Lee Williamson, Senior Consultant
T.A. Cook Consultants
Whether an organization bleaches pulp for paper, manufactures or refines petroleum, company executives are expected to watch the bottom line. Equipment must be up and running at full capacity so that output goals are met—even if it means pushing equipment well beyond its original design capacity and with an ever-shrinking maintenance budget.
Turning an organization around requires active cooperation from everyone, but persuading technicians, supervisors, engineers, production managers, and others to buy in — particularly when they have more than 20 years of experience in a different paradigm – can be extremely challenging. Getting executive approval to move forward with reliability initiatives is achievable though, if a series of important steps are followed.
1: Educate from top to bottom
Educate from Top:Bottom / Bottom:Top
Maintenance and reliability leaders have to be much more than just cheerleaders. They need to help others understand, believe in, and follow a new maintenance approach – one that often contradicts traditional wisdom and experience. The front line leader exerts direct control over 85 percent of the people and resources of the maintenance organization.
There are no quick fixes here. Traditional maintenance knowledge and beliefs have been internalized through repeated exposure and experience over many years. New concepts and practices have to be acquired the same way — with repeated exposure over spaced intervals of time. As others in the organization may still base their understanding of maintenance on older concepts, in order to shatter the old myths, a better way must be presented, using multiple formats and showing stakeholders the “what’s in it for me.”
Step 2: Establish or benchmark where
Benchmark the current situation
Obviously it takes more than education to get a plant-wide reliability initiative off the ground. Achieving marked improvements in equipment reliability requires changing how maintenance decisions are made, how limited plant resources are invested, and what people do on a daily basis. Gaining approval for this level of change requires a comprehensive plan and a strong business case. The first effort should be to assess objectively where the program is currently.
Establish a Long-Term Vision
Once the current state of affairs has been established, the next challenge is to define clearly what needs to be achieved. The key to establishing a vision is to begin with the end in mind. Using the metrics from the benchmark will help to set specific measurable targets for performance outcomes 3-5 years in the future. Additionally, the best practices from the benchmark can be used to paint a vision of how maintenance and reliability will look and feel once the new program has been set in place.
Build a Business Case
Now that the goals have been clarified, working out what it is worth to get there is vital. The business case answers the question: “Why should a reliability program exist?” and should make clear that it is not because a company wants to be top notch or be recognized at the next reliability conference; but to make more money; that is why it is in business.
Conduct a Pilot Program
Once buy-in has been gained at all levels of the organization, where to start can be difficult to pinpoint. The answer is to conduct a pilot program. Selecting the right pilot project is critical. Identifying a small but operationally significant portion of the plant and applying all of the new practices in that area would be ideal. The project should be small enough to initiate in 1-3 months and show significant results in 3-6 months. A method of tracking impact must be in place from day one. Small successes should be recorded and converted into dollars using an accepted method such as a balanced scorecard. These should then be compiled into a success story and verified by the accounting department.
In short summary, it is possible to achieve the buy-in, the confidence, and know-how to move forward with a plant-wide reliability program. Most importantly, following the above steps will provide the proof necessary to gain executive level support to then demonstrate the multi-level value of a sustainable maintenance program.