Three Key Lessons You Wish You Knew 20 Years Ago

Written by Mike Sondalini as a memo to his younger self, the content has been adapted into an article format. Given the depth of detailed information contained, this article is better considered a technical document. It summarizes Mike’s key learnings from decades of research, consulting, and training in the Plant Wellness Way EAM methodology.

To keep true to the tone of the author, this article has been minimally edited.

The Three Lessons

Click to jump to section


Reaching the heights of reliability excellence is a tremendously profitable place for a company to be.


Outstanding reliability is a formulaic engineering outcome achieved by your Enterprise Asset Management System.


High-reliability organizations (HROs) proactively focus on preventing problems entering their operation, and those that remain they find and remove.

1. Reaching the heights of reliability excellence is a tremendously profitable place for a company to be.

If your company hasn’t already got great reliability it never will until the organization changes its Enterprise Asset Management system and processes to do what brings outstanding reliability. To climb to the heights of world class reliability your organization and its people need the education, skills and methods to correctly do the quality practices and precision techniques that cause reliability.

To have high reliability you must remove every opportunity for defects to damage a critical part’s microstructure from throughout the asset life cycle. In Plant Wellness Way (PWW) you use the 8-Life Cycle Questions of the Physics of Failure Factors Analysis to regularly review your company processes and proactively eliminate the causes of the causes of failure.

An operation built to be a ‘system-for-creating-reliability’ is structured so it optimally achieves its purpose. When your company is a ‘system-of-reliability’ you engineer and use your business processes to get utmost operating success. As a system-of-reliability there is no limitation on your company reaching world class maintenance, reliability and operational performance. Your day-to-day struggles disappear as you create the world class reliability you need for Operational Excellence profits. Figure 1 shows you the world class operational performance you create with Plant Wellness Way.

The standard EAM strategy is to first use preventative and predictive maintenance to reduce breakdown occurrences.

Figure 1. Plant Wellness Way Drives Process Capability to Operational Excellence Results

Identify More Successful Risk Reduction Strategies

For each unacceptable risk identified, eliminate failure opportunities and make reliability improvements to prevent it. Use chance reduction strategies to change the process design to make it more robust and reliable. Alter process design to remove the possibility of defects error-proofs your business.

Verify the effectiveness of chosen improvements and confirm their financial value by assessing the proposed mitigations with a PWW Reliability Growth Cause Analysis to build a powerful business case for making the changes. At the very least plot the before and after risk on a calibrated risk matrix to show people what will be gained with the process improvement.

Keep consequence management options as a last resort because they add costs and complexity to your business. They require you to add another process that will surely fail from time to time, opening you up to the full risk you wanted to prevent.

Do ’Push the Limit’ Projects

By simply changing the processes and practices used to ACE 3T procedures, you can transform a poorly performing operation into star performer.

Put continuous improvement in everyone’s duty statement. Every day you could find better ways to do your job if you were asked to suggest them. The natural human inclination to want things to be simpler, easier and faster needs to be intentionally harnessed and put into useful service.

Where problems persist and need to be addressed in revolutionary ways, dedicate an improvement team of subject matter experts to design and implement the solution. Where problems can be addressed in an innovative way PWW allocates them to a workplace team using ‘Change to Win’ teamwork projects and sets a deadline for their initial implementation.

Make the Best Way the Only Way Used

Your process documents explain exactly how your company is run for greatest success. Keep your process documents current and accurate and train their users if they are not following the designed process. If the process is lousy let those who use it fix it.

Unless something positive and ‘concrete’ comes out of a bad event to prevent its occurrence in future there has been no learning and the problem will reoccur. It cannot be otherwise since nothing has been corrected and nothing has been improved. Until action is taken to make suggested enhancements permanent practice there has been no change. When you introduce improvements and changes, they must also become the new ways of doing the work. Only once better ways are documented, and people are trained to do them right, can higher performance result. No new change will ever become a workplace practice until the improvement is documented in Standard Operating Procedures, the people are trained to do it right, and it is supported into permanent use by their immediate supervisor.

Confirm Reliability Growth is Happening in Your Processes

Use trends to prove your processes and process steps are becoming ever more successful, ever more effective, and ever more efficient. Use distribution curves to prove they are continually becoming more optimal.

2. Outstanding Reliability is the Business Outcome of your Enterprise Asset Management System

Equipment reliability is totally dependent on component reliability, which, bar for sabotage and ‘acts of God’ can be fully specified by measurable engineering criteria. This makes world class plant reliability completely achievable since every machine’s necessary health conditions can be fully specified by measurable engineering parameters. How well your Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) processes achieve the requirements your equipment parts need for reliability is an indicator of its effectiveness in producing utmost profits from highly reliable operating assets.

Getting zero breakdown plant and machinery is totally achievable and straightforward to do. Since the mid-1980’s we have known exactly how to guarantee incredible plant and equipment uptime. The research is long completed: we know all the science; we know all the engineering; we have the required work quality control and assurance. The correct solutions for superb physical asset reliability are practical and quite doable. What prevents organizations having world class physical asset management success is not a technical issue. Though we know exactly what needs to be done to make machines magnificently reliable, what cannot yet be done is to get every company to do that right.

The Plant Wellness Way methodology gets you to design and build a holistic system-of-reliability for enterprise asset management that delivers world-class reliable plant and equipment and locks it into place forevermore. With PWW you optimize production plant performance through the correct selection and application of engineering, operations, maintenance, risk management and reliability engineering. Everyone uses the methods, techniques and tools that effectively create outstanding equipment reliability and maximize life cycle operating profits. You pick the best strategy, tactics and practices that give your plant and equipment a failure-free life. Plant Wellness Way methods and techniques use science, accounting and math so its answers are true and defendable. Yet the methodology is uncomplicated and straightforward so every operation can use it.

Build a System for Reliability

We know what to do to make any industrial asset outstandingly reliable—don’t let its equipment parts fail. Getting highly reliable equipment is a total certainty because reliability is purely the result of meeting achievable engineering outcomes. When you use the methods that keep your machinery parts’ microstructure healthy, you’ll get outstanding plant and equipment reliability. The only way to do that is by building a holistic, integrated, reliability-creating system across the asset’s life cycle. You’ll get reliability when your business uses a system for creating reliability. To do it you’ll need a methodology that when followed is sure to give your operation a lifetime of equipment health and wellness.

The Plant Wellness Way is used to design and build a business-wide system for world class physical asset reliability. It gets you to create and imbed a systematic solution for exceptional operating asset performance. A Plant Wellness Way operation makes world class reliability part of its business-DNA. Its assets are highly reliable because all its people understand, do, improve and sustain a ‘system-of-reliability’ that only knows how to have outstandingly reliable assets.

A great enterprise asset management methodology will rapidly deliver sure physical asset management success. How to create world class reliability by design and then build the necessary processes are introduced, explored and explained in the Industrial and Manufacturing Wellness book, which details the full Plant Wellness Way methodology. PWW makes outstanding physical asset reliability a formulaic result you can deliver in any operation. You’ll be able to build a business system to keep your plant and equipment highly reliable and generating optimal operating profit.

The standard EAM strategy is to first use preventative and predictive maintenance to reduce breakdown occurrences.

Figure 2. Plant Wellness Way Takes Operations to the Heights of Enterprise Asset Management Success

The sole purpose of the PWW is to deliver outstanding physical asset reliability and operational performance. Zero failures in your operation is the driving principle of the methodology. You do not seek acceptable failure rates for plant and equipment—the objective is no failures whatsoever during the service life of the asset. You identify and do only effective asset management strategies that optimize operating profits using the fewest resources for least cost. A business needing their plant to last trouble-free for a 5-year service life will make different choices to a business wanting a 50-year trouble-free service life. The methodology caters for all scenarios while getting each operation to tailor the best solution for their specific situation.

3. High-Reliability Organizations (HROs) Master Proactive Problem Prevention

World-class operations recognize the interconnectivity of their processes and work hard to ensure the right results at every stage in every process. They get the whole system and all its processes working reliability and that gives them high reliability assets.

There is an insightful story told of the late Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of the great early South Pole explorers. On board his ship bound for the Antarctic he watched a man tie a knot in a rope holding down vital supplies. Shackleton saw it was the wrong knot for the job. In wild seas it would come lose and all the goods and supplies would be lost. Shackleton went to the man and asked him about his experience at sea. He learnt that the man was new to seafaring. With patience and thoroughness Shackleton taught him how to tie the correct knot, one that would be secure in all weather and sea conditions. His comment to the new seafarer is important for all who want successful outcomes, “There is only one knot that is right for any situation.”

Shackleton’s method of failure prevention is the same technique used in Plant Wellness Way—do what stops the causes of failures from starting. First put the right practices into your processes and make sure they are done right every time. In PWW when things fail the first question you ask is, “What is wrong with the process?” You can skip doing a Root Cause Analysis (RCA), but you cannot skip finding and fixing the process design faults and missing quality controls in your business management systems.

Prevent the Change of Failure Starting

The necessities for high equipment reliability cannot be left to luck. If Shackleton had left it to the new seafarer to realize it was the wrong knot for the job the expedition would have failed. Like Shackleton, you too must find and remove the risks in your processes before they destroy your operation. Do the same for your business as Shackleton did for the new sailor—look for where the troubles will start in your processes then use and teach the right ways so risks will never arise.

An Enterprise Asset Management process is weak if it does not prevent all Physics of Failure Factors that damage or destroy the part. Finding answers to the 8-life cycle questions used in Plant Wellness Way is a good place to start an investigation. Using evidence from the failure, the process maps of all the processes used during the failed part’s life cycle are reviewed for risks that could have allowed defects and causes of the failure to arise and remain active. When a weakness is found the process is re-engineered to remove the opportunity for out-of-control variation. The process redesign is trialled, and the successful solution is documented and implemented. The people inside and outside the organization affected by the change get trained in the proper use of the new process.

A few examples of life cycle process monitoring measures are listed below. The indicators are simply a count of the events or situations that happened to a failed part during its lifetime. The measures are selected with the intention of finding the weak life cycle processes that make your machines fail and allow you to target your process redesign to build more successful maintenance and operating processes.

  • Proportion of failed equipment parts serviced by external vendors
  • Proportion of equipment repaired which had service duty specifications
  • Proportion of equipment repairs on plant run with ACE 3T operating procedures
  • Number if events in the past period of operation when the equipment was run overloaded
  • Proportion of equipment repairs where parts were drawn from our store
  • Proportion of equipment repairs where parts are purchased direct
  • Proportion of equipment repairs done to ACE 3T procedures

Behaviors of High Reliability Organizations

Central to the success of high reliability organizations is the realisation that everything can go wrong. The only sure protection is to know exactly what is happening with the equipment throughout the plant all the time. The equipment must be set-up perfectly at the start, and then monitored to ensure that it behaves exactly as it should when it is used. What you don’t understand you don’t do yourself, instead you get help from those that do know until you are trained and expert enough to do the task. Human error is acknowledged and addressed with teamwork where people help each other constantly, and documented checks, counterchecks and double-checks are a way of life.

High reliability organizations totally control every process and every step in those processes proactively. Nothing is unimportant because consequential knock-ons mean the smallest risk can be the start of the biggest catastrophe. It requires a dedication to diligence beyond what people in commercial industry expect and are paid to do. High reliability cannot be brought with money—it lives in the hearts and minds of people who want to be the best at what they do and are respected by their peers and managers for their expertise because it is so valuable to the success of the organization.

The equipment in HRO’s is designed for simplicity, high reliability and maintainability. The business systems in use demand proof of compliance to best practices. Its operations and maintenance crews are educated to be a technical knowledge repository on their plant. Its people are trained to act skillfully in a highly reliable manner. The organization is structured to put knowledgeable experts immediately at the situation of risk and danger and bring the power of teamwork into play. These are some of the necessary requirements for an organization to become an HRO.

    You cause your own equipment reliability through the quality management systems and asset management systems you use and enforce.

    To get high reliability, the experience of the HRO’s tells us, we must put into the business those processes, the specialist technical knowledge, and the right activities done rightly that cause high reliability. Don’t begrudge drawing a process flow diagram for each of your processes, and for each step in a process, in order to identify the hundreds of ways the process can fail. Risks live anywhere and you need to see all the places where your problems can start to totally eliminate the possibility of them happening at all.


    Guarantee World Class Reliability Success for Yourself. Industrial and Manufacturing Wellness: The Complete Guide to Successful Enterprise Asset Management

    Industrial and Manufacturing Wellness: The Complete Guide to Successful Enterprise Asset Management explains how to use system reliability engineering principles to design and build robust, reliable, and self-improving companies. This book explains how to develop and use integrated business systems to achieve optimal production performance and make operating fortunes.

    Written by operating asset management expert Mike Sondalini, the book explains why and how Plant Wellness Way EAM methodology ensures engineering, operating, and business processes and workflows that get operational excellence.

    Plant Wellness Way EAM is explained in Industrial and Manufacturing Wellness book

    I have been focusing on RCM while at Toyota Motor Manufacturing NA. When I found Industrial Maintenance Wellness it bridged the gap between operational failures and component molecular failures. Mike’s process are excellent and the documents he has develop shows deep understanding of how components fail and how to prevent performance loss. I recommend it as part of a any library, for studies in reliability or team, as training tool it excels reducing the leaning curve.

    Mike Burgett

    United States