The Eventful Group, Syracuse, NY, is hosting another U.S. Mainstream Conference this month. If past installments of this series are any indication, Mainstream 2016 in The Woodlands, TX (Houston) will exceed expectations. Scheduled for May 22 to 25, its focus blends maintenance with operations and reliability and offers opportunities for all professionals in our arena to learn what’s new, validate what we’re already doing, and network with peers (and would-be peers) for a continuing dialogue. From a personal standpoint, the photo of a Formula 1 (F1) racecar on the cover of the conference brochure is what sparked this “Uptime” column.
Some readers may be familiar with my NASCAR race-team studies and how the findings permeate my teachings. NASCAR’s approach to racing, however, varies greatly from that of Formula 1. The two motorsports organizations have vastly different rules when it comes to designing, building, operating, and maintaining vehicles that compete in their respective circuits. Such rules serve as “standards” for how things get done in these arguably dissimilar racing businesses and, accordingly, help explain why a 2.3-sec. pit stop in F1 and a 10.5-sec. pit stop in NASCAR can both be considered superior. That said, let’s think about rules in today’s workplace and how they restrict or ensure the way things get done.
We see work rules defining what’s allowed and what’s not in countless plants. Many have evolved over time to improve safety and quality, control costs, and protect jobs. Some are based on regulatory requirements (safety, environmental, employment), others on certification compliance (ISO 9000, ISO 14001, ISO 55000). Over time, some are redefined to recognize new realities. Others simply preserve historical practices, leading to a “we’ve always done it that way” mindset.
Paraphrasing the Outback Steakhouse chain, let’s consider a “no rules, just right” work environment. In the worlds of manufacturing, maintenance, and facilities, “no rules” would surely imply that chaos prevails—which could never be a prescription for business success. Still, there’s a nugget hidden in plain sight in this mantra. The word “right” says it all. My thesaurus says “right” means “just, fair, correct, accurate, precise, exact, valid, established, official, absolute.” To me, these synonyms indicate there must be a rule that defines what is correct, as opposed to an implied wrong. Thus, for the sake of consistency in a “no rules, just right” work environment, we would embed standardized definitions of what right is and “how we do it here.”
On the other hand, when we consider work rules as standards for job performance, we can approach things a bit differently. If we keep thinking of such rules only as a way to preserve the status quo, we miss an opportunity to use them to promote and preserve continuous improvement. In today’s markets, new rules and standards are requirements for success in many business sectors.
New rules, just right
Standardized work, a fundamental element of continuous improvement, is often seen as restricting individual best practices. Frequently, it’s perceived as an infringement on “how I have done my work here for years.”
There are, however, thousands of examples where standardized work is successful—including in F1 and NASCAR racing. Looking closely at these motorsports, it’s clear that standardized work isn’t exclusive to their race teams’ pit crews. It permeates all phases of work, at all levels in the organizations. Some standardized work is based on conforming to the regulations of the sport. Some is devoted to preserving a best practice or proven method. And, some is leveraged in driving a relentless pursuit of perfection, i.e., 100% reliability from the way racecars are engineered to the way they are built, operated, and maintained. After all, without policies, standards, and a desire to look for better ways of doing things, we would still be living in caves and making fires to stay warm and cook our food.
The crux of the matter—in motorsports and other industry sectors—is about more than just looking for a better way. It’s about creating the expectation of what, where, and why to improve, as well as providing the necessary resources, and having a standardized work process in place to guide such improvements. This is the responsibility of top-level management.
Leadership’s huge role
Keep in mind that where there’s no standard, there’s no improvement—only attempts to organize chaos to temporarily minimize penalizing effects. This is why support from the top is so important.
Leadership is a critical success factor in the quest for standardizing a best practice or the way we make sustainable improvements. Management plays a huge role by leading the way to business success, improving the quality of work life, and creating expectation of continuous improvement. Standardization at all levels, in turn, guides how work and improvements are accomplished. A plan and a process for continuous improvement, whether guided by a business policy, a strategic plan, or business goals, must also be standardized.
Continuous improvement should result in benefits to the business and the employees. Leading continuous improvement from the very top of the organization keeps the efforts focused on the needs of the business. Engaging employees in the improvement of their work processes benefits them, as well as the business.
Continuous-improvement leadership, from the very top levels to the front lines of an organization, requires a set of habits that engages employees in their quest for improvement. Leaders do just that: They lead people. But leaders must also manage the process of continuous improvement in the organization. A continuous-improvement work culture, based on standardized work, cannot be delegated to a facilitator, a consultant, or a department of continuous improvement. This form of delegation often results in a predominance of improvement events rather than a sustainable improvement culture.
Suggestions for conference attendees
For readers who are attending Mainstream 2016 in The Woodlands, TX — or any upcoming technical conferences around the world for that matter, Mainstream or otherwise — I offer these standardized work-process suggestions:
- Share who you are, what you do, and what you know.
- Learn something new that could improve your workplace, your job, and your mindset.
- Share what you learned with your peers and your leaders, then give it a try. MT
Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and a member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the people-side of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at RobertMW2@cs.com.