Why Reliability Professionals Can Frustrate the Hell Out Of Others!

By Bob Latino

March 20, 2020

Reading Time: 6 minutes


Why Reliability Professionals Can Frustrate the Hell Out Of Others!

I guess I am writing this just as a reality/sanity check to see if it’s just me, or do my peers in the Reliability profession have the same problems I do, communicating with non-Reliability professionals?

If anyone has been in the Reliability game for a long period of time (I am in my 32nd year), we know that Reliability is a way of life and not just a job. So our proactive thinking, involuntarily bleeds over into our personal lives. 

We tend to be OCD about ensuring we do timely preventive maintenance (PM) tasks on our homes like annually changing the batteries in our smoke detectors, periodically tightening the lugs in our electrical panels, cleaning our ventilation duct systems, being religious about changing our A/C filters, closing our crawls space vents in the winter and so on. We tend to purchase warranties on our appliances/equipment/systems to ensure proper PM’s are done, like on our standby generators and other mechanical and electrical equipment/systems (unless we feel we can do it ourselves without voiding the OEM warranty). We tend to do the same type of PM regimens on our cars and yards. You get my drift.

We tend to employ ‘Reliability in Design’ principles as well when looking at our personal lives. We look at the life cycle costs of appliances and other products we buy. We buy based on quality and value and not just initial cost.

When we see potential safety hazards, we take care of them right away. If a receptacle is loose we tighten it. If it is found to be damaged or worn, we replace it while we are in there. If we see exposed wiring, we fix it. We ensure that all wiring connections are wrapped in electrical tape, just in case. 

When we do a project at home, we have already visualized doing the entire project and have a materials listing complete with all the tools we will need. We do not want the project to be interrupted because we did not have the proper materials and tools easily accessible. We want the project to be efficient, on-budget, 1st pass quality and completed on-time.

We are picky about the specs of the products we buy, and may appear too harsh on the personnel at Lowe’s or Home Depot, with our incessant questioning about product details. To our spouses, we appear to be badgering store personnel as our spouses’ rolls their eyes in apology. Our spouses think to themselves, ‘here we go again, I should have stayed home’.

I find the hardest part about having a Reliability background is my ability (or inability) to communicate effectively with others not in my field. This especially includes my family. In the Reliability profession we pride ourselves on our ability to effectively and efficiently communicate, what we want. Our messaging is short, concise and clear. We are astutely aware of the possibility of misinterpretation, especially when we write procedures or instructions.

Many of us work on contracts with our various vendors, and therefore we have the dubious honor of working with lawyers on contract language. We learn that words mean everything and if it isn’t written, it isn’t happening (no matter the verbal promise the OEM gave you). So we learn to cover most all eventualities with clean and concise language….we are proactive to the bone, it is in our DNA!

At work we are often recognized and sometimes rewarded for having these unique skill sets. However, oftentimes at home we are often reviled for having this ‘Reliability Curse’!

Because of this, Do you all [my peers] ever have communication problems with your spouses (or others) because of our literal nature, or is it just me? Do you ever have scenarios like the following?

1.      Spouse: Can you please stop at the store and pick up some cocktail sauce?

A.      What goes through a Reliability Professional’s head:

            i.     What isle is that in, at the mega-Kroger down the street?

           ii.     What brand do you want?

          iii.     What size bottle do you want?

        iv.     We are wondering how we can get the wrong thing. We take pictures of the bottle we are about to buy and get confirmation from our wives’ that it is, indeed what they want.

2.      Cashier at Grocery Store: My wife sends me to the grocery store to pick up something like described in #1. I do not go to the grocery store often (unless there is a sale on beer). When checking out, the cashier asks me ‘Paper or plastic?’

A.      What goes through a Reliability Professional’s head:

          i.     I replied ‘Cash’. Since I am not there much, I assumed this reference was related to form of payment and not the type of bag I wanted. Even the cashier laughed at me on that one

3.      Spouse: Can you pick up a gift card for your daughter’s Christmas gift exchange (some kind of game they play where gifts are shifted left or right, based the rules of the game)?

A.      What goes through a Reliability Professional’s head:

     i.     Is there a $ cap on the gift?

       ii.     Where should the gift card be from (what kind of gift cards do kids want)?

      iii.     Where can I find that type of gift card?

B.     This was a real case and this was the result:

  i.     We were at a restaurant where the girl’s softball team was having a Christmas dinner and my wife met me at the restaurant.

ii.     All the other girls were putting their wrapped gifts on the table.

iii.     My wife asks ‘where is our gift card’?

iv.     I give her the gift card

 v.   She says ‘why didn’t you wrap it’?

 vi.     I said ‘you didn’t ask me to wrap it, you asked me to buy a gift card and here it is’

vii.     I ended up wrapping it in a napkin from the restaurant

viii.     There was no instruction to wrap it. I thought the gift exchange game they were playing was based on the recipient knowing what the gift was, and if that did not appeal to them, they would pass it to someone else. Who knew?

4.      Restaurant Waiter: The background here is that I drink unsweetened iced tea. I had already been served my tea which had a lemon wedge in it. The waiter was checking on our table and I indicated I would like another iced tea. He said ‘Can I see your glass?’ I said sure and held it up and showed it to him. Some at my table thought I was being a smart a$$. 

A.      What goes through a Reliability Professional’s head:

        i.     He asked me to ‘see’ my glass and not for me to ‘give him’ my glass

      ii.     My logic was that he wanted to see if there was a lemon wedge because that may have indicated it was unsweetened (sometimes they have cues like that to determine if it is sweetened or unsweetened). Based on this he would know which type of tea to bring me back. Obviously, it did not work out that way.

5.      Spouse: Puts pizza boxes in outside trash bins, which also have extra marinara sauce in it. 

A.      What goes through a Reliability Professional’s head:

    i.     Why doesn’t she put any disposable liquids down the drain in the house (providing it is not caustic or grease)?

   ii.     Why doesn’t she put the leftover pizza is a zip lock back and put it in the trash bins in the garage, until I take them to the dump?

  iii.     My reasoning is that raccoons and possums rove around at night in our neighborhood and they tend to rummage through the trash. If we put food in the outside trash, that will attract them (and their families), and they are a nuisance.

6.      Spouse: Decides she wants to paint the cabinets in a bathroom in the house, on the spur of the moment. She goes out and buys a can of paint, a brush and a container to dip from (FYI – I already had brushes and trays).

A.      What goes through a Reliability Professional’s head:

        i.     I asked her if she planned on taking the hardware off of the drawers and cabinets? She said ‘Yes’. 

      ii.     I said do you plan on using painter’s tape to protect the areas where the cabinets meet the walls and floors, ‘She said ‘Yes’. In my mind I am building a tools and materials listing of what is needed to do the project efficiently.

   iii.     I said ‘How do you plan on painting the cabinet doors? She said ‘with a brush’. 

iv.     I said ‘I meant when you are physically painting them, how will you prevent the wet paint areas from getting on the floor, the counter, etc.?

v.     She got frustrated with my questioning and said ‘I didn’t think that far ahead…let it go!’

  vi.     I was trying to make the project easier and I ended up putting Yankee Candles under the cabinet doors for her so that she could paint them on a pedestal, and they could dry (without sticking to paper towels or getting on something else).

I know these are trivial cases and humorous to a degree (not to my wife), but I consistently see that my Reliability background often frustrates those around me, who are not in my field of expertise. Sometimes this causes friction because they think I am OCD and doing these things maliciously, on purpose. But I am not, I am just being proactive and visualizing the future, and taking actions to ensure there are no unintended consequences…no surprises.

Am I alone? Do my friends/peers in the Reliability field have similar stories they can share, or is it just ME? I can take it, if it’s me:-) 

Thanks for your patience in listening to my story and allowing me to vent.

About the Author
Robert (Bob) J. Latino is former CEO of Reliability Center, Inc. a company that helps teams and companies do RCAs with excellence.  Bob has been facilitating RCA and FMEA analyses with his clientele around the world for over 35 years and has taught over 10,000 students in the PROACT® methodology.

Bob is co-author of numerous articles and has led seminars and workshops on FMEA, Opportunity Analysis and RCA, as well as co-designer of the award winning PROACT® Investigation Management Software solution.  He has authored or co-authored six (6) books related to RCA and Reliability in both manufacturing and in healthcare and is a frequent speaker on the topic at domestic and international trade conferences.

Bob has applied the PROACT® methodology to a diverse set of problems and industries, including a published paper in the field of Counter Terrorism entitled, “The Application of PROACT® RCA to Terrorism/Counter Terrorism Related Events.”

Follow Bob on LinkedIn!

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