Building a High-Performance Reliability Team

Drew Troyer, Noria Corporation

Building a Team for High-performance Reliability Innovation

Recently, I enjoyed listening to a podcast presented by Phil McKinney, vice president and chief technical officer of Hewlett-Packard, on building high-performance innovation teams. I think that we reliability professionals can learn plenty from Phil's ideas on this topic.

While innovation is frequently discussed in terms of product development, the same basic management principles apply to business process innovations, like changing your organization's approach to plant reliability management.

I think Phil's thoughts and suggestions are extremely salient to your journey to change and, in many cases, revolutionize your plant reliability management practices (see a link to his podcast referenced at the end of this article).

I've borrowed Phil's framework on building a high-performance innovation team and combined it with my philosophies about achieving plant reliability business process change - starting with the rules of engagement for innovation, then moving on to structuring your high-performance reliability management business process innovation team.

The rules of innovation engagement include:

Create a bold, outrageous goal (BOG): Any innovation initiative must have a bold, outrageous goal - something that says "home run" to the senior management team. And, you must (not should) present this goal in financial terms.

Senior managers utilize a single common engineering unit - the dollar sign (or other form of currency). Your bold goal must demonstrate, for instance, how increasing overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) will improve your profits, drive economic value added (EVA) and drive the company's value (e.g. share price) in a BIG way.

Otherwise, you won't overcome the psychological and sociological inertia that will resist the innovative change in business practices.

Identify an enemy: Any significant innovation requires an "enemy" to create a sense of urgency. The enemy may be external (competitors) or internal (fear of layoffs, plant closures, etc.), but we must have one.

It's been well proved that aspiration (we'd like to make more money) is not nearly as motivating as fear. So, at an executive level, we need to define the dragon we hope to slay with the reliability business process innovation initiative.

Freedom from the corporate hairball: The corporate hairball is what you've always done - for instance, the preventive maintenance tasks (PMs) that were put into the system 10 years ago despite the fact that no root cause analysis was performed to justify them.

Your current "business as usual" will be a major "hairball" standing in the way of developing your "new, more profitable business as usual."

Assign the "right" resources: Resources are like stress - too little is a problem and too much is a problem. You want your innovation team to run lean and mean.

If you over-resource them, they hire too many people, who will ultimately wind up running into one another, buy too many toys and lose focus. However, there must be sufficient resources in place to achieve the objectives set forth.

The right team mix: You need a complement of team members, each of whom knows their respective roles. Managers commonly make the mistake of hiring themselves again and again.

Success in innovation requires a complement of team members who possess their own special skills and behaviors that are necessary to achieving the goal. The team members must have vision alignment but avoid groupthink. That's a difficult balance to strike and sustain.

The high-performance reliability innovation team should include:

One strong visionary: The visionary leader is the person who truly sees how the initiative will benefit the organization. This individual must possess the capacity to see years out into the future, condense the initiative into an elevator pitch (A3 thinking) and sell the vision - at least to the early adopters.

Usually, this person is the leader of the high-performing team. He or she must be the "Pied Piper" who people want to follow. This leader must aggressively attribute credit for success to the team and reluctantly accept it for his or herself. He or she must protect the team against "corporate antibodies" that will attempt to sabotage the initiative.

One "Radar O'Reilly": Radar O'Reilly, borrowed from the popular movie and TV program MASH, is the guy or girl who knows the organization so well that they can more or less fix anything or get just about anything done. You know the type.

One or two "mavericks": Mavericks are the mad scientists who come up with revolutionary, or at least dynamically continuous, innovations to tough business problems.

These are the folks who are always coming up with ideas that, at the time you first hear them, seem ridiculous, but months or years later, make perfect sense. They are different from the visionaries, who tend to see a future state for the business.

The mavericks think out of the box, and really enjoy doing it. Often, these people aren't very good in mainstream operational or management roles.

One parent: High-performing teams, once things get rolling, can and will work themselves to the point of self-destruction. The parent is the person in the organization who recognizes when it is time to back off, walk away, relax and come back another day refreshed and, often, with a new perspective.

A handful of execution demons: Once plans are set, you need people who can execute. These people don't like the "figuring it out" process, but once the plan is in place, they're eager to take over, implement and provide feedback about what's working and what's not.

A handful of translators: You need credible people within the organization (outside of the innovation team and management) who can translate to the rest of the organization what's happening and why. Usually, these people have informal power within the organization.

They may not hold high positions, but they are highly respected and trusted. You need them to explain what's happening to the masses, who don't understand what's going on and might be afraid of the change process. Think of them as anti-venom for the organization.

Change isn't easy for organizations. To achieve the results outlined in the "bold, outrageous goal," you must assemble a team that can turn a blank sheet of paper into executable reliability-improving business process plans, and then effectively execute the plans.

No one person, or personality type, possesses all of the skills and behavioral characteristics required to achieve innovation. Consider my thoughts and follow Phil McKinney's sage advice to ensure that you choose your reliability management business process improvement team wisely.


McKinney, P. (2006) "High-Performance Innovation Teams podcast," www.techtrend.com/blog/2006/10/podcast_high_performance_innov.html

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