We are shaped by our tools 

Adam Bahret
Adam Bahret
Reliability Tools Evolution

In history, earliest known humans created stone tools, which gave rise to hunting culture, which gave us more tools and on. There’s an adage: “We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us”. There is a debate on who said it first but this saying has been used in many instances. I’m adding one more usage of this dictum, this time in the context of Reliability Engineering.

“Culture shapes our Reliability tools, and then our Reliability tools shape our culture”

Here by Reliability tools, I mean the entire Design for Reliability toolkit that includes reliability testing, analysis, risk assessment, and management. By Culture, I mean the organizational culture or more appropriately Reliability Culture for product development.

The more I think about my experience of shaping the right culture, the more I identify with this commingling. Reliability Culture is a set of processes that teams execute to develop a reliable product. The processes use tools to carry out the task. Tools may be a HALT testing methodology to find weakness or an analysis of prototype reliability. Application of tools shapes the process layout. Planning and executing an Accelerated Life Testing (ALT) is a long process. It requires the team to identify the need, determine the test format, allocate the resources, execute the test, and analyze the results. All these steps require acceptance from the rest of the team on its value. The program must accommodate these steps in its timeline. Pushing the other processes in the company such as sourcing, financing, marketing to work around this because they see the value in using the ALT tool. The Reliability tool is shaping the organization.

In reverse, the organization’s business needs will set the reliability targets. Products must meet a life expectancy in the field under certain conditions. This will drive the development team to choose the reliability tools that are useful to meet this target. A shorter development period might favor using Highly Accelerated Life Test (HALT) tool during prototype phase and modify design accordingly. Combining Root Cause Analysis and Modeling will suffice the team to develop a product within the limited time frame. The culture of prioritizing Time-to-market is shaping the reliability tools. 

Copy of Rel Culture shapes Tools
The Growth Ladder

This interplay extends to individual tools. Here are some quick examples:

  • A culture focused on thoroughness will use a detailed Root Cause Analysis template that considers all factors <> When a product failure can happen due to various factors such as Use, Manufacturing, Design, Environment, then a template that will cover all will be chosen. 
  • Use of Failure Mode & Effects Analysis (FMEA) will require collaboration among various stakeholders <> A siloed company with teams competing for priority will not be able to properly facilitate FMEA  
  • Weibull Analysis requires collection of failure data <> A data collection infrastructure with records and database is needed to execute Weibull
  • …(list goes on)

New reliability tools are formed to accommodate the varying needs of the Culture. The culture has immense force that it forges new tools. Tools like Anchoring, Bounding, Program Risk Effect Analysis (PREA), Czar Agents are results of new tools being shaped by the culture. The book Reliability Culture details more about these tools.

All of the tools in the Design for Reliability toolkit have an influence on the Culture. And Culture will shape the tool being used. The greatest benefit of this interaction is the overall Reliability improvement of your products. The organization’s internal capability raises to pump out robust products giving a competitive edge in the market. All you need to get on this perpetual cycle is to start.

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