Maintenance Transformation – An Organisational Challenge

Maintenance transformation projects offer great rewards, as well as significant challenges. Malcolm Schulstad, Chief Operations Officer at MOVUS, shares his insights into how to tackle such projects, and best involve the various, impacted teams.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate, or perhaps unfortunate, to be involved in projects that have significantly changed how an organisation operates. From shifting the Royal Australian Air Force’s paper-based maintenance processes to deployable, digital infrastructure that maintained real-time information about its aviation assets worldwide, to moving a consumer base of over 400,000 from analogue to digital broadcast technologies (which included making sure a Satellite launched on time and without blowing up), the challenges of those projects to achieve success were pretty much the same.

Understanding the Challenges of Any Transformation Project

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate, or perhaps unfortunate, to be involved in projects that have significantly changed how an organisation operates. Of particular note, shifting the Royal Australian Air Force’s paper-based maintenance processes to deployable, digital infrastructure that maintained real-time information about its aviation assets worldwide. Also, moving a consumer base of over 400,000 from analogue to digital broadcast technologies (which included making sure a Satellite launched on time, without blowing up). The challenges of those projects to achieve success were pretty similar.

Getting someone to change how they do things is no simple feat, especially if they’ve been doing that same thing for a long time. It doesn’t matter how easy a new technology is to use or what benefit it’s likely to bring, any change to how a person does something is an introduction to the unknown. Because no matter how something is presented, what benefits are espoused, and how much money could be saved, for the person affected, the change is unproven. And that lack of certainty can halt a person’s subconscious desire to change because they don’t know what will happen next. After all, there is comfort in what we know – even if we acknowledge that it isn’t the best way of doing things.

Take that individual resistance to change and multiply it throughout a team, a department, an organisation, and you’ll begin to comprehend the magnitude of introducing any change. Even if the benefit seems clear, most people tend to revert to how they’re used to doing things. And this is what makes driving through any sort of change incredibly hard, no matter how straightforward something might seem. 

This resistance rings especially true if you rely on a single champion to drive a change into a business. While it might seem logical, especially if it appears like the change only affects one area of the business, the reality is that it’s never as simple as it seems. This is because a single change often has an unrealised butterfly effect, a ripple that touches not only the area intended to receive the change but also the teams and departments of a business that interact with it.

A Change in Process Impacts More Than Just The Maintenance Team

Moving an organisation from reactive or preventative maintenance processes towards condition-based maintenance is a change that can seem like it only impacts the maintenance team. And with that mindset, organisations mistakenly believe that only a member of the maintenance team needs to be involved in driving CBM into an organisation. In fact, in our experience, it’s often the reliability or the condition monitoring teams working with the maintenance teams that lead this transition towards optimised maintenance. 

Even then, if you look a little bit deeper, you’ll find that such a change will touch a few more departments. CBM methodology has the potential to impact maintenance schedules, impacting planning teams not only on the maintenance front but also on production schedules. With the ultimate goal of CBM being to reduce breakdowns, the flipside of this is a potential increase in production capacity, which may require additional manpower that needs to be factored in - impacting the production team.

It doesn't just stop there. With increased production capacity and output comes an increased need for raw materials. And with that, as maintenance practices improve, resulting in fewer breakdowns, spare parts on hand can also be reduced. As a result, the involvement of the supply and logistics team becomes paramount to ensure that materials are where they should be and costs are optimised.

Maintenance transformation requires effort from many people.

Lastly, as the icing on the cake, there’s little point in having the increased raw materials, resource availability and production capacity achieved through new technologies if the organisation is unable to sell the surplus product. Increased sales ability supported by marketing is needed to make the most of the improvements brought about by transforming and optimising maintenance practices. And of course, where increased profits and shifting of expenses occur, no doubt the finance team will need to be on hand to coordinate the allocation of funds to the appropriate areas.

With such wide-ranging impacts on an organisation from improving maintenance practices, my question is simple. Would you rely solely on someone from the maintenance, reliability or condition monitoring team to drive through this level of change throughout your organisation?

Don’t get me wrong. My dealings with individuals in these teams throughout various industries have consistently shown them to be capable and hardworking. But more often than not, they lack the experience and training to drive through a change that impacts an organisation on so many levels. And let’s not forget, they have a day job too.

As the old saying goes, many hands make light work. In the large-scale projects I’ve been involved with or had the privilege of leading, the success of this type of initiative rests on the deployment of a cross-functional team working effectively together to drive through the changes in their respective departments. Led by a position with sufficient authority to coordinate the team’s efforts, the members of this task force need to clearly understand the benefits of the initiative for both their departments and the organisation as a whole. Aligned behind a common purpose, it is a cross-functional team working as one that becomes the catalyst to change that overcomes the resistance of individuals and leads to business transformation.

Identify who to involve in maintenance transformation projects.

If you’re in maintenance, reliability or condition monitoring, convincing the broader organisation can seem daunting, especially knowing who should be involved. But as I’ve alluded to, thinking about what maintenance affects logically reveals who should be a stakeholder in a maintenance transformation initiative:

  • Maintenance, Reliability and Condition Monitoring: The teams directly affected by the transformation of maintenance practices.

  • Production and Planning: One could say the beneficiaries of improved maintenance practices.

  • Supply and Logistics: Key to ensuring costs are optimised, and production is maximised, through ensuring suitable equipment materials are in the right place, at the right time.

  • Sales and Marketing: To make the most of the opportunity created by improving business practices.

  • IT and Technology: A transformation project of any type will likely need the support of the IT and Technology team for smooth implementation.

  • Finance: Necessary to ensure the project is adequately funded and that the benefits targeted are realised.

  • An Innovation or Project Manager: Coordinating the efforts of this team into cohesive action requires a position with the skills, experience and influence to overcome the likely resistance that any change to an organisation brings. This position will work across all the departments and bring everyone together as a team to achieve the desired outcomes. 

Finally, beyond an effective cross-functional team there's a final element necessary to facilitate maintenance transformation; an effective solution. That’s a discussion for another time, but feel free to contact us if you want to know more sooner.

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