Software / CMMS / Asset Management System

Steer clear of CMMS project pitfalls

David Berger says know the key targets you'll be judged on and build up a slew of short-term wins.

By David Berger

The goal of every manager responsible for any project is to deliver high-quality product on time and on budget. This is true whether building a new plant, repairing a roof, or implementing a CMMS. If you have been on the front line, you know just how easy this is to say but how difficult it is to accomplish. Discussed below are important considerations when managing projects such as the implementation of a new or upgraded CMMS.

Do not start a project without knowing on what basis you will be judged a hero or a persona non grata. This means putting some context around the project, such as strategic goals and objectives, critical success factors, and performance targets. A simple example illustrates the importance of this exercise.

Suppose you order a red sports car to be delivered in six weeks at a cost of $40,000. In four weeks, the salesperson phones and explains that the car you ordered is delayed a month, but a yellow one just arrived with identical features except for leather seats, at an additional cost of $2,000. Do you want the yellow one?

If timing is your dominant objective, then perhaps you are willing to exceed your budget by $2,000 and not get the “quality” you wanted, in order to take delivery of the product two weeks early. If your performance is measured on how quickly you deliver, you would be a hero to accept the yellow car. In contrast, if the dominant objective is cost or product quality, you would be out of a job to take delivery of the yellow one. By extension, it is vital to determine relevant performance targets for your project so that you will know which trade-offs along the way are acceptable.

Another challenge in project management is ensuring consensus on the definition of a “quality” product delivered. Quality is in the eyes of the beholder. For example, what assumptions have been made as to how rigorous the testing of your new or upgraded CMMS will be? Are detailed test scripts required by a team of 10 users from across all stakeholders to thoroughly test the product over a six-week period in a production-like environment? Or is it sufficient to send a couple of users to a few days of vendor demonstrations?

There are many possible deliverables for a given project. Assumptions must be stated up front and the scope clearly defined in light of key performance targets. One of the most common enemies of every well-intentioned project manager is scope creep. Listed below are key deliverables to consider when implementing a new CMMS and, to a lesser degree, a CMMS upgrade.

Pre-engineering research: This includes market research, competitive analysis, benchmarking, an employee survey, process analysis, a review of historical data, and/or interviews with key stakeholders. The research can be used to develop or validate performance targets and to determine the most appropriate actions for achieving them.

Operating principles: The strategic goals and objectives will naturally drive out operating principles by which the project is guided. For example, response time on critical equipment must be fast, accurate, and consistent 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Scope definition: A prioritized list of activities must be agreed upon by all stakeholders. The best approach is to limit the scope of each phase of the project so that stakeholders see progress in achieving performance targets as soon as possible. For example, start with a pilot implementation of the preventive maintenance module in one of your smaller facilities to get some immediate savings and gain traction for the project.

Re-engineered process flows: To achieve stated performance targets, typically the new or upgraded CMMS will act as an enabler for process and other changes. For example, the project may be responsible for removing low-value activities or facilitating faster response time through condition-based maintenance and notifications. 

Procedures and documentation: Process flows are eventually transformed into detailed procedures. The procedures may be quite detailed, with the inclusion of CMMS screenshots, a description of roles and responsibilities for anyone involved in the process, an impact and risk analysis of any processes that will be changing, and a discussion of exceptions and contingency processes.

Systems specification: For any new CMMS or changes to an old CMMS, a detailed specification document is needed that reflects business requirements.

Business case: A cost-benefit analysis must be completed for any project to show how performance targets will be met.

Issues and opportunities logs: Smooth project management requires a slick issues-resolution process. This necessitates keeping careful track of issues, including documenting the person who identified the issue (the originator), specifying the person responsible for seeking resolution, and noting the resolution date required, the identified solution, the date resolved, and the name of the person who authorized the solution.

Opportunities are recorded on a separate log. The key difference between the issues and opportunities logs is that issues require immediate resolution to meet performance targets, whereas opportunities can wait for a subsequent phase (e.g., integration of the CMMS with RFID technology).

Service-level agreements: Maintenance and operations should establish formal service-level targets (for example, response times) that will incent a change in behavior long after the project is over.

Test plan: A number of deliverables are included under the test plan; among these are test scripts, user acceptance testing, integration testing, stress testing, usability testing, and pilot. Testing should not be limited to the CMMS; it should include processes as well.

Job design: The change in systems and processes may lead to new job definitions. The project team uses work measurement, analysis of skills required, and/or resource balancing to determine the new job design.

Facilities design: Upon examining material flow, layout, ergonomic design, and workflow, the project team may require changes to the premises.

Training plan: Training also covers a lot of ground, including technical training on the system, training on the new processes, and training supervisors on how to manage change for front-line workers. Methods of training can vary widely, from online help on the CMMS to establishing a help desk for employees during implementation.

Communications plan: The employees must be prepared for the speed and degree of change required. Regular communication is vital. This can take the form of town hall meetings, newsletters, department meeting updates and so on to achieve “employee readiness.”

Post-implementation review: Last but by no means least, the post-implementation review is a critical deliverable to validate that performance targets have been successfully met. Any required corrective action is also identified.

The secret to a successful project is making sure that realistic expectations are set and met. Stakeholders must feel ownership of the project through some level of involvement, whether they’re part of a steering committee for middle managers, an executive committee for senior managers, or workshops for technicians or other stakeholders. There should be regular reviews of the detailed timeline and issues log to make sure the project is on track.

Be careful to bring to the project not only good technicians but also people who have credibility with and influence over key stakeholder groups. This is especially important as implementation draws near for stakeholders – i.e., when the snipers emerge and guerilla warfare begins. Managers then begin to pay closer attention to communications and finally read through the specification documentation.

That is why, where possible, you should avoid “big bang” projects that have a long lead time on key deliverables. These are the worst projects for managing expectations. To be successful, deliver on multiple milestones over short-term intervals; make sure stakeholders have skin in the game; and maintain constant communication.