Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

Episode 29: How to Support Those Working from the Frontlines During the Covid-19 Pandemic with Shon Isenhour

Ryan Chan

On this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we have Shon Isenhour, the Founding Partner of Eruditio, on the show! Ryan and Shon discuss measures people in this industry can take to protect themselves while at work, ways upper management can take care of their employees, tips on how to stay productive if production is paused, and so much more. Listen today!

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00:06 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance, a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host, Ryan. I’m the CEO on founder of UpKeep. Each week, I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes the idea failed, sometimes it made their business more successful and other times their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today, I’m super excited, we’ve got Shon Isenhour on the show.

00:29 RC: Shon is a founding partner of Eruditio and accumulated years of education, experience and speaking, training with a focus on helping companies solve their problems through project-based learning. Welcome, Shon, to the show. I’m super excited to have you today given the craziness that’s happening in the world right now with the Coronavirus outbreak.

00:49 Shon Isenhour: Ryan, thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m really excited to talk about what you guys are seeing and what we’re seeing and what we think folks can do over the next few months to be better prepared.

01:00 RC: Absolutely. Well, given what’s going on in the world right now, even though we’ve got craziness happening in the world, I would love to start with your journey into maintenance and reliability, how you got into this small little niche and your background, Shon.

01:19 SI: Absolutely. Well, so from my perspective, I started out very early on when I was old enough to hold a wrench, I was old enough to be a part of my father’s business. He worked in maintenance. So that was my early exposure. From there though, I went off to North Carolina State University to engineering school and then went out into industry as an engineer for quite a few years.

01:47 SI: And then somewhere along the way, I was pulled into the consulting side of maintenance and reliability. So I started out like a lot of engineers, more specific to engineering, but it seemed like every little fork in the road drove me closer and closer back to that maintenance side. And so started out on the tools and now I am an owner, a partner in Eruditio and we do training and education, specifically for maintenance and reliability folks.

02:18 RC: What an awesome journey, Shon. So as someone focused on training and education in the a maintenance and reliability space, I’m sure you’ve seen a lot going on with the Coronavirus outbreak right now. I’m curious, over the last two weeks, which seem like forever, what have you seen for your customers and plants operating right now with regards to the Coronavirus outbreak?

02:45 SI: Well, it’s a mixed bag, Ryan. It depends on who you talk to and what industry. I spent some time over the last couple of days, I guess, mostly this week specifically, talking with our various clients and trying to understand where they’re at and what’s going on. And it varies from anywhere from a pharmaceutical plant, that is busy. They’re making everything they can make, because they need it and they need to get it out to people who are gonna be using it over the coming weeks. To the flip side which is automotive. Automotive was already experiencing some softness in the market. And so with this, we heard yesterday that the big three are gonna be shutting the plants down in Detroit for some period of time, probably seven days. Honda’s a seven-day shut down. So it really varies depending on what industry and where people are spending their time.

03:43 RC: Yeah, absolutely. We’re seeing this shift. It sounds like it’s almost split as well, of companies, industries that are booming, and also industries that have almost come to a halt. When we talk about maintenance and reliability, I think we all know that that’s a very hands-on type of job and work. And we have seen this huge shift in this work from home culture, but we know that a lot of people in our industry can’t necessarily work from home. Instead, what we’re seeing is they’re honestly working on the front lines.

04:19 RC: So as you see this shift in people who are working from home, people who are working on the front lines, I’m curious, what are some measures people in the industry that are working on the front lines, what are some of the things that they can do to protect themselves while at work and what can upper management help take care of for their employees as well in this way?

04:41 SI: Well, and I think if we look… It’s interesting to me, because whether you’re talking about that slow facility that is shutting down production lines or whether you’re talking about that facility that is potentially running at full capacity, it generates some very similar trends. When a plant is running at full capacity, there is no desire to perform preventive maintenance or take downtime associated with preventive maintenance. So that does free up some time for our maintenance and reliability individuals in those facilities. They go into more of a reactive mode, which is unfortunately not something we want to do, but it’s something that does happen in those scenarios.

05:27 SI: On the flip side, if you look at the automotive plants now, you’ve got a lot of maintenance and reliability folks that don’t have a lot going on right now. So both of these environments are actually creating time that I believe needs to be used very effectively and I believe the leaders of these companies need to realize that this time exists and make sure that they’re planning for the future, not just kind of, if you will, consuming that time or trying to get past it.

06:00 RC: Yeah, absolutely. So on that topic, Shon, any tips, recommendations for others working in the industry to stay productive, if their plant, let’s call, is paused during this Coronavirus outbreak?

06:12 SI: Yeah, I think if you’re in a situation where you’re not seeing the same amount of time on the floor that you traditionally would, I think there’s a couple of things that you can do. And I do realize that not every facility is gonna be this way. Some of the facilities are in a very, very reactive environment already, so they may not have a lot of free time because they’re out there fixing the equipment that’s breaking down constantly because we’re running it too fast. But those that are seeing that time being generated or they’re working from home, it gives them a great opportunity to, I think invest in two or three different things.

06:51 SI: The first one, for me, is going to be taking that time to clean house, if you will. And what I mean is, maybe it’s taking job procedures and getting them together so that you begin to build a job plan library that can be used within your EAM. Maybe it’s actually writing some job plans that we’ve been meaning to write for quite some time. Maybe it’s doing a root cause investigation that’s been sitting there waiting to be done and just because of the demands, we haven’t had the time to get to it. So I think one area is catching up and cleaning house. I think the next area is personal development.

07:34 SI: A lot of folks tell me over and over that I’d love to learn more about X, Y, Z, planning, scheduling, reliability engineering, maintenance engineering, leadership, communication, whatever the case may be. I feel like this is an opportunity for folks to focus in those developmental areas that they want to improve. So first thing, let’s clean the house and try to get things in order so that when we go to start back up, or in some cases when we start getting time for maintenance again, we’ve got some things ready to go and they’ll be more effective and more efficient. The second one, of course, is that ability to develop our skills or sharpen the saw, as many people call it.

08:20 SI: And then the third, for me, is one that’s maybe not as much fun, but is very, very, very critical. And that’s really starting to document and refine your business processes. So, first one, clean up the house. Second one, let’s go in here and make sure that we are developing our skills or sharpening the saw. And then the third one is mapping and beginning to document our business processes. And I’ll be the first to tell you, Ryan, business processes are not something that I used to love. They’re not something that everyone finds exciting, necessarily. I can tell you now I actually really do enjoy it, and I’ll tell you why in a minute, but I think if we can begin to look at our current state processes and look for inefficiencies, or broken links, where feedback is not getting back to the originators or if we’ve got ways of bypassing critical steps. If we can start to figure those things out and then begin to fix that during this unfortunate period of time we’ve got here, then we can put those in play and start using them as we come out of this on the other side.

09:37 RC: Absolutely. So what I heard you say, Shon, is it’s time to bring out that backlog. It’s time for folks in the industry, this is finally the time that we don’t have to fight with production and operations, to take some time off the machines, and equipment to do our backlog. This is the perfect time. I’m also curious, Shon, any resources for all of our listeners that you’d recommend to them to read during this time? Books to read, articles, resources for them?

10:13 SI: Yeah, it’s been an interesting change for us as a company. We are a company that does a lot of very hands-on, very interactive training with our students, but the other thing that we’ve always done is we’ve spent a lot of time developing good blended learning, good e-learning, good video, good augmented reality, those tools that we use. And I think that’s one of the areas folks can tap into. Maybe they haven’t spent a lot of time in that realm in the last few years. This could be an opportunity to jump in and try that out.

10:55 SI: I have noticed a few companies are offering some of that material for free to give some… Kinda give back to the industry, if you will, here during this time, and I’ll be more that than happy to share some of those with you. We can put it in the show notes or whatever, but I think there’s more of that to come and so that is, I think, a good place to start. The second place I think is podcasting. There are so many great podcasts out there, yours and another one that I know that’s really near and dear to us, is rooted in reliability. And those podcasts, going back through those and hearing what these maintenance experts have talked about, and where they’re focusing, I think could be a really great way to develop at very low cost.

11:46 SI: Then, the third thing, just getting over into the book section, man, there’s a lot of great books out there. I’m always a big fan of Ron Moore’s book, “Making Common Sense Common Practice.” I think that is a great way to begin to understand how maintenance and reliability fits into the bigger picture of manufacturing. But I think another area… I got two areas really, that I think a lot of organizations could spend more time on. And that’s the leadership side. So things like “Leading Change by John Carter”, or even, I think more than anything, and this is a personal thing for me right now Ryan, is that I don’t believe that most organizations are truly planning and scheduling. So picking up Doc Palmer’s planning book or Don Nyman’s planning book, any of those and spending some time understanding what good planning and scheduling looks like.

12:44 SI: At the end of the day, it’s good planning and scheduling that makes your software, your tools work. Good planning and scheduling makes people safer when they work and good planning and scheduling is much more economical than the traditional manners. And so when I think about the fact that we are gonna be in a bit of a bear market here for a while and see this downturn, I think folks coming out the other side are gonna need to make product cheaper. I think they’re gonna need to make it faster. And I think planning and scheduling gives you the tools to do that, especially when you build it into the processes, the business processes that I talked about a few minutes ago.

13:24 RC: Alright. Well, there are some great resources for all of us to pick up and obviously continue honing our skills during this very strange time in our world right now. Shon, I’m curious, how do you think companies like UpKeep, like Eruditio, can continue helping our customers and people in the industry who are working on the front lines right now, in those busy manufacturing facilities? How can we support them?

13:54 SI: I think it’s two-fold. I think we need to listen to them and see what their pains are and what’s keeping them up at night because for many of them, that may have changed from just two weeks ago. So understanding where they are and where they need to go. I know at Eruditio, we are currently working on putting together some free resources that folks can go through our website and spend time with, to help from that perspective. And the idea is, we just wanna support the community as they are going through this and we realize that a lot of them can’t necessarily go out and spend a lot of money right now. They need to simply use the resources they have in the time that is now available. So we’re gonna be doing some things from that perspective.

14:41 SI: I think the things you’re doing with your podcast and a lot of the things that are give-backs, if you will, to the industry. Of course, I think those will be very well-received during this time. So for me, listen and try to understand where people are going or what their new reality is in this new situation, bring them best advice you can. I say be a trusted advisor for them. And then if we can make resources available that address those concerns, I think now’s a time for folks to really get better and get prepared for coming out of this thing here in a couple of months.

15:22 RC: Yeah, it’s obviously very, very strange times right now, but what I’ve noticed from our industry is that people are coming together, and I just see this overwhelming support from everyone in the industry. Doesn’t matter if you are the biggest competitors in the world. I’m just seeing a lot of support for everyone in the industry, and I think that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. From everything that’s going on right now, what are some lessons that you think the industry can learn in terms of preparation, prevention, training from what’s going on today in the world?

15:58 SI: Well, I wanna be a little careful here because it’s really easy for me to sit back, an armchair quarterback, and I know a lot of folks are out there in the trenches. They’re sitting here thinking, “I don’t have time to do this, I don’t have time to do that. I’m just trying to keep the plant running.” So I get that and I definitely see it. But the lessons that I think I’m taking away, again with that caveat in the front, is that planning is absolutely critical and that starts with risk management at the very top of the organization, understanding the contingency plans, having communication strategies to get information out to the organization. We’ve seen a lot of miscommunication over the last two weeks, a lot of rumors quite frankly. And you know, one of the things I say about rumors is, nobody ever makes a positive one. So if there’s a void in communication, then there’s a really good chance that it’s gonna go negative.

16:52 SI: And so, I think proactively preparing, and I don’t mean just preparing for a virus, I mean proactively preparing for an outage. Proactively preparing for new equipment that’s coming into the organization. So right now, I’m just big, and I’ll be talking a lot about this over the next few weeks, I think, but I’m just really, really big on people really beginning to focus on the basics. I get that there’s a lot of other new technology, there’s a lot of new shiny stuff out there, but if you don’t have good business processes, if you are not planning and then scheduling your work, if you’re not using your predictive maintenance tools to provide time that you then plan and schedule, if you’re not using your CMMS to make that process as efficient as possible and make that data as relevant and usable as it can be, I think those are big areas. And I really do feel like, if nothing else, this unfortunate-ness is gonna give us some time that we can use to address some of those.

18:01 SI: But let me say this. And I spoke at the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability conference last week, and in doing that, I think one of the biggest piece of advice I can give is to sit down and create a plan. And we can do that on a conference call, we can do that with a lot of the sharing tools that we have available anymore, but if you just look at all the things you need to do, I think you’ll be overwhelmed. You really need to take the time, sit down, prioritize those plans, figure out what the risk are to your business and then build a plan and strategy around that. I think it’s the only way to reduce the ability or the normalcy that comes with getting in and just getting overwhelmed with what you’re trying to do.

18:54 RC: Right. And building that plan you can do from anywhere, regardless of whether that’s in the living room of your house, which is where I am today, or whether you’re on the plant floor as well.

19:07 SI: Absolutely, Ryan. Absolutely. I feel like if I could lay a plan out there for organizations right now, I would suggest that the next week to two weeks are a planning phase. During that planning phase, we’re looking at risk. We’re building the plan for what we’re gonna do over the next four or five, six, seven weeks. We’re assigning those to single points of accountability. We’re setting that cadence in that schedule. I really do think there’s a lot of positives that can come out of a really unfortunate and very negative situation. But that’s kind of what I see is we plan over the next two or three weeks, we begin to train and execute over the following, and I think we can come out in a really good place.

19:55 RC: Awesome. I love the positivity and optimism. Shon, I’m curious, this might be a tough one but do you have any predictions for how the industry is gonna shift and change, if at all, after all of this craziness in the world right now comes back to some sort of normalcy?

20:14 SI: That is a tough one. But I tell you, Ryan, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last week, if you will, trying to figure this out for myself, and try to figure out where it’s gonna go. I do believe that we’re gonna see some level of depression, or depression of the economy, for a period of time, and because of that, I think we’re gonna see certain industries really take a beating from that perspective. So that’s coming, and I know that that’s out there. But I think there may even be some fundamental changes in the way we think about the business, and so it’s gonna be real interesting to watch as we go through this. If this thing carries on into the summer, that’s gonna be a very interesting situation that I think will rewire the way people think.

21:06 RC: Yeah, absolutely. And obviously, we’re all hoping for the best, obviously planning for the worst. To kinda go along that do you have any tips for folks who are working in the industry and may be negatively impacted by this lack of production? It could be layoffs within companies. What’s the best way for me to respond, if I’m a maintenance reliability engineer at a company and they have to cut costs? Any tips there?

21:41 SI: Yeah, I’ll give a couple. And obviously, my travel schedule has reduced significantly because of the situations. We’re doing a lot of online work with our clients and I think that’s an option. So I think if someone is impacted, I would suggest that they reach out to you Ryan, or to me, let’s have a conversation on an individual level. I’ll be more than happy to take them through some material that they could begin to work on to improve their skills, so that they’re very employable as this thing turns around on the other side. We, at Eruditio, love developing people. So with this time that we’ve been given, I would love to say, reach out to me and I’ll give my cell phone number in the notes at the end of the show, but I’ll give it now as well. It’s 843-810-4446.

22:41 SI: I’ll be more than happy to chat with you and talk about where you wanna go and what you wanna do long-term and share with you any of the things that I can share that I think will at least shorten the amount of time that you’re in that unfortunate situation.

23:01 RC: Thank you so much, Shon. What a beautiful way for you to help support the entire community and industry. Obviously, you’re just one person. Obviously, we are more than happy to help out in any way shape or form. Thank you again so much, Shon, for offering up that help and I hope our listeners take Shon up on that offer as well, if this outbreak has affected you in a negative way. I guess, the last question from me for you, Shon, is there something that you wish more people knew about the maintenance and reliability industry?

23:40 SI: There are a lot of things I think everybody would love to get out there, but one of the big ones I think that’s been highlighted quite a bit here over these first couple of weeks is at the end of the day, we’re hands-on. We have to be out there, we have to be doing what we do. It’s not something that you can do remotely. And at the end of the day, we enable the business to operate and I really wish more organizations and leaders understood that maintenance is not just a cost, maintenance is not just a supplier to production. In reality, at the end of the day, if your maintenance and reliability efforts aren’t where they need to be, you’re taking production. That’s a big one for me, and I think that’s one I would definitely wish more people were aware of.

24:30 RC: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thank you for all the resources that you’ve given us and all of our listeners. To all of our listeners, please stay safe. Thank you for all the amazing, amazing hard work that you’ve put in to helping support and sustain, maintain our entire world and society. Thank you again, Shon, for joining us. Thank you again to all of our listeners for tuning in to today’s Masterminds of Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, or shoot me an email directly at [email protected] until next time. Thank you again so much, Shon.

25:07 SI: Thank you, Ryan.

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