Reliable Plant 2021: Engineered to Support Your Reliability Initiatives

Jim Fitch, Noria Corporation

We all know maintenance represents a highly controllable cost. In fact, future performance and survivability are largely dependent on critical maintenance and reliability program initiatives. Those who wait to optimize their practices will ultimately lose out to stiff global competition. The ultimate outcome is the sum of our choices. Will we be leaders or laggards?

Leading the pack is not easy, and there is always risk. It takes knowledge, careful planning, research and ultimately strong support from management and leadership to implement change, commit resources and get things done. But as many of us know, garnering leadership support can be both the most critical and the most difficult aspect of the process. It is all too common for even the most carefully constructed initiatives to fall flat if leadership is not actively engaged and supportive of the process.

Even if you have a sound plan and a strong business case to share, decision-makers often have fully booked calendars. They may routinely visit the plant floor to see what challenges your team. Some may view maintenance or reliability as simply a cost center rather than a profit driver and a source of competitive advantage. All of these challenges and more can stand in the way of success. To overcome them, reliability and maintenance teams need a solid business case that can be clearly communicated and understood by stakeholders. These are the stakeholders who can advocate for critical reliability initiatives but can just as easily be your biggest challenge or obstacle if they don’t “get it.”

Build a Strong Business Case

Before pitching reliability initiatives to leadership, you will need a business case that is thoroughly researched, well-documented and connected to existing plant goals. Leadership responds to hard numbers and optimistic outlooks. Showing that your initiative can produce tangible results will be more likely to sway decision-makers. When you make what’s on their “goal sheet” align with what’s on your goal sheet, stakeholder advocacy works much better.

Good reliability programs prioritize proactive and predictive maintenance with a clear objective of harnessing reactive maintenance and the cycle of despair. If you are presenting a case to optimize your company’s reliability practices, you must make a clear and compelling business argument. This can be done in many ways. Consider this: in 2010, The United States Department of Energy released some figures showing the benefits of proactive maintenance, claiming that such initiatives can lead to a 25-35% reduction in maintenance costs, a 35-45% reduction of machine downtime and a 20-25% increase in production. Furthermore, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has measured a decrease in the rates of workplace incidents that correlates to an increase in the implementation of predictive and preventative maintenance.

Facts and figures are powerful management tools that can bolster the more passionate side of your presentation. You will want to use reputable sources, like governmental agencies and studies, for your figures. At Reliable Plant 2021, look for case studies and conference sessions from plant representatives who have successfully implemented the transformation to condition-based maintenance, TPM or other maintenance strategies. Engaging with those who have walked the path can provide more insights to strengthen your pitch. You may even meet a consultant who could help you get the job done faster.

Understand Your Stakeholders

While there may be a short list of people who make final decisions about major purchases or initiatives related to reliability, there are other stakeholders involved who can help you influence decision-makers to see the initial value of specific improvements. For example, your operations and maintenance teams who also see the cost of business interruption by unplanned downtime may be able to lend support for an initiative.

If you are the only one talking about the value of your reliability initiative, your voice is more likely to be lost in the crowd or even ignored. Conversely, if stakeholders pool their support and vision, your chances improve dramatically.

Develop a Clear Communication Plan

As a reliability or maintenance professional, you likely have a sense of the opportunities for improvement that exist within your plant. Perhaps you have identified a need for improved condition-monitoring technology such as ultrasound, thermography or oil analysis tools. You may see gaps in training or knowledge among your team that should be resolved. Perhaps you have become aware of new IIoT sensors that can provide an early alert to chronic problems relating to critical assets. No matter your goal, you will need to communicate the value proposition consistently and clearly.

Finding stats and data that support your business case can be valuable when it’s time to make a presentation, but your communication plan should also include other points of contact. Here are a few tactics you can use to enhance communication with leadership and get initiative support:

  • Familiarize yourself with the language used by managers and decision-makers. Using their terms when presenting cases facilitates clear communication of ideas. If their goals are defined in terms of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) or Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), your presentation should focus on these metrics.
  • Let them know what they stand to gain and how they will benefit from your initiative. Reliability initiatives can benefit several different areas of a company, so let the decision-makers know how your plan will specifically help their departments.
  • Be concise. Overly long proposals and examples will lead to weakened engagement and may be seen as a waste of time.
  • Explain how the money invested in your initiative will see returns. Projected Return on Investment (ROI) or improvements in Net Present Value (NPV) will speak to executives and other plant leaders.
  • Preload them with information. Sharing articles, whitepapers or case studies relating to your initiative on company social media, intranet or in email threads is a great way to keep your topic in front of decision-makers. Then, when it comes time to pitch your improvements, those who have already been influenced by background information and information from trusted outside sources will be more likely to understand and support your conclusions.

Foster Relationships with Plant Leadership

In addition to providing information in advance, it is important to form individual relationships with executives and leadership team members before making your pitch. Plant leadership is a busy crowd, so while it's not always possible to get their undivided attention, you should be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity when it is available. In addition to the communication methods discussed previously, you can find other ways to carve out some face time with stakeholders and decision-makers.

Have an Elevator Pitch at the Ready

Sometimes, running into an executive in the hallway or literally in an elevator might be a chance to take their temperature on an idea. If they ask you how things are going in your department, you should be ready to briefly describe your new initiative to gain some buy-in at that moment. Preparing an executive with some talking points outside of a conference room setting can help you determine who will be supportive on pitch day and who you may need to do some extra work to convince.

Invite them to Lunch

Studies have shown that eating a meal with someone can put them in a positive emotional state and make them more likely to make rapid decisions. These two factors are a great advantage when building support for an initiative. Bringing someone to a quick lunch, whether at the office or offsite, can be a powerful tool to get their attention and put it to good use.

Make a Case for Conference (and Bring Them with You)

We lost the ability to have face time at conferences for most of 2020 and into 2021, but these days in-person conferences are back in full force. While getting to learn from experts, networking with industry leaders and meeting vendors (and their products) in person are all highly beneficial, do not forget about the time spent with your own leaders, peers and direct reports. Getting away from the office or plant can give you a chance to talk in a more relaxed environment and discuss new ideas in a fresh setting. Reliability-focused events can bring all types of communication together and act as a concentrated dose of information that shows what is possible when companies are committed to the right reliability initiatives.

Making your argument for the value of a conference and travel expenses does not have to be complicated, but it should show the business value clearly. Here are a few steps to build your case:

  • Define your reason for going Knowing what our conference offers is an important first step to getting your attendance approved. You can read over our conference brochure conference.reliableplant.com/about to see a list of subjects, activities, products and vendors that are relevant to your company and job.
  • Write a Statement of Purpose and Objectives Making an effort to present the benefits of the conference shows your boss that you are serious about attending. Your written statement should build a compelling business case by outlining specific objectives and business goals that will be met by attending conference. The following are pertinent things to include in your written proposal:
    • Conference speakers who are presenting topics related to your field.
    • Vendors who you will be able to talk to, and how their products and services can benefit your operations.
    • Identify which workshops you plan to attend and include their benefits to your organization.
    • Detail specific cost saving and cost avoidance opportunities that you expect to learn from the conference. Additionally, detail how you plan to apply this newfound knowledge.
    • Mention or present specific case studies to highlight how other businesses in your sector have benefited from implementing the ideas and practices shared at the conference.
  • Many conference organizers offer a “Justification Letter” — a template that allows you to concisely explain the benefits of conference attendance to bosses and management. The justification letter (with estimated pricing) for Reliable Plant 2021 is available at conference.reliableplant.com/registration.
  • Present your proposal in person When presenting your proposal, don’t be afraid to let your passion show. Let your boss know that you are serious about the long-term success of your company and excited to implement new improvements. Ambition and confidence count for a lot, and with the right strategy, you will be able to “sell” conference to your boss.

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About the Author

Jim Fitch, a founder and CEO of Noria Corporation, has a wealth of experience in lubrication, oil analysis, and machinery failure investigations. He has advise...