I spent some time this morning talking to an old friend on the phone.  I met this guy several years ago when I first got started in the business of providing RCM training and services and a couple of years ago he moved on to a new company and as a maintenance and engineering manager for a rather large and respected company that makes and sells products around the world.

When we finished talking about the upcoming hunting season and what each of our kids have been up to I asked him how the company’s reliability effort was progressing.

“Well let’s just say we have a tendency to complicate things as it makes us appear to be smarter than we actually are.”

After a good laugh I asked him to explain.

“Well, we have changed the definitions of what an operational loss is three times now to make our OEE look better.  Once we finished that we went ahead and hired someone in to instruct us on Weibul analysis techniques because someone believes this might be the best way to address our current manufacturing losses and in the mean time I can’t get the operations manager to shutdown anything our PdM group has identified so we instead run about 90% of our critical assets to failure.  But if you ask our director, we have a world-class reliability group that includes eight CMRP’s, and three CRE’s.  Of course not one of these people has ever facilitated, let alone sat in on a RCM or Root Cause Analysis.  But ask them about finite element analysis or who was credited for discovering the exponential failure distribution and they are all over that!”

What does one say at a time like this?

He continued on and I listened.

“Seriously, I looked through comments in our production log after our scheduling meeting last month and there were comments like, product not at set point, waiting on raw materials, product code error along with several piping leaks that reoccur because we can’t get the machine down to properly support the feed piping but if it leaks we have time to shut down for an hour to fix that.”

“Next week we have a vendor coming in to show us new tool that will pinpoint where all of our problems are if we simply enter the plant throughput each day. One number!  We actually have people who believe that someone has invented a software package that will tell us what to do and how to do it by entering one number each day. Can you believe this?”

“Doug….are you there?”

Well, I can say I think I used to work with some of these people and I can also say that you know you have found something that works when someone else feels the need to make it more complicated.  You need to keep it as simple as possible using right tool for the right job, every surgeon has a scalpel but clearly they understand what its proper use is.

Reliability works, knowing that the question becomes how reliable do we need to be to effectively run our business and make sound profit.  This is where the measures come in, you have to have a baseline, a place to draw a line in the sand and then a simple goal of eliminating losses to improve reliability.

Sitting down later and crafting this conversation into a blog I often find myself referring back to some of my favorite Albert Einstein quotes. While old Albert was most famous for his theory of relativity he was also known for his wit and our conversation reminded me of a couple of good ones.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

But the quote that best applies is this one…

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”

The business of reliability is really about understanding where to start, identifying your losses and using the right tool to eliminate that loss.  It’s as simple as that.

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8 Responses to Working With the Intelligent Fool

  1. Great post Doug, thank you for sharing.

    I guess this quote would resonate:
    “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
    ― Leonardo da Vinci

    Best regards, Bjarni

    • DPlucky says:

      Thanks Bjarni! This brought me back to my old Kodak days and a couple of my old managers who always looked for the most difficult and expensive solution for any and all problems!

  2. Bill Keeter says:


    This reminds of something I once read in a book on control systems engineering. The guy osed the question “What is the simplest way to control the level in a tank?”

    Of course controls engineers came up with things like on off control with a float, etc. it turns out that the simplest way to control the level in a tank is to punch a hole in the side of the tank at the desired tank level.

    As you know, I am a fan of Weibull, but it is like adding sprinkles to the top of the cupcake. They won’t improve the taste of the cake very much if the cake is made out of sawdust.

    It sounds like your buddy’s company had bought into process weibull plots without understanding the limitations. Most of the ones I have built tell me there are lots of BASIC problems that need to be resolved. Unfortunately, none of them have ever pinpointed the exact sources of the losses.

    Reliability is just a bunch of damn hard work that needs to be accomplished at very basic levels.

  3. Mark Basnight says:

    Great post. I feel your friend. It is really frustrating at times when it seems like you are the lone person which clearly sees the problem and knows the solution for improving reliability and everyone else looks at you like you are some kind of alien. Good use of the Al E quotes, I use a number of them as well. I used to post one every few days outside my door at work.

  4. Mohammad says:

    Doug, Nice blog. I would say, Keeping things Simple, Makes it happen.

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