The Importance of a Reliability Engineering Community

Fred Schenkelberg
Apr 11 · 5 min read

The Importance of a Reliability Engineering Community

Years ago I was a part of a reliability engineering community and I had not met more than two or three members. This was before the internet and was using a new-fangled system called an email list.

At the time, it filled the role of helping me understand the many facets of reliability engineering. It helped me answer questions and allowed me to help others as well.

My desire is to help create more such communities that can help you and your organization improve the discussion concerning reliability. Let’s explore exactly how to make this work.

The Benefits of a Reliability Engineer Community

Reliability engineering is a vast field and not limited to risk assessment, test planning, and failure analysis (which are large and complex subjects in of themselves). Reliability engineering is also not limited to reliability or quality professionals. All engineering fields have a significant desire to create reliable solutions, thus employ many reliability engineering concepts and techniques regularly.

The benefits of a reliability engineering community include:

  • Somewhere to ask and get answered your questions
  • Somewhere to become known as a subject matter expert (in one or more aspects of reliability work)
  • Somewhere to expand your awareness of tools and techniques
  • Somewhere to build connections and trust with your peers
  • Somewhere to reduce the feeling of us versus them (or professional loneliness)
  • Somewhere to invest in order to save time and solve the problem right the first time
  • Somewhere to enjoy the camaraderie

Critical Aspects of a Viable and Useful Community

We all belong to communities. Some are based on what school we attended, where we live, where we shop, etc. Some are based on family structures, clubs, hobbies, etc.

In my opinion, a useful community has a few key characteristics that make it viable. Viable in that is the community is vibrant, alive, active. It may or may not be growing, yet it does deliver many if not all of the benefits listed above.

A community that exists in name only — where questions languish — is not viable, for example.

A viable community has an identity. Those in the group know what that group is about and what it is for and does. It is a gather of folks like me to help folks like us.

For a reliability engineering community is might be a collection of folks that care about creating a reliability product or maintaining equipment to meet availability goals.

A viable community has a critical mass. This is not a magical number of members, it is a minimum number of active and engaged individuals that help to answer questions, ask questions, start and participant in discussions, etc. It might only be two people, or it could be a couple thousand.

The activity in the community is of use to its members thus the members stay engaged, creating a virtuous racket strengthening the community.

A viable community provides value. The value of getting your question answers a clue on solving a problem, a tip on using a technique better, etc. Yet it also provides value for those giving advice and guidance, such as recognition.

The value equation does not work if all members expect to receive support, answers, and guidance all the time.

A good practice is to help five others for each request made. In order to get great community support, it needs to vibrant, which means involvement and participation. Give more than you get is a piece of advise I learned early on, and never was disappointed with the support received.

How to Create a Community in Your Organization

The magic is not in the email list, website or app — it is the sense of community that uses these tools to foster the community. My initial experience with a reliability engineering community as called the DFR List. It was an email list that any member could post a message to all participants.

It didn’t have to be an email list. If your group is co-located the coffee pot on the floor might be a convenient location to meet and discuss topics.

So, how do you start a community in your organization? I think there are three elements to getting started.

First, create a meeting place. It could be a group email list, it might be a Slack channel, it might be a Linkedin discussion group. Create it, name it. Just get is started by creating something.

Second, invite those you think would benefit by being an active member of the community. Invite a few and give it a try. Adjust and modify how the community meets and interacts as necessary. Create ground rules or norms as they become obvious. Help others understand the nature of the community by being the communities best example of a community member.

Third, monitor, adjust and improve your community. If you are not able to help someone answer a question, maybe you know someone that can — get them involved. Make sure every question is acknowledge and resolved. It the group doesn’t respond, help get a response by doing so yourself, encourage others to address the issue, or find someone or a set of resources that might help get an appropriate response to the request

Forth, relax and remember the community is bigger than you and it’s not your community, it’s the community’s community. The group will evolve as the interactions, norms, and value evolve. Let it — it is out of your control as soon as you create it. You can encourage the community, yet it will take on a life of its own at some point. That is a good sign, let it go if the community is adding value to its members.

How to Participate in Our Wider Community

Within an organization, a reliability engineering community doesn’t have to worry about non-disclosure agreements, trade secrets, etc. When participating in a community that crosses organization lines, these concerns become a restrictive element to open discussions.

There is plenty of value in attending a workshop or conference with industry peers, some of which are in competing organizations. There is still value to be found there.

We can describe an issue in generic terms or seek support on topics well away from trade secret to private information. We all deal with unwanted capacitor behavior or unusual bearing wear patterns. We can and should join wider communities to discuss and solve such problems.

Our Reliability Community Next Steps

On Accendo Reliability we have articles, podcasts, webinars and a wide range of other resources. All of these vehicles for discussion also have means to add a comment or ask a question. The more you participate the more the community takes shape.

Also on Accendo, we have the capability to create discussion forums, or email lists or other mechanisms to create community interactions. We’re experimenting with what works and what adds value to you and your organization.

Help us out here — participate, engage, ask questions, help others, and let us know what works best for you to encourage and remain an active member of the Accendo Reliability community.

Originally published at Accendo Reliability.

Fred Schenkelberg

Written by

Reliability Engineering and Management Consultant focused on improving product reliability and increasing equipment availability.

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