Change from MTBF

If you want to make enemies, try to change something ~Woodrow Wilson


Newton had it right, objects at rest tend to remain at rest, and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. We can say that both states resist changing into the other state unless some force acts on the object. You can feel this resistance when going around a corner in a car. You body seems to want to continue straight and it is the seat, belt buckle, door frame that conspire to bring you along with the car around the corner.

People are much the same. We tend to resist change. We have a range of reasons from fear the unknown, desire to track in a different direction, desire for control, and many more. It is the realm of change management that helps us understand and create the change, in people, that we desire.

I desire change in many people and organizations to avoid using MTBF.

There seems to be some resistance.

Change Management

When I saw the quote by Woodrow Wilson it sparked this essay on change management and MTBF. Then I went online to find some articles about change management. There are many as it seems at some point we all have incurred resistance from either resting or moving objects.

The article:

Making Change Happen, and Making It Stick

Five factors make the greatest difference in fostering the new behaviors needed for a transformation. All of them reflect the basic importance of people in implementing and embedding change.

provides advice and breaks it down into five factors. Let’s explore each in the context of changing away from the use of MTBF.

1. Determine impact of change on people

MTBF is a metric commonly used to reflect a product or component’s reliability. It is used on data sheets, design requirements documents, and field data analysis reports. It is used to make decisions as teams attempt to either achieve or react to the MTBF value. Customers use MTBF values to compare vendor claims, conduct predictions, and specify desired reliability performance.
In all cases we use MTBF as a measure of reliability or expected failure rate over some period of time. As readers of NoMTBF understand, MTBF is not very good at providing accurate information for decision making. Thus the impact of changing MTBF to Reliability  (percent still operating over a specific duration) is to improve the accuracy of the metric used to make decisions.
MTBF is a single number and moving to Reliability is two numbers (98% reliable after 2 years, for example, rather than 50k hours MTBF). People used to using MTBF, whether they understand it or now would have to learn about a new way to describe the reliability performance of a product. Most know or quickly learn that 98% reliable over 2 years suggests that 2% are expected fail over 2 years.
Another impact is on the translation of customer requests to reliability from MTBF, making measurements that reveal reliability rather than MTBF, and providing and explaining reliability rather than MTBF. It is a change in the language about product reliability and it quickly reveals more information and easier to understand and use information.

2. Include emotion and rational case

Much of the NoMTBF site attempts to provide examples, rational, and pleas for the necessity for change. See Perils for the best case that I’ve written.
Emotional: Stop making poor decisions and deluding yourself and your organization.
Rational: MTBF is widely misunderstood and an inaccurate measure of product reliability.

3. Get the leadership team on board

This may take persuasion, cajoling, maybe even a study of current use of MTBF versus Reliability and how major decisions would improve using Reliability. Talk to and show your entire management team the merits of using a better metric. Show them the cost of past mistakes based on MTBF.
The best way I know to bring the team on board is to meet individually with key leaders, garner acceptance and assist them to convince others. Enable the leadership team to lead by providing them the information, examples and talking points to spark the discussions that lead to understanding. Let them lead the change, let them own the change. Become a coach to your leadership team.

4. Foster and encourage champions

Often change happens because a few individuals make it happen. They can be anywhere in the organization. Find your colleagues that ‘get it’. Maybe they already have a NoMTBF button or mug. They already advocate for the use of Reliability rather than MTBF.
If you want to accelerate the pace of change, find, foster, encourage, and enable these people to use Reliability and not MTBF, to talk about changing away from MTBF, and to show the value of making the change. Provide them talking points, questions, examples, slide sets, and most of all reinforcement and support.
In the song Alice’s Resturant there is scene where Woody is getting his military draft induction physical and meets the psychologist. The lyrics have him go in and sing one bar of Alice’s Resturant and explains that if one person does this, he’ll be considered crazy and dismissed. If two people sign a bar of the song, they will think they are odd. If ten people do this, they will be considered part of a movement.
Build the movement within our company. Alone and advocating the change away from MTBF I know you are not crazy – you are inspired. Building a team about you will let the rest of the organization know that the change away from MTBF will happen.

5. Make it part of the process

Changing the language is a key element to changing behavior. In organizations changing the process (life cycle development process, data sheet templates, product reliability requirement templates, etc.) help to change the language. For example, instead of asking for the product current MTBF estimate at a product review meeting, change the review meeting agenda and expectations to the request for the current Reliability estimate.
Do a search of all your procedures and documents, then execute a replace command. Swap MTBF with Reliability. At meetings when someone asks about the MTBF value, provide Reliability and cite the recent changes in the procedures, guidelines, etc.
If you cannot make the changes alone find the champions and leaders/managers that have the ability to make the changes. Encourage and assist them to update and enforce the changes. This level of change helps to keep the change from reverting back to using MTBF. And that is the goal, make the change stick.
Let me know how your change management process is working. What’s working, what are the hurdles, what do you need to be successful? Let’s work together here to accelerate change across our profession and industries.

About Fred Schenkelberg

I am an experienced reliability engineering and management consultant with my firm FMS Reliability. My passion is working with teams to create cost-effective reliability programs that solve problems, create durable and reliable products, increase customer satisfaction, and reduce warranty costs.

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