Reliability is a common concern in many industries. Essentially, it’s about avoiding equipment failures, process failures, and other points of catastrophe that could jeopardize a business’s bottom line. There are many ways to avoid failure, of course. You could institute more careful controls at the design level, you could inspect your equipment regularly to make sure it remains efficient, and you could hire and train better people to execute your workflows.
This is where reliability initiatives, or reliability programs, come into play. A reliability initiative is a set of goals and executables designed to assess and improve reliability levels within an organization. The basic idea is to inspect your business for potential points of failure, and eliminate them before they become a problem.
It sounds simple, but in practice, can be incredibly complicated. Typical reliability programs often end up with poor direction or inefficiencies that jeopardize their ultimate return on investment (ROI). Fortunately, if you’re aware of these potential weaknesses, you can compensate for them.
Key areas to consider
These are some of the most common areas included in reliability initiatives:
- Research and development. Everything starts with product design. If you’re able to catch potential problems before a customer ever gets their hands on your product, or note any weaknesses that could become an issue for manufacturers, you can take care of it at this stage.
- Manufacturing is highly automated these days, but there’s still a lot that can go wrong. Ensuring your machines are working and your employees are operating them safely is critical to staying productive.
- Your maintenance department is responsible for making sure your equipment is up and running as long as possible and as consistently as possible. The more proactive they are, the better.
- You’ll also want to incorporate your operations department. With better training and more foresight, all your employees can play an active role in ensuring your work environment is safe and productive.
Your reliability initiatives can cover some or all of these areas, or you could have multiple distinct initiatives for each of these areas.
Common mistakes in reliability initiatives
While most reliability initiatives start with good intentions to improve ROI, health, and safety, there are some common errors that compromise their effectiveness:
- They’re too broad or too narrow. Some reliability initiatives are absolutely comprehensive, affecting all areas of business. Some are niche-focused, only focusing on one specific area. Either way, you’re likely to miss something; broad programs are often unfocused and difficult to manage, while narrow ones have too small an effect. Try to keep yours in balance.
- They’re too expensive or too cheap. Similarly, companies often either invest too little or invest too much in their reliability initiatives. Expensive initiatives could eventually lower your return on investment (ROI). Cheap ones won’t be able to lead to many improvements, defeating the purpose entirely.
- They have no value proposition. Your business likely has a value proposition that explains what it brings to customers (and investors). Your reliability initiative should be considered a mini-business of its own, with its own value proposition. In other words, how is your reliability program going to bring value to your business, and generate ROI? If you don’t know, something’s wrong.
- There’s no point person, leader, or champion. You might have a firm set of high-level objectives, but who’s going to be in charge of executing them? Who will be held accountable if those goals aren’t met? If you don’t have a point person, leader, or champion (or potentially, multiple key leads), your plan is likely to fail.
- Multiple initiatives overlap with each other. It’s fine to split your reliability initiative into multiple sections to make it more manageable, but be careful here; this can easily create gaps between areas, or cause overlap and redundancy. Make sure your individual efforts are concretely defined in the context of your broader plan.
- Your initiative is isolated in a silo. If you have one department working on an initiative that only affects their department, you can end up with a silo effect. Reliability should be a team effort; don’t forget that.
- Initiatives are planned well but executed inconsistently. Most reliability initiatives fail somewhere between the meeting room in which they were conceived and the working floor. If you’re not consistent in your execution, even the best-planned initiative will collapse.
If you’re going to start a reliability initiative, make sure you take it seriously. This isn’t something you can breeze through, nor can you start one without a high-level plan. Take the time to come up with a program that works for your business and addresses your most common points of vulnerability, and make sure you have the right team to follow through on its execution.