1. The beginning

The structured approach to problem solving provided by RCA Rt evolved out of the activities of SIRF Roundtables.

RCA Rt’s Bill Holmes facilitated SIRF’s Industrial Maintenance Roundtable (IMRt) from its inception in 1993 until 2006 and was closely involved with the Operational Excellence Roundtables. These Roundtables were focused on identifying and sharing best practice and convened hundreds of networking activities, where more than three hundred of Australasia’s leading companies illustrated how they were achieving success.

2. Analysing leading companies

One of the activities was a comprehensive benchmarking study of maintenance and reliability practices using the DuPont process in more than one hundred maintenance organisation across five continents. The studies conducted by Bill over an eight year period involved three visits to each participating site over a nine month period with detailed investigation quantifying performance and the factors that led to success.

Bill was from a maintenance planning background and expected that planning would be the key ingredient. However the investigations showed categorically that sites with personnel who routinely identified why equipment failed, and took steps to prevent reoccurrence, had the best result. In hindsight this is obvious, however, many companies are still overwhelmed by repairing unforeseen failures, or preventing failures from happening by “returning to new” condition (together with flaws), or doing “preventive” maintenance earlier than the failure occurs. Condition-based maintenance, and to a lesser extent preventive-based maintenance, are better than reactive. But true understanding of failure mechanisms, and eliminating the possibility of failure altogether (often through low or zero cost operational changes) is best of all.

Having identified that elimination of repeating failure is key to reduced cost and increased performance, the next obvious question was, “How do the successful companies achieve the outcome?”

3. Problem solving drives success

The benchmarking showed that there was no one technique, but instead, many approaches and that the building a “culture” within the site that values work to identify and eliminate repeating problems or defects is fundamental. Some people describe this as a culture of reliability. So a desire within the people at the site to find and eliminate problems is essential, but it becomes frustrated if personnel don’t have the skills to work through problems.

Some people believe that there must be a “best approach” to problem solving and advocate a particular technique or way of thinking. The weakness of this is shown by the old adage “If the only tool I have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail.” In fact, there are many different types of problems. A single tool that is strong enough to crack a difficult problem will be too costly and complicated to use on the great majority of routine issues.

4. The essential 5WHYS

Some people denigrate the basic 5WHYS concept because to them it lacks rigour. Two people doing a 5WHYS may come up with quite different causes. However, the benchmarking showed that if most people are routinely asking “Why?” rather than just acting intuitively, repeating failures reduce dramatically.

5. Cause Tree and more

The 5WHYS process is not rigorous, but use of the simple 3-WAY Test greatly enhances results obtained with 5WHYS. Encouraging escalation to the A3 process involving colleagues, helps with more difficult problems. A small percentage of issues must escalate further and benefit from a thorough review of problem definition, examination of causes and methodical plan for execution of improvements. i.e., Focus → Find Causes → Fix Forever in RCA Rt’s 12 STEPS process. Cause trees reinforce the 5WHYS with the rigour to identify all relevant causes and identify remedies not only for the cause that may already have happened, but also the causes that will, given time, cause a failure in the future.

6. Quality tools

The search for evidence was identified as another key driver to success. Sites that theorise about what caused an event don’t perform as well as those that test their theories by gathering hard data. It is all very well to encourage people to find evidence, but without the training, and adequate tools to analyse them, the encouragement is pointless.

The Seven Quality Tools (7QT) that evolved through the Japanese manufacturing miracle and made famous by the quality movement are the techniques that everyone, from the front line worker to the specialist consultant, can use. Pareto charts, histograms, run sheets, fish-bone diagrams, check sheets and many others are the incredibly simple techniques that people can routinely use to find the evidence. All are very simple, but people need training and encouragement to be comfortable with using them, and most importantly, to have the initiative to use them when they see the need.

7. RCA Rt is unique & powerful

Therefore we see problem solving is not as simple as picking some particular method. Issues need to be documented and managed, and a number of approaches to problem solving are needed. Organisations need to be able to communicate which tools to use and when, when to escalate issues, and very importantly, how much money to invest in solving a problem.

Risk management techniques are now routinely used in industry to communicate that, and most personnel can make good decisions based on an assessment of the risk and guidelines on company policy.

RCA Rt has brought together all of the ideas described above into a suite of tools and training, to help organisations create and support a culture of reliability.