Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

S2:E2 5 Habits of an Extraordinary Reliability Engineer with Peter Horsburgh

Ryan Chan

Peter Horsburgh is the author of “5 Habits of an Extraordinary Reliability Engineer”. He is also the CEO and Founder of Reliability Extranet!


In this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we are excited to have Peter Horsburgh on the show! Peter is the author of “5 Habits of an Extraordinary Reliability Engineer”, as well as the CEO and Founder of Reliability Extranet! Peter shares with us more about his book through the lens of his own experience as a reliability engineer. We also talk about issues within plants and how to strive for improvement. Listen today!

Episode Show Notes

  • Advice on how to drive change within your team.
  • What inspired Reliability Extranet?
  • What’s the most common issue faced in operating plants?

Podcast Platforms


00:03 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 and 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 Peter Horsburgh on the show. Peter Horsburgh is the author of ‘5 Habits of an Extraordinary Reliability Engineer’, and is also the CEO and Founder of Reliability Extranet. Welcome to the show, Peter. Really glad to have you.

00:34 Peter Horsburgh: Glad to be here.

00:35 RC: I would love to hear your journey about how you got started in the field of maintenance and reliability. This wonderful little niche.

00:42 PH: I was a cadet mechanical engineer working for a consultancy in the mining space. So coming from Australia, mining is quite a large sector of industry over here. One of our clients wanted to install Maximo and I… Being, had a little bit of an IT dent, was asked to install it from scratch and included loading discs onto a server and running scripts at the time. So that’s how I started in the maintenance field and we started out from scratch. So we loaded the software. We put in all of the bits of gear, loaded up the maintenance strategies and implemented a site wide CMMS. And then it snowballed from there.


01:23 PH: So I started before… I started in the maintenance and reliability world even before I finished university.

01:28 RC: Alright, well that’s awesome. And then you mentioned it snowballed from there. What happened next, Peter?

01:34 PH: My dear good wife, at the time, ended up getting a teaching job in a remote part of Australia. That remote part happened to be the Snowy Mountains. I ended up starting with the snowy hydro scheme. People around the world might know what that is, but it’s being judged as one of the seven civil engineering wonders of the world. So basically, they drilled holes through mountains and created some rather large hydro station. So I started there as their reliability engineer. Essentially, I’ve been a reliability engineer in different shapes and forms for over 15 years.

02:11 RC: Quite the journey, Peter. For us, this podcast is all about discovering new ideas. Ones that can revolutionize this space, this industry and it sounds like from my perspective at least. Peter, you’ve done that. You created Reliability Extranet from this discovery that you made when you realized that there’s a gap in the marketplace. I would love to learn more about what got you started with Reliability Extranet, figuring out what that gap was.

02:38 PH: So having been a reliability engineer on the ground and suffering the pain and frustration of being a reliability engineer, cause it is… It’s quite a frustrating job. So there’s a balance between data analysis and actually implementing. And in my humble experience, I find things go better when you spend more time on what I call habit five, facilitate to implement actually working with the people. That’s where you make the difference. The first four habits are basically geared to give you the most time for habit five. So the discovery is all about taking that frustration and reducing time spent especially on habit four, okay, which is decide with Data. We believe there is an intersection between artificial intelligence, the internet and communities, and we’re talking about the reliability community and what we’re working on is something that the end goal is across to the world that we only suffer the pain once, and those learnings are shared. Mention a large car brand. And how many cars say, do… I don’t know… Toyota, Ford, General Motors, make a year. Hundreds of thousands.

04:00 PH: And imagine that something slipped through the cracks and there was a design flaw in one of those vehicles and that vehicle got to market. Okay. This is where we come in as reliability engineers, we buy and people buy things, and we’re expected to engineer reliability through the life of that piece of equipment. Imagine if that happened in a country, say Brazil. I’m here in Australia and once it happens and I’ve got that same model vehicle in my fleet of vehicles that I use for my business. I’m automatically notified about it and the learnings about what has happened and how to deal with it are automatically transmitted. And that’s what we’re working on at Reliability Extranet. Okay, so Reliability Extranet’s all about knowledge, tools and data for reliability engineers. Some of our inspirations for this thing is Netflix and it suggests movies that you like to watch. This thing that we’re working on, is going to suggest improvements. I don’t know if you guys have heard of MyFitnessPal. So when you type a food into MyFitnessPal, what does it do?

05:03 RC: Tells you all the information about it? So what I hear is it’s really about sharing, spreading knowledge within the maintenance reliability community, taking that and ultimately enabling all of us to make smarter decisions around reliability of products, reliability of our equipment. So you wrote the book, 5 Habits of an extraordinarily Reliability Engineer. I’m just curious what prompted you to write the book?


05:32 PH: First and foremost. It’s a bucket list. The lot of the books that I’ve seen here in Australia, seem to focus a lot on the technical side of reliability. I wanted to write a book more on the what I call ‘the soft side.’ So, working habits. I sat down and thought of all the issues that I’ve had over my career as a reliability engineer and filtered those down into what I called the don’ts. And then out of the don’ts came the five habits, the opposite to the mistakes. Five habits are identify, understand, question, decide with data and facilitate to implement. Small, easy read, so that people get it.

06:17 RC: Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of your experiences and knowledge. What’s one of the most common things that you see within a plant that’s manufacturing products to be reliable? What’s the most common issue, problem that you see happen time and time again?

06:36 PH: Not identifying where the pain is. Okay, so habit one. So I’ve come across numerous places where they have failure, and they have failure reports and all that sort of stuff, but what they actually miss out on and it comes back to habit five, facilitate to implement. Is that brilliant technically, but when it comes to action on the road not brilliant. And the reason for that is not bringing in the team along on the journey. One of the takeaways or one of the pieces of advice that I could give, until you’ve changed something you’ve done nothing, until you’ve made a physical change to a plant, people or process, you’ve done nothing. You as a reliability engineer in a large organization may not be able to change that yourself, it requires you to rely upon a team, bring the team along with you on the journey, okay? That you’ve discovered, and constructive conversations that lead to a decision that the team makes that makes the difference in the business.

07:41 RC: Something that I see very, very common as well, where it’s like, “Cool. We’ve done that RCA, we’ve done the multiple, multiple hours of root cause analysis, but then we take this report and then we forget about it”, and it’s to your point, what good is doing this, putting hours and hours into these reports, if we’re not gonna change the way that we operate? We don’t…

08:05 PH: Exactly.

08:06 RC: Get the necessary people, because to your point, a lot of change can’t be done with just a single person. You’ve gotta drive change knowing what the data is telling you.

08:18 PH: Yeah, put that information into something that is digestible by the audience and get them to make the decision, not you, them.

08:28 RC: Yeah, do you have any tips for the reliability engineer that has done countless hours of putting together these reports, but just can’t seem to push along the team to drive the action that they need, common, let’s call it excuses are, we don’t have the time, we don’t have the money, we don’t have the resources in order to enact all of this change.

08:49 PH: Yeah, one of the people that I help, he has a tendency to over-cook it, I.e., he blows everyone out of the water technically, he takes a five-minute conversation and turns it into a 20-minute conversation covering all details of what the problem is. And by the time they get to the outcome, they’re actually, the audience is fatigued. Totally fatigued and going, “Oh, I’m totally lost in, what decision do I have to make here because I don’t know”, and that conversation could be short, sharp and simple. “Hey, we’re having these failures here, we understand why and this is what we’re losing because of it.” A manager doesn’t really care. All that he really cares about is that you understand it and you know what to do, what’s his return on investment gonna be?

09:37 RC: Yeah.

09:37 PH: That’s it. [chuckle] And that’s all you say. And you’ve done all this technical work and it’s taken you hours, as you said there, Ryan, it’s taken you hours to do it, you wanna tell… You know, when you’re enthusiastic, because that’s what we do, we’re engineers, we essentially solve problems.

09:52 RC: So, what I hear from you is simplifying the conversation to be very outcomes, results and almost ROI, return on investment focused, not trying to explain every single bolt that’s gonna get turned, the physics behind every problem. [chuckle]

10:08 PH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, have you guys heard of Microsoft’s Power BI?

10:13 RC: Yeah.

10:14 PH: So one of the things that I’ve been helping people with is actually with corporate reporting in that space, in that Power BI space. I’ve learned about the attention economy. I’m a bit of a proponent of what I call the three-second rule. So if you present a report to someone, if someone cannot figure out where their problem is within three seconds of looking at that report, you’ve got a problem. What I teach people to do with Power BI is essentially design the report so that a manager or anyone with a short attention, okay? So most managers have got short attention ’cause they’re juggling many bolts and what you want is a nice simple concise report and they look at it, and they go, “There’s the problem” and you want them to ask why? Why have we got that problem? And if I use the five whys in typical root cause analysis project, probably you want them to ask why twice or give them the ability within Power BI to ask why twice, and then you want them to ask the third question which is, “What are we gonna do about that?”

11:21 RC: Exactly, what’s the outcome, what’s the action that we’re taking?

11:25 PH: That’s it, and that’s it. So if you can think about that, you’ve got three seconds, two whys, and then you wanna have a what. If you’re not getting to the what, you’re not having the right type of conversation. So what are we gonna do about that? That’s the sort of conversations that you need to stimulate as a reliability engineer. And again, in today’s attention limited economy, you’ve got a short amount of time to do that.

11:48 RC: I mean this applies to so many different types of titles and responsibilities within the department. I think that’s something that myself included, could learn from as well, Peter, one of the questions I love to ask is, what’s something you wish more people knew about within the maintenance and reliability space and industry?

12:08 PH: Oh okay, [chuckle] what I’ve just spoken about is that simple concise communications and presenting data, decide with data habit four, presenting data, but I think in my travels around the world, I notice that different countries are, I’m gonna use the word maturing at different rates, for example, in the United States, there seems to be a larger embrace of IoT, predictive analytics and stuff like that. In Australia, I don’t think we are quite there yet and certainly as far forward as what you guys are in the United States, is is my observation and I’m very, very happy to be wrong on that observation, and I feel that people in some ways, are just not getting it. There seems to be a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow reliability-wise with this IoT and predictive analytics stuff. And the way that I think of it is, imagine there’s a problem, okay? And you’ve got all these different systems recording data, and imagine if you could funnel that data into something that you could teach and say, “Hey, that is a busted bearing on this particular widget. Look for that, just look for that.”

12:57 PH: And it will sit there 24/7, 365 days a year, every five seconds, looking for a busted bearing and give you the heads up that you’re about to bust that bearing with warning time, so you have adequate warning that you’re about to bust the bearing by something that you don’t… Doesn’t go home. The issue is if I was to speculate, it is that it’s confusing, it’s not presented simply [chuckle] and again, the attention economy, there was only a certain amount of attention, and the IT people that have got a hold of it have blown, well, they’ve blown me out of the water. Like us, they’ve told me stuff and I’ve gone, “Dude, I know you’ve just been speaking to me for 10 minutes, but I just don’t understand a word you’re saying. I haven’t been… ” I didn’t wanna be rude to say “Hey, what the hell are you going on about, son? What is it dude? Just give it to me in two sentences.” [chuckle]

14:28 RC: No, I’m definitely very excited about the IoT predictive analytics sensors. I think it’s gonna be revolutionary too to our space too overall. Alright, well, it’s been a pleasure Peter, getting the opportunity to speak with you, learn more about the five habits in the book that you wrote the Reliability Extranet. How can all of our listeners continue to follow you on your journey and connect with you?

14:53 PH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, no problem. So mates, the best way to connect with me and if you wanna learn about what I’ve talked about, connect with me on LinkedIn, is my greatest advice, Twitter as well. You can also connect me through

15:10 RC: Alright, well, thank you again Peter, for joining us and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning into today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep, you can also connect with me on LinkedIn, or you can shoot me an email directly at [email protected] Until next time, thanks again, Peter.

15:26 PH: No problem, thanks mate. [chuckle]

Join the Masterminds in Maintenance Podcast!

Are you an industry leader in the fields of maintenance and reliability? We want to hear from you!

Please sign up to be a featured guest on our podcast here!

Stay tuned for more inspiring guests to come in future episodes!

Please enter a valid email address