Does reliability have to cost a fortune?
Business to business, industry to industry, a great deal of effort (and money) is spent on trying to find the “silver bullet” or “next best thing” when it comes to reliability. The goal is to produce game-changing results in record time, or at least a time faster than your closest competitor. I submit that there are two components to success:
1) The content (money) piece
2) The people (priceless) piece.
Most businesses find a way to fund the content piece. In fact, that’s probably the most readily addressed portion of a reliability program. Funding predictive technologies, computerized maintenance management systems, training solutions, and subject-matter experts/consultants – these decisions come easier than most, since we have the ability to determine or, at least, estimate the return on investment. But, even if you or your business “knows” the right answer, the strategy still needs to be executed.
First ask the question: what do you expect of your supervisors? Drilling down, do you expect them to be at every meeting, and rapidly answer every email, or do you expect them to be actively interacting on the shop floor? If you do expect them to spend the majority of their time outside of the cubicle, what does that interaction look like? Are they deeply involved in maintenance actions, or rabidly chasing down urgently needed parts? If you expect them to be office-centric, how do they maintain a finger on the pulse of the shop floor? Are those communication paths formalized and reliable?
Taking an introspective look at how our front line supervisors spend their time is an important first step. And the best part is that it costs nothing. We’re taking a look at processes already in place – good, bad, or indifferent. Depending on our findings, though, what should our supervisors be doing? Every business has its own challenges, but the presumption is that our supervisors (regardless of industry) earned their positions based on certain elements of technical prowess, experience, and people skills. Our expectation should be that they bring these talents to bear on the shop floor by mentoring and overseeing, not by becoming distracted with administration or allowing themselves to become deeply and personally involved in any distinct maintenance action.
As standards and expectations are set at the strategic level, we need to recognize that we get what we inspect, not what we expect, at the tactical level. Whatever it takes, we need to ensure that supervisors maintain the overarching, birds-eye view of their respective work centers. If they are getting sucked into maintenance actions, we have to figure out why. Are their crafts trained well enough to function independently? Is the mentorship/apprenticeship learning progression functioning correctly? Are job plans sufficiently developed and detailed appropriately?
Bad things happen when “parental supervision” is lost. When supervisors leave their (sometimes) uncomfortable position of being the man-in-charge to become the most experienced craftsman on the job, a dangerous void of leadership forms. The big picture can be lost; jeopardizing personnel and equipment safety, and opening the door for additional maintenance-induced defects. Understanding the demands on our supervisors, and enabling them to maintain the higher level perspective, doesn’t require a massive capital investment. In fact, it costs nearly nothing. But it does require a change in expectation and a threshold for pain as we may have to operate outside of normal comfort zones.