, and encourages us to ask the following question when searching for problems. Is the smoothness, cleanliness, coolness, and/or dryness being disrupted in some way, and by what? See how well that statement fits in many contexts? See how these simple, four words branch off into something else? That’s what you want, a core idea that people can use as a launching point. If they notice the four signs of healthiness being disrupted in some way, our leukocyte workers know to find a disease that needs attacking.

Allow me to demonstrate how best to communicate issues and ideas to your colleagues in a few sentences. Imagine you have a oil breather being used in a situation it is not suited for. According to our RCA, it allows in too many contaminants. Let’s call this one Breather X. We decide that Breather X is not working and decide to replace it with Breather Y which will allow our plant to run cleaner. Simple enough to explain right? I once heard someone say that people who truly understand something can simplify it. If you’re trying to explain something but can’t do so coherently, perhaps it’s a sign that you don’t understand the subject matter well enough, so you should ensure that is not an issue before you pass that knowledge on.

In summary, to cure defects, we need to effectively summarise and standardise what we do. Gaining a shared understanding is the first step towards implementing improvements across the plant. Make sure those standards are easy to understand, so they can be properly practiced. I will never stop stressing the importance and effectiveness of consistency and communication in the workplace.


If you want to know more about curing problems and other reliability-related subjects, why not register for our Extraordinary Reliability Engineers course? It will offer you all the knowledge and wisdom Peter Horsburgh wished he had long ago. If you’re interested, register for a free webinar at our Eventbrite here.