How Does One Change an Industry

How Does One Change an Industry

Jobs at Apple has done it. You can, too.

Change an industry. The advent of iTunes and iPods forever changed how the world buys and listens to music.

While Jobs had the resources of Apple to help make the change happen. It still started as an idea (may or may not have been Jobs’ idea, I don’t know). It grew and created enough momentum to effect a change across an entire industry.

Change is hard.

If you have tried to help your team move in a new direction or consider the reliability risks present in the current design, then you know change is difficult to make happen. You most likely have been successful a few times, and not a few also. I know I’ve crashed into the rocky spit more often than I can count.

How Does Change Happen

Let’s say we want to move our industry away from using MTBF to using reliability supported with non-parametric or parametric descriptions of the time to failure distribution. Sexy, eh?

You realize that simply saying we’re not going to use MTBF anymore will not work. It won’t even change the behavior of the few folks in your office much less the entire industry. So, how do proceed?

Amy Morin, a contributing writer for published an article, Change Doesn’t Happen Overnight: It Happens In These five Stages.

In the article she describes the Transtheoretical Model of Change. Basically, people have to be ready for behavior change, else it won’t happen. Forcing a change is doomed unless the person has progressed through the five necessary stages to be ready for change.

Stage 1. Precontemplation. Your boss doesn’t recognize the need to avoid using MTBF. They see no need to change. They haven’t even considered changing. Here a frank discussion on the perils of MTBF and unwanted consequences of poor decisions may rise the awareness, thus moving beyond stage 1.

Stage 2. Contemplation. It seems like a good idea, just not sure yet, not committed to avoiding MTBF. You boss is thinking about it. Here you may need to reinforce the benefits significantly outweigh the risks of not changing. Compare how the same data can provide better insights thus support better decisions, may be one technique. Show that a non-parametric plot of time to failure data is easy to create and interpret. Making better decisions with the data leads to benefits.

Stage 3. Preparation. You boss calls you in to discuss how to make the change away from MTBF. It is planning time. Planning to actually change. There will be obstacles and rough spots, yet a good plan can help you and your boss navigate the change with a well thought out plan.

Stage 4. Action. Execute the plan. Make it happen. Your boss may consider this a trial run or a test to see how it goes. Confidence that the change is possible builds. Again reinforce the benefits of making the change. Reinforce sticking to the plan. New habits take time to create. Encourage action and realizing how misleading using MTBF would be and celebrate getting better results.

Stage 5. Maintenance. Change takes time to become the new normal. Obstacles will arise and it’s natural to address any urgent problem with old behaviors. Remember friends don’t let friends use MTBF. Stay diligent and continue to support using reliability instead of MTBF. This stage may take 6 weeks or 6 months depending on how often the new behavior is called upon for use. Here help your boss prepare for major reports that used to include MTBF. Planning ahead and avoiding the reflective use of old habits will further reinforce the use of a new habit.

This set of stages is for a person experiencing change. How about for your entire team, organization, or your industry? Change still happens one person at a time. So, keep in mind that everyone will be in one of the stages. Meet them where they are and help them move the next stage.

Different Approaches to Starting Change in an Industry

Changing just one person is difficult and time-consuming. How about changing an entire industry? Let’s consider a few approaches.

The Boss Says So – sometimes change within a team or organization occurs because the boss sets down some new rule, or request, or requirement. In an industry, there rarely is a super boss that has the ability to unilaterally dictate the banning of MTBF (bummer). Within an organization this is possible. You just need to convince the one person and then support the rest of the organization with the change.

Beachhead – This is a military term referring to an invading force creating a small secure location from which to expand the advance and to bring in additional resources. The idea is to find a weakness concerning the use of MTBF within your industry, then establish a small and useful use of say a Weibull plot instead of using MTBF. This may be an industry report for one aspect of your industry. It’s a start. From here expand the avoidance of MTBF to more elements of the report and across other areas of the industry. As those in your industry realize the use of something other than MTBF is ok (preferred even), you have a breakthrough.

Remarkable Performance – Maybe your approach is best focused on just your organization. If you avoid MTBF and internally make better decisions concerning reliability, then your organization will likely do better in the market compared to your competition. The idea here is to get so good at what you do (reliability wise of course) others will try to emulate your practices.

Alter the Language – This one takes time, yet changing certifications, standards, and data sheet descriptions is one way to change the language used within an industry.

Foster Teams – Seth Godin’s blot discussed this idea in his article, Making Change (in multiples)

Seth suggests changing one person at a time is safe and minimizing the risk of failure as very few know about the attempt. He also described attempting to change everyone, is basically giving up.

Instead, Seth suggests working with cohorts willing and ready to change. A cohort benefits by knowing others are making the change away from MTBF. They can share successes, encourage each other, and help each other solve setbacks. The group is stronger making the change happen then trying to change alone.


Change can happen. You can be the catalyst. You can help to shift your team, organization, and industry away from MTBF.

If you are reading this article you are at least in stage 2. Contemplation. If so, it’s time to make a plan and execute it. Remember to maintain the support for the change. We’re here to help and support you.

If you have great material to helps others move across the stages of change concerning MTBF, please share it in the comments below.


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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