How to Effectively Manage Change for Improved Reliability

Tor Idhammar, IDCON INC

How to Effectively Manage Change for Improved Reliability

Leading and improving reliability is 90% about people. It is not about the Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS), the inspection software or the digital transformation your company just started. It’s about getting people to execute maintenance effectively and correctly. Ultimately it is about:
  1. Preventing failures
  2. Executing repair jobs faster, safer and with quality
Everything else is just comprised of support systems and process accelerators. Don’t get me wrong, the technology and tools do help, and they are certainly important, but they don’t generate equipment reliability by themselves. The only two things that generate reliability are the two processes mentioned above.
For example, condition monitoring (CM) doesn’t do anything for reliability unless the issues found during CM are prioritized, planned and then the repairs are executed. Another example is work inside a CMMS, many see a functioning CMMS as an end-game, But the primary function of a CMMS is to simply support the two objectives above.
To achieve reliability, we should lead people to focus on executing the two processes to effectively prevent failures and execute repair jobs in a safe, efficient, and thorough manner. How do we make this happen? Leadership and change management of people needs to be the main focus of our reliability improvements.
In this article, we will discuss a few tips for better leadership implementing reliability with the help of change management.


Motivation for Improvement

Everyone involved in reliability improvement needs some type of inspiration to improve. We need to make sure our plant leadership finds the right reasons to improve. The main driver for change in a plant should be financial. Most commonly, the biggest benefit of improving reliability is that the total cost per unit produced is reduced. 
But the results are not immediate. Typically, reliability improves slowly, often with an initial increase in maintenance cost for the first six to 12 months. This initial cost increase is comprised of equipment repairs, training, and tools. Once the equipment is repaired to precision state, reliability is improved, which means we can produce more with the same fixed costs (cost per unit goes down).
Often, the challenge with reliability improvements is the time it takes to achieve financial results. There will be some short-term wins, but sustainable and continuous financial improvement takes time.
The chief motivator for reliability improvements for a plant or corporation should, therefore, be long-term sustainable reliability that in turn will result in lower cost — after improved reliability is achieved.
In your personal life, reliability can be compared to management of your own body. We all know we should eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly to achieve long-term, sustainable results. But what do most of us do instead? 
We keep eating bad food and neglecting exercise since we crave the instant gratification instead of long-term results. Reliability-improvement dynamics in a plant work very much the same way.
A common mistake plants make is to assume that the primary result of reliability improvements is a reduction in maintenance costs. Maintenance cost reduction is typically not the highest valued benefit of reliability improvements (though in some cases it can be if downtime has little consequence). It is important to focus on the bigger picture and measure those results to avoid suboptimizing reliability. Usually, the bigger picture will show that downtime reduction through improved reliability is the largest contributor to financial improvement.
With focus on overall reliability results, the cost for maintenance will go down, but it is a consequence of the overall reliability improvement, and usually shows up later in the timeline. Make sure your leadership is motivated and prepared for long-term improvement. One suggestion is to make a long-term business case for improvement and communicate its importance throughout the organization in the first few weeks of the improvement phase.


What and How: Common Reliability Beliefs in the Organization

It is more important to do the right things than to do things right. 
To get people focused on reliability improvements, it is important to have clear reliability and maintenance beliefs. First and foremost, we must decide what to work on (doing the right thing). The next step is to decide how to do those things (doing things right). 
Therefore, there should be a set of beliefs clearly established about the right things to do. If there isn’t a common understanding of the beliefs, it is very hard to make any headway for change.
If an organization has strong common beliefs about reliability and maintenance, it will be much easier to agree on how to do things. People often question the need for planning and scheduling or improvement of the bill of materials, sometimes even several months into a project. If the plant leader questions an ongoing project, there is a huge risk for that project to fail. 
Here are some examples to help you visualize what the right beliefs could look like:
  • Improved equipment reliability will drive costs down.
  • Busy people are not necessarily productive; people must be busy with the right things.
  • Operations and maintenance should work in a partnership, not in a service – client relationship.
  • Basic practices should be implemented first.
  • Reliability improvement is 90% about people.
  • Planning should be done before scheduling.
  • With the right content in our PM program, we will have 100% PM compliance.
  • We will have clean lubrication storages.
  • Engineering management of change should be applied to any changes in the plant.
Once we have common, defined beliefs in place, the current condition of the beliefs can be assessed in the plant, and we can work on closing the gaps. But if we disagree about assessing the right things, we will most likely not make it very far.

Understanding Your Reliability Gaps and Creating a Plan to Close Them

A key component in improving reliability effectively is identifying the gap between how good you are and how good you can become. This can be achieved by assessing your reliability and maintenance performance.
Reliability Gap
The reliability and maintenance assessment should be based on comparing the best practices the company has defined in their beliefs with how good they currently are. Since reliability is 90% about people and the execution of work processes, we must focus on assessing those work processes.
A work process is something that is documented, executed, and followed up on. For example, an inspection route needs to be documented, executed, and there should be KPIs in place to follow up on results. I think that 70% of the emphasis here should be on the execution.
The most important outcome of a gap analysis is that the plant team:
  1. Has increased awareness for reliability improvement
  2. Understands what “good” looks like
  3. Agrees with or accepts what the key improvement opportunities are
  4. Agrees to an implementation plan on how to close the gap
The plant’s leadership must be responsible for building the implementation plan to establish ownership in the right place of the organization. Perhaps the plan can be built with help from employees, including managers, hourly employees, and consultants. But the consultants should only act as advisors. 
The plan must have rough numbers on cost and resources to compare the benefits of improvement with the business case. This is important because if you ask any plant leader if they want reliability, you are asking the wrong question — the answer is always yes. The question should be “What is the reliability target, and how much are you willing to pay for it?”
IDCON, INC has conducted reliability and maintenance assessments for plants, mills, and mines for over 50 years. We use our best practices to identify “how good you can become” and assess your current state to help you create an implementation plan.

Where are we going?

The implementation plan should include clear goals and milestones. The goals should have measurable targets and be tied to a deadline. I suggest keeping the goals simple and only using a few KPIs for each level of the organization.  
An overall goal is often to reduce cost per unit. The next step is to ask what would influence cost per unit. An example could be Overall Equipment Efficiencies (OEE) for one or several bottlenecks. 
The next question is, what could impact OEE? The answer might include good lubrication, inspections, planned and scheduled shuts, etc. With this thought process we can tie our driving (leading) indicators on the floor all the way to the overall goal.

Communication is Crucial for Change Management in Reliability

At this point in the process, there are beliefs, a gap analysis, an implementation plan, and clearly defined goals. It is easy to forget to continuously communicate the process of improvement to the rest of our coworkers. 
It is important that everyone gets the same message, preferably at the same time, from the same person, and at least once. An idea could also be to vary the format of the communication. While verbal and personal communication should be primary, it could be supplemented with newsletters, e-mails, videos, and intranet articles. A key item in change management is to create and follow a communication plan. 
Suggestion: Create a common presentation that all leaders use in communicating the path forward. Then, let the plant manager communicate it to everyone involved so everybody is on the same page. 
After that, make a simple list of follow-ups throughout the plant. Who is presenting, when, and for whom? Remember that most people are very uncomfortable speaking in public, so you will likely meet resistance. In this type of situation, it is likely to be “silent” resistance, so pay extra attention to that. 

Relentless Follow-up

“First, they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."

- Nicholas Klein, Trade Union Activist

Follow Up

Execution of good reliability practices requires constant follow-up and encouragement of the plant team. Leaders must keep communicating the beliefs, visions, and implementation plans together with progress reports. 
People often ask me why initiatives fail. Here are the top 6 reasons I’ve identified:
  • Plant Manager doesn’t drive the improvements
  • No clear company beliefs system
  • Belief system is not communicated
  • Company allows new incoming leadership to change the beliefs
  • Failure to continuously execute beliefs
  • Failure to keep beliefs, implementation plan, and KPIs simple
  • Organization focuses on cost while ignoring the factors that drive cost
  • Unwillingness from the organization to pay their maintenance debts
Perhaps most improvement projects stop because plants are not ready to pay their maintenance debts. It’s not uncommon that plants have neglected their equipment or part of their equipment. The equipment’s condition is, therefore, fair, or even poor, meaning that potential breakdowns are lurking.
If we try to improve reliability, one of the key actions is to repair the potential issues before breakdowns. We do this by improving condition monitoring, then by prioritizing the work. Once this is done, the backlog of work has increased, and we face a cost to repair the maintenance debt in order of priority. 
Many organizations are not willing to take on this cost. The cost is unavoidable because a valid maintenance repair can never be avoided. The repairs can possibly be postponed but never avoided — it is just a matter of when we do the repairs. The repairs are often cheaper to do at an early stage. This gridlock is surprisingly illogical. 
I think it often goes back to not having clear beliefs. Maintenance managers are sometimes locked in the “budget jail” and are afraid to spend the money even though they know it is more cost effective to repair now rather than later.


To have a successful change in reliability management you must adopt. 
  • Strong, clearly defined beliefs
  • A gap analysis
  • An implementation plan
  • Strong communication 
  • A budget to repair the maintenance debt
  • Execution
  • Follow-up
Improving reliability is 90% about people and the other 10% using technology to accelerate the improvements. Reliability change management can help you with a solid structure to lead that transformation. 
You can contact the author, Tor Idhammar, with any questions or suggestions at t.idhammar@idcon.com.
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