Black Belt Journey


By: Brett Fisk

Reliability can be applied anywhere, yet often goes unnoticed, which means accolades for reliability efforts are exceedingly rare. Often, organizations celebrate when employees respond quickly and effectively to putting out metaphorical fires, yet employees’ reliability efforts that prevent the fires in the first place often go unrecognized. This is why earning a black belt in the presence of my peers was something I will never forget.

While I began my reliability journey three years ago, I was already familiar with many reliability concepts, like building my own system to track issues on product lines or performing root cause analysis (RCA) and applying defect elimination. I’ve always believed that there is always room for improvement, whether it be with new technology, new techniques, or new processes. I consistently look for a better way to accomplish tasks, overcoming the common phrase, “This is how we’ve always done it.”

I first discovered the Uptime® Elements when I asked a peer what “CRL” meant in his email signature. He inspired me to attend the certified reliability leader (CRL) class at the International Maintenance Conference (IMC), and I was blown away at the sheer number of like-minded peers. I got to hear some of the struggles they had, which were like mine, and I offered advice where I could, meanwhile seeking answers to my own questions. The amount of knowledge and camaraderie was incredible.

While wandering the booths in the IMC Expo area, I learned about the black belt program and decided it was something I wanted to pursue. During the class, I kept mulling it over until I learned about an opportunity IMC made available to attendees. It involved making a declaration on stage.

It wasn’t easy for me, but eventually I mustered enough courage to announce to my peers, “I declare that I will earn the black belt!” It was a daunting declaration because I hadn’t even received my initial CRL certification yet, but I felt empowered. And I had a community that expected me to follow through and would hold me accountable.

I felt a fire within me, lit by the reliability community. I started immediately upon returning to the plant.

I identified a huge gap in our lubrication strategy and after diving deeper into the field on how to improve our program, I put a proposal together. To my surprise, the decision was made not to proceed with the proposed plan.

But I remembered my declaration and I wanted to follow through. After asking leadership about their reasoning, I discovered it wasn't totally off the table. They wanted me to fix the bad practices, improving the base case, before making large investments in the program. The spark was still there, I just had to nurture it differently than I had first planned.

I was fortunate to gain the support of one of our techs, who was passionate about the potential of the program and had a good foundation of knowledge. Wanting to empower him, with a comparative advantage in lubrication, we later named him the owner of the program. His assistance and ideas were invaluable, and I realized the joy of helping others succeed. One by one we fixed the bad practices, earning credibility. We got funding for low-cost projects to prove my original proposal. The team grew as people saw the results and the potential for more. The program to this day is still finding improvements and knowledge is being spread to other plants.

The success of this project was what earned me my black belt. It was presented to me on stage in front of my peers and the broader reliability community. It was recognition of the work we do as reliability leaders to reduce the need for “firefighting” and to remove the defects that cause those fires in the first place.

Wherever you find yourself in the field of reliability, remember that it’s a journey, not a destination. There is always room for improvement. Don't just accept the way it has always been done. And don’t get tricked into believing that you’re alone in whatever challenges you’re facing. The knowledge is out there on how you can overcome those challenges.

The field is constantly evolving.

We’re constantly evolving.

So, keep learning!

Just like how I began my reliability journey, I am now asked what “CRL” means in my email signature and what the black belt in my office is for. I gladly and proudly share my knowledge and story with them. I tell them about the power of a declaration, about the reliability community, and the principles of reliability that have driven the improvements we’ve made. And many who ask are now looking to learn more for themselves.

If you want to keep learning, if you want to reduce “firefighting,” and if you don’t like the phrase, “this is how we’ve always done it,” then maybe it’s time you make your own declaration and strive to earn your own black belt.

Reliability doesn’t have to go unnoticed. I’ll never forget my experience earning my black belt on stage. And I hope to see you on that stage in the future so that you can have the same unforgettable memory of being celebrated for your dedication to reliability.

About the Author

Brett Fisk is a CRL Black Belt on a reliability journey. He is dedicated to creative, safe and reliable
principles. Fisk leverages thoughtful techniques and innovations to drive safe, reliable performance.