How to avoid common mistakes and successfully implement CMMS

Implementation is hard, especially with programs such as Lean, Total Productive Maintenance, Reliability-Centered Maintenance or CMMS. Learn the common pitfalls and how to successfully implement CMMS.

By David Berger, P.Eng.

Implementation of any major change such as Lean, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) or a new CMMS can be difficult at best, especially given industry’s dismal track record of success. Any number of studies shows success rates of 35% to 50% for large-change projects, with the highest probability of failure observed for IT projects such as a CMMS implementation. The list of reasons management cites for failure usually contains one or more of the following:

  • Lack of top management support
  • Lack of involvement and buy-in from those expected to change their behaviors (typically front line maintenance technicians and operators)
  • Poor project planning
  • Inability to manage the expectations of the project’s key stakeholders throughout the change process
  • Inadequate resources assigned to the project (people, material, equipment, funding)
  • Poor communications
  • Weak project leadership
  • Insufficient training
  • Unclear goals and ambiguous objectives that don’t reveal to each stakeholder group what’s in it for them
  • Poor alignment with, and mismanagement of, external resources such as consultants and vendors

These reasons for failure are so commonplace, across so many industries, spanning so many years of change implementation history, that it makes one wonder why we’ve not learned from our mistakes. But, alas, human behavior is complex, which is why we seem to have the same limited success in avoiding divorce, war and other relationship-based failures.

Although certainly not a panacea, one approach to minimizing failure is to get key stakeholders to establish mutually-beneficial goals and objectives. Each stakeholder should clearly understand the reasons for implementing a given change project, and why they should support it. Qualitative and quantitative goals and objectives let stakeholders know exactly where the project needs to go for it to be successful.

For example, plant management might be looking for a higher return on plant capital as a reason for spending significant dollars upgrading or implementing a new CMMS. Operations management might be looking for reduced equipment downtime because every additional minute of uptime means more product out the door and therefore increased revenue. Maintenance management may be keen on reducing the cost of maintenance per unit of production output. Of course, these objectives aren’t mutually exclusive, but it’s important to understand the primary drivers of the desired behavior for each stakeholder.

Incentives versus disincentives

To increase the probability of meeting shared goals and objectives, reinforce stakeholder behavior using positive and negative incentives. These incentives and disincentives provide reward and consequences respectively.

For example, suppose a few members of the project team received a 25% bonus for exceeding measurable targets relevant to their role in the project. Perhaps the project team members from the IT department are told that they’ll receive a bonus when the new CMMS package is up and running. On the other hand, suppose a few project team members from maintenance are provided with a disincentive or consequence that if the CMMS implemented doesn’t achieve the expected targets for equipment reliability and performance, then there will be no bonuses or salary increases this year.

Lessons learned

What behavior would you expect with these rewards and consequences? Predicting the actions resulting from incentives is difficult, and from disincentives even more complex. However, the example above provides some simple lessons.

Exceed expectation —First, reward people for exceeding expectations, not merely achieving them. Meeting expectations is what employees are paid to do. In the example above, the 25% bonus for project team members is only applicable when targets relevant to their role are exceeded, not met. Incentives should drive behavior that goes beyond the call of duty.

Fair distribution — Second, distribute incentives across stakeholder groups in a manner that is perceived as fair by every affected party. Why should only project team members from the IT department be eligible for a 25% bonus? This situation implies an inequality among the members of the project team that is sure to build resentment and potentially negative behavior.

Timing is everything — Third, timing your incentives properly also is critical. Nothing annoys users of a new CMMS or information system more than the IT department celebrating and being rewarded for installing the software (ie, “getting the package up and running”), and leaving the users to struggle through learning the system and trying to make it work over the course of many months or even years, with no comparable reward.

Furthermore, many of the IT people have long gone on to the next project and are unavailable to users once the application is installed. This is extremely frustrating for the users, unfair, and certainly not conducive to achieving shared goals and objectives.
Avoid collective punishment — Fourth, disincentives might be perceived as individual or collective punishment, which might not account for factors beyond one’s control.

Thus, if the maintenance department didn’t achieve equipment downtime and reliability targets because of factors such as vendor performance, an act of God or poor planning by marketing and sales, it might be unfair to punish the maintenance department by cutting off salary increases or bonuses.

Avoid loss of trust as a consequence —Fifth, disincentives tend to carry a negative connotation that can result in exactly the behavior you’re trying to avoid. By laying down an ultimatum that says essentially “either meet your targets or you’ll be punished,” you send the message that you don’t trust people to do their job. This lack of trust might lead to indifference, resentment, rebellion or even outright project sabotage.

Incentive options

Although most people believe monetary incentives are the most effective, it has been my experience this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the simplest and most appropriate incentive is recognition for a job well done, either privately or perhaps in a public forum such as an awards night or company party. Other incentives are giveaways (clothing, personalized stationary, gift certificates), celebrations (BBQ, company-paid pizza lunch, company-sponsored event) and contests (prizes for who can exceed targets by the greatest percentage or for the longest duration).

External incentives

Although most companies are reluctant to do so, it might be worthwhile to explore applying incentives to external resources such as a CMMS vendor or consultant. However, in my view, it’s most effective to balance incentives used internally and externally, because both internal and external resources are required for a successful implementation. By providing incentives only for one party and not another, you usually get better performance from only one party. The project is only as good as the weakest link, so the additional incentive won’t necessarily translate into a more successful implementation overall. In fact, the imbalance and lack of shared incentives might leave both parties frustrated, causing a failed implementation.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., at

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