When is the right time to reach out for help?

By: Peter Lee

In almost every business, there are problems that are so complex that no individual person can solve them. Knowing when - and how – to reach out for help, whether it’s to someone from within your organisation, or an external party, is often the most important step to solving these problems.

At Bluefield, we’ve worked with many clients with varying degrees of challenges that need to be overcome to deliver their business objectives. We have met with many clients who recognise they require help, but don’t know where to start. These initial requests for help often turn into a discovery process to ensure the problem is tackled in the most effective way.

From our experience, we have found there are three fundamental factors that will ensure the success of every engagement. Before delving into when is the right time, it is important to understand the barriers that prevent people from reaching out.

The first issue we often see is problem blindness. These are issues that have been in place so long that people do not recognise it is a problem, and it becomes the standard that everyone accepts. Part of this results from people only seeing “the world they live in” and do not look outside of their organisation.

Examples we often see are low availability targets because a team isn’t aware that other sites are doing better, poor housekeeping standards and maintenance practices that are accepted as normal.

The second issue we often see is tunnelling. People become so busy fighting fires that they do not take the time to step back and look at the bigger picture. The issue here is that people become so focused on fighting fires, that they spend all their valuable time and resources on these second order problems that just continue to come. The big issues, the ones that will make a real difference, remain unaddressed and thus no real progress is ever made.

Examples include focussing on reducing scheduled downtime when the majority of downtime is unscheduled, and focussing on achieving metrics like schedule compliance at any cost (an issue we’ve previously written about here).

The third and most important is the lack of problem ownership. When no one owns and takes accountability for the problem, long term solutions will never be achieved and implemented. Ownership of a problem is not always just the lack of drive from individuals. We often see a lack of ownership introduced by companies creating silos within their business who are all driven by their individual performance metrics. While each silo is working hard to meet their individual metrics, no one is owning the complete process to ensure the goals are aligned.

Here's an example from a recent project to illustrate these principles….

We recently completed a project with a client where the objective was to improve the mobile fleet equipment availability. The superintendent recognised that the availability of the fleet was not meeting the requirement of the business and reached out for help to improve. It was at this point we worked with the client on initiatives to improve availability.

The first area that was suggested we investigate was to reduce the scheduled downtime. The Maintenance Superintendent was convinced that this area fell inside his locus of control and thus could provide the “easiest win” for improving availability. Reaching out and working with the maintenance planning team to review the data, we circled back to challenge the assumption by reframing the thought process around the focus scheduled downtime first. The data showed about 7% availability was impacted by scheduled work, while unscheduled availability impact was contributing approximately 13%. By reframing the situation, we were able to work with the Maintenance Superintendent to focus the resources on the most value adding areas of opportunity first.

From here we worked with the maintenance team to develop and review the top five areas of unscheduled downtime. Two areas stood out: hydraulics leaks and tyres. Focusing in on the hydraulic leaks we worked with the maintenance team getting involvement from the trades’ personnel through to the reliability engineer. What we learnt is that majority of the leaks come from failed hoses because of rubbing. Tracking this back and inspecting several machines, it was consistently found that during these hose replacements, the clamps that hold the hoses out of harm’s way were not fitted. A campaign was started, the fleet inspected, and hoses and clamps replaced that saw immediate reduction in failures.

From here we moved over to target the tyre downtime. We reached out to the tyre workshop to start to work through the unscheduled tyre downtime. It turned out that some of the “unscheduled downtime” was in fact scheduled tyre replacements and rotations. The data had just not been properly scheduled within the system as the team did not know how. Knowing this, we reached back out to the maintenance planning team to work through the process with the tyre bay team to ensure scheduled tyre work was planned correctly. After correcting the downtime allocation issue, we than reached out to the production team to collaborate with the tyre bay team on the high incidence of tyre damage.

Meanwhile, the initial success of the campaign on hydraulic leaks was short lived with new leaks resulting from rubbed hoses and missing clamps started to reappear. It is at this point we reached out to our network to get ideas and thoughts on how to tackle the problem. Through this process we were pointed in the direction to understand why the clamps come off including some possible causes. Armed with these insights and delving into the cause with the maintenance team we found that when a hose is replaced, the clamps are often not put back on. The drivers were in effort to save time on two fronts, getting the machine back to work and to make it “easier” next time they had to change the hose.

This project highlighted to me the barriers we face dealing with complex problems that no one person can effectively solve. Only by recognising this, reaching out for help, and uniting the right people, can we truly be effective.