Change Management — Evolution or Revolution?


Tor Idhammar, IDCON

Improving reliability and maintenance is 90 percent about getting people to work more efficiently and effectively by changing human behavior. This is nothing new; human behavior has been changing for thousands of years. It has yielded improved quality of life, moving us from fire pits to fireplaces to heaters to built-in floor heating and heated car seats. We call that evolution because it took place over a long period of time.

Change Management (CM) became popular in the late 1990s and is a method, or rather a framework, that can be applied to improvement projects. When you read a book about CM, it’s clear that the improvement projects mentioned involve major changes. The examples usually describe a large organization with a multitude of plants changing a complete line of products, something that requires revolutionary changes. On the other hand, improved maintenance is, for the most part, more about improving what we are doing already: an evolution rather than a revolution. This means that Change Management can help in a reliability improvement project, but all steps may not apply 100 percent.

Using Change Management in reliability projects may seem like a fad, but I’m thinking that change management must have been around for a long time. I envision a caveman, sitting with his fellow hunter-gatherers by a lake somewhere, maybe talking about how they might provide better for their families or nursing a wound from the last hunt. His CM project is to get his small clan to stop hunting, to settle down, and to start using the land for farming. He draws in the sand. He makes a big X over a mammoth and then points excitedly to a square that represents a kale field (most likely organic). It’s probably a fair guess to assume that the other hunters are skeptical. Kale farmers? Our caveman probably had to do a little CM consulting to get them going. It was called the Agricultural Revolution, but that’s probably due more to the change in human quality of life than to how fast the change actually happened.

Most work processes within maintenance are comprehensive, though very difficult and time-consuming to implement. It should be easy to get people to follow the best and most efficient work process when they already understand how everything works, right?

Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. In most projects I’ve been involved with, time and resources are underestimated. Most people do not realize how much work implementation requires.

CM must be put in the context of an improvement project. It’s not a stand-alone solution. Change Management needs to develop in symbiosis with what is to be changed and the people who are to do it. We can’t change company culture and behavior by a general discussion—it requires a joint effort toward a joint goal. I’ve seen many CM consultants seemingly work in a vacuum that is doomed from the start.

IDCON fuses “Kotter’s 8 Steps” (a CM method) with our clients’ approach and plans for their maintenance improvement projects. Based on this, we will create a project handbook. Kotter’s 8 Steps are:
• Step 1—Create urgency
• Step 2—Build a strong leadership team
• Step 3—Form the right vision
• Step 4—Communicate widely for better engagement
• Step 5—Enable people to make an impact
• Step 6—Generate short-term wins
• Step 7—Sustain and push on
• Step 8—Institute changes

Here are a few examples of how maintenance improvement projects can use these eight steps:
Step 2: It’s useless to try to improve maintenance if the plant manager isn’t driving the change. The plant manager is the one who can get maintenance and operations to work in a partnership, which is crucial. There must be clear guidelines for the project roles of the plant manager, operations manager, and maintenance managers.

Step 3: All leaders want reliability, of course, but operations and maintenance need a clear business case stating that they are willing to pay “x” for “y” percentage points of improvement in reliability. A business case should be developed that projects estimated costs and earnings.
It is imperative that the organization as a whole understands what the outcome of the improvement will be. Is it a functioning preventive maintenance (PM), good planning, or a well-organized store? A vision of future work processes needs to be described in work flows, role descriptions, and training programs. If the future state isn’t described well, it is hard to get an organization to move to that state.

Step 4: Clear and continuous communication is important to ensure that everyone is working toward the same goal. In successful projects, managers share information in newsletters, on big screens in the plant, and verbally. Managers must be out on the floor several times per week following up, answering questions, checking in, and making themselves available to their personnel.

Step 6: It takes time to improve maintenance, but setting and achieving short-term goals makes a difference for the organization. Small victories make those involved feel they are moving forward and that their part matters. We often ask the operations manager to choose a few critical pieces of equipment for improvement. Then, we do a focus case on this particular equipment, including revising the existing PM, cleaning, implementing the new PM, repairing the problems, and performing Root Cause Problem Elimination for the problems we’ve found. This usually yields a quick reward in the form of a visible success.

The biggest advantage of this framework is that it shifts the focus away from technology and tools toward a focus on people. Tools and technology are helpful if people are on board, but if people are not on board the tools and technology become useless.

We cannot forget that there is a difference between evolution and revolution. Great maintenance is a continuous improvement process, one that entails pretty small adjustments.

Since our forefathers managed to change a whole culture from hunter-gatherers to a farming society some twelve thousand years ago, maybe we should be able to get a lubricator to lubricate with the correct volume and right lubricant at the right time?