2015 Management

Sell Reliability To Management

EP Editorial Staff | January 12, 2016

Getting the ‘sale’ requires you to think like your plant leadership, use language they understand, and spell out risks and consequences for the organization should they choose not to ‘buy.’

By Dr. Klaus M. Blache, Univ. of Tennessee, Reliability & Maintainability Center

For a reliability and maintainability (R&M) process to be successful, the entire facility needs to be involved. The strength of R&M is that it can benefit just about all areas of your operation. A weakness, however, is the fact that R&M means many different things to individuals, based on their experiences and job functions. In fact, when personnel say they are “doing R&M,” they typically are referring to only a small fraction of what a comprehensive R&M process should include. Many people may also attempt to sell benefits of R&M to management by trying to explain the concept through their own familiar terms and knowledge. Unfortunately, this type of approach and vernacular doesn’t always result in a “sale.”

Better ‘selling’ techniques

To successfully sell reliability and maintainability to management, it’s important to not use overly detailed explanations and acronyms such as RCA (root-cause analysis), RCM (reliability-centered maintenance), P-F Curve (potential-failure curve), FMEA (failure mode effects analysis), FMECA (failure mode effects & criticality analysis), FRACAS (failure reporting & corrective action system), Weibull analysis, and the like. You can’t assume that your audience has the same understanding of their benefits. If you use an acronym, explain it with practical examples.

While every opportunity to enlighten management regarding the R&M journey is different, consider the following recommendations. They can help you achieve the desired buy-in:

  • Speak the language of management and use metrics/key-performance indicators (KPIs) that are already part of the plant-leadership strategy. Spell out how R&M relates to management, departmental, plant, and goals strategies. Use specific business areas of safety, people, productivity, quality, inventory turns, cost, and how collectively R&M improves return on investment.
  • Clarify how a reliable plant is a safe and cost-effective plant. It’s impossible to fully improve safety without supporting R&M. Data continue to show that reductions in reactive maintenance result in fewer safety incidents. This same trend is also evident with the increasing maturity of an R&M process.

Instilling a robust R&M process usually requires a cultural change. To enable this, it’s important for the workforce to know that the organization cares about them—for example, by demonstrating that safety matters.

  • Make your R&M sale (value proposition) in the first five minutes. This is mandatory. Managers are busy. If you haven’t captured their initial interest within that first five minutes, it will be difficult to generate buy-in.
  • Help management understand the path to success using an R&M roadmap. The significant KPIs should be properly integrated up and down in the organization to enable supporting activities. Make it clear that R&M success is also plant-performance success. This is a must.
  • Understand what’s important to your business and be able to relate R&M benefits to those current performance needs. For example, if improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is critical, then know what a 1% improvement in OEE is worth to the company.

In most organizations, there’s a competition for limited resources. Thus, you need to be able to explain the value proposition and competitive advantage gained by instilling an R&M process.

  • Explain the logic behind life-cycle costs of machinery, equipment, buildings, and related physical assets. It’s also important to outline the roles and responsibilities of purchasing, engineering, trades/technicians, and financial functions throughout the life-cycle process. Managers must understand that they can’t cost-save their way to competitiveness.
  • Describe what happens if management does nothing. There are risks and consequences in taking no action. Be sure to establish the cost of non-reliability.
  • Understand how the R&M journey will affect individuals (including leadership). People don’t typically resist change. They resist the impact it has on their lives. Therefore, you must be prepared to address any anticipated emotional responses—at all levels of the organization.
  • Understand your framework (experiences) in relation to management’s framework. Adjust your wording and presentation to their framework.

Many organizational differences aren’t big issues—just differences in understanding how something should work and what’s important, based on individual experiences. These differences are why most issues are at the boundaries of departmental responsibilities. As Mark Twain put it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

  • Lead your management to your understanding of the benefits. Present facts to which these leaders can relate and, accordingly, grow their understanding. Don’t think that because you are enthused about the R&M journey, that management will become equally enthused as a result of your presentation. Offer understandable examples and a believable first step. Be patient, yet persistent, with relevant cause-and-effect facts. Your mission is to convince your audience that the benefits are worth the effort—and that organizational disruption will be minimal.
  • Deliver solutions to management. Don’t tell them about your difficulties. If you have 10 problems, they have more than 100. Managers are looking for problem solvers and resolution.
  • Think about the big picture. Management takes a systems-view, i.e., they’re looking out for the entire plant and organization.

The full definition of a Kaizen (or continuous improvement) is to take apart and put together better than before. What’s often overlooked is the fact that this improvement should not be at the expense of other individuals or groups.

  • Work with middle managers who are key stakeholders in the R&M journey. Understand what they get measured on and how it aligns with the needed R&M direction. Find common ground to ensure that goals are aligned.
  • Pilot—if you have the authority to do so—a small success story to support your vision, and use it in your talk with management.
  • Assess your group/organizational readiness for change. (Several basic tools are available to help you do this.) Then, when ready, you must manage the change with a process.

In my own 2009 study (with more than 1,000 responses), 26% of the respondents pointed to “people “and “cultural” improvement as the needed direction for the change process. Asked what positively impacted their R&M process in the past five years, their top two answers were better management understanding/support and more reliable machinery and equipment. Asked the same question in 2015, the top two answers were more involvement by trades/technicians and more reliable machinery and equipment. The third-most frequently given answer in 2015 was better management understanding/support.

Remember that making a change and sustaining a change are two different challenges—and both require leadership understanding and support. Although difficult, making a change is easier than sustaining it. For a sustainable R&M process, you need verbal support, resource support, and ongoing demonstrated supportive actions by leadership. MT

Based in Knoxville, TN, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee (UTK), and a research professor in the College of Engineering. His recently published book, The Relativity of Continuous Improvement (mro-zone.com, Dec. 2015), focuses on workforce engagement and business improvement. Contact him directly at kblache@utk.edu.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The first installment of Klaus Blache’s new monthly Final Thought column for Maintenance Technology can be read here.

‘Selling’ Tools

The Univ. of Tennessee Reliability and Maintainability Center has several new 2016 initiatives to help “sell” reliability and maintainability to management. Among them R&M Leadership Boot Camp (3 days) covering:

  • What leaders should know to attain R&M Excellence
  • Using R&M to move to top-quartile key-performance indicators
  • Understanding the enabling of continuous improvement
  • R&M Levels of Maturity (where you are and developing a R&M roadmap)
  • R&M Business Excellence Models and Strategies
  • How to Perform R&M Best-Practice Self Assessments (2 days of learning + software)
  • Performing Reliability Modeling and Weibull Analysis for Companies
  • Development of Reliability & Maintainability Roadmaps

For information on these initiatives, as well as on this year’s MARCON event (Maintenance and Reliability Conference), scheduled for Feb. 22 to 25, 2016, in Knoxville, TN, visit rmc.utk.edu.


learnmoreFor more information on justifying reliability and maintenance for management, see:

“The Business Case for Asset Reliability”

“Choose Reliability or Cost Control”

“Reliability Business Case: Conversion Costs”

“Saying Nuts to Maintenance Cuts”


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