How to be a Reliability Detective

The Pain

So you have a problem, a recurring issue, and you don’t understand why it’s happening. Maybe your machinery isn’t as durable or efficient compared to other plants. Maybe your co-workers keep complaining after you think you’ve solved it. Something is wrong, something is causing this, and you don’t know what. No matter how far you try to stretch your brain, a reasonable conclusion never surfaces. Well, detectives never get far on sheer guess work. They need clues, evidence, and so do you. But how do you find them? There are two strategies. Root Cause Analysis, and the 5 Whys, both of which I will briefly outline here.

Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a process used to determine the source of a problem. As I say in my book, it’s incredibly useful in Reliability because it helps you fix the issue at its source, rather than applying Band-Aid “solutions” just to cover the symptoms. As useful as this process is, many overlook it. They guess the reason behind a problem, or they formulate a solution without thinking about the core issue, and they work from there. Sometimes these guesses are spot on, or near the mark, but not always, and you shouldn’t rely on them. If you’re wrong, problems will persist. Instead, find your clues. Analyse data and trends. Monitor machine behaviour. Talk to your colleagues for suggestions on what to do, and ask for their observations. You’ll find things you can link together, that will lead you to the root cause. Don’t know RCA yet? Learn it and introduce it to your colleagues. You can find RCA tools for purchase online as well. Here is some to start with.

Asking Why

One excellent strategy to arrive at your root cause is to ask “why?” five times. Like RCA, this is a habit you need to introduce to your workplace. So how does it work?

  1. When you encounter a problem, ask why it occurred.
  2. Once you know, ask why that is the case.
  3. Repeat the above steps three to five times, jotting down any ideas that come to mind.

Allow me to reiterate the importance of educating your colleagues on this process. A team of people asking why casts a wider net to catch your problems more effectively than you alone. How do you introduce this process in the workplace? I personally recommend doing a hands on workshop. Tailor examples to each group you educate so they can best understand it. Ask the supervisors of said groups to check if the 5 Whys process has been used on any breakdown orders. This is a simple RCA process, and if you employ it right, you’ll soon discover how valuable a process it truly is.

So there are your two strategies to lessen the pain of not knowing the issue. Hopefully now there will be less guesswork and more clues that connect. RCA and the 5 Whys are like your spy glass, or your fingerprint dusting kit. So go forth, Reliability Detectives, and find your culprit –I mean– root cause!

If you would like to know more about how to solve an issue at your plant, there’s a course for that. The Extraordinary Reliability Engineer course is available for registration on Eventbrite now.

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