Why culture trumps technology when it comes to continuous improvement

David Berger says shiny new tech won’t fix your process problems – but here's how your CMMS can help you address them more effectively.

By David Berger

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No matter how much you think new technology will improve your ability to manage your physical assets, try to fight the impulse to buy. The hard work begins long before you purchase new software or hardware. This is true for any number of popular technology solutions, such as a CMMS, industrial internet of things (IIoT)-ready tools, or an asset tracking system.

The key to improvement is changing processes to accommodate a new technology in a manner that maximizes benefits. The sooner you design new processes, the faster you will understand which technology will best enable them in the short- to longer-term. This puts you in a powerful position when shopping around for technology solutions, because you will have a much better appreciation of what technology you really need (if any) under the future-state processes proposed. Otherwise, you are far more likely to be wooed by the slickest vendor presentation or tempted by the latest technology.

Given that you are striving to get the most out of existing technology and are always on the lookout for for new technology, implementing a continuous improvement program can help you optimize both pursuits. For example, you can use your current CMMS to generate reams of data and reports for managing assets and ultimately for making more-informed decisions. However, most companies require much work to design efficient and effective processes that use the data optimally. This starts before purchasing or upgrading new technology through future-state process design under a continuous improvement program, and it continues long after any new technology implementation.

Take, for instance, the process by which maintenance work is requested. Is operations satisfied with the average response time? Is there a disproportionate percentage of rush orders, especially from a few individuals? Do you get multiple requests to fix the same root-cause problem? An existing CMMS or even manual data collection can be used to determine whether there is an improvement opportunity and provide clues as to how to exploit it.

Key drivers of process improvement

Committing to getting more out of your existing CMMS or, as need be, replacing it, is a good starting point for establishing a continuous improvement program. The CMMS will highlight many improvement opportunities. The difficulty, however, will be prioritizing improvements and finding time to implement the more-significant ones. In addition, cultural issues can be nasty roadblocks on the path of progress.

“Culture” refers to an organization’s values and rules and, in general, the way things are done. These are based on the paradigms or behavior models that company leadership has established. To drive significant process changes, you need to create a paradigm shift – a shift in the mental models of company leadership. This is no easy feat, as it may require a major change in attitude.

To overcome these barriers, the continuous improvement program must focus on a few simple and measurable drivers. The three most effective are time, quality, and cost, as explained below.

Time. How much time do you spend each day doing unproductive activities such as waiting for someone to respond or returning a defective item? In maintenance, reducing “cycle time,” i.e., the total time taken to complete a process, is an important way to improve productivity. The CMMS is an excellent tool for measuring components of cycle time, such as response time, service time, and downtime.

Cycle time of processes can be shortened as part of a continuous improvement program by using a CMMS to identify non-value-added activities. Wait time is usually the area of greatest opportunity for eliminating non-value-added activities, and in turn, reducing cycle time. Maintenance staff and management spend a good deal of time each day waiting for parts, waiting for approval, waiting for operations to release their equipment, and so on. Similarly, operations staff and management can waste time waiting for maintenance to respond to a work request or fix the problem.

By changing the process, you can sometimes reduce or even eliminate wait time. Suppose, for example, maintenance staff complain that they spend a lot of time assessing a problem, going to the stockroom and searching for parts that are in most cases not there, and then wasting time checking to see if the parts are in. Once the parts are finally picked, there is still no guarantee that the equipment will be available from Operations to do the work.

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