Perfect pitch: Your maintenance planning elevator speech

You’ve got a minute to explain your maintenance planning objectives. Use it wisely, says Doc Palmer.

By Doc Palmer, PE, CMRP, Richard Palmer and Associates

“Elevator speeches” are short speeches of a minute or less that aim to persuade someone or explain something. Imagine being in an elevator with a key stakeholder or stakeholders and needing to convey something on which you want buy-in. This ride is your chance to get their undivided attention. Is a minute or less enough?

Yes, it is. And during an elevator ride, you are not trying to explain an entire subject. You are trying to plant or water a seed quickly as part of the overall persistence of making planning work. Instead of an actual elevator, you will often find yourself walking with a stakeholder in a hallway, out to the parking lot, or in the lunchroom. If someone asks what you’re working on nowadays, that is your chance. The person is going to give you a minute or so. You might also find yourself with the opportunity to briefly address a group at the invitation of a supervisor or manager. Take advantage of it to promote planning. Be ready to give a nugget of wisdom about planning. Have an elevator speech appropriate to that situation. You might even actively seek out persons to whom to say, “Hey, I wanted to explain to everyone what we are trying to do with planning and scheduling. What we are doing is…” You may get a polite minute of someone’s time. That is your chance to sell planning and gain support.

When giving an elevator speech, don’t necessarily use it to try to gain active acceptance. Instead, simply explain your point as if it is the most logical thing that anyone would want to do. On the other hand, enthusiastically receive any positive comments. Also, accept negative comments in the spirit of, “That’s good advice; we’ll try to do it right.” 

Here are some sample elevator speeches for planners to use to gain support. (In future columns, we’ll consider sample elevator pitches for change agents and other managers to use.) Make up your own elevator speeches and practice them on your friends and co-workers. Be ready.

Planner to a craftsperson: “Hey, they want me to do this planning thing. What I’m supposed to do really is be a craft historian, where when technicians want to save some information from a job, they let me know with feedback and I save it for them.”

Planner to a craftsperson: “My job is to give you a head start and try to get things ready before we work on something. But nobody can make a perfect job plan, so I’m really counting on you and everyone to give me feedback so I can make plans better and better over time. Give me wrench sizes, parts actually used, or anything you think might help you next time you work on this same job, and I’ll add it to the job plan.”

Planner to a supervisor: “Hey, I’m really supposed to be more of a craft historian than a perfect-plan-provider. I don’t think anybody can provide perfect plans. Anyway, it would help if you continually encourage everyone to mark up job plans. They aren’t making me feel bad if they mark all over something. That’s my job to save their ideas so we can use them to make individual job plans better. Thanks. I can come to some of your crew meetings if you’d like and try to explain why I want their feedback.”

Planner to a manager: “Hey, if you keep giving me other stuff to do, I won’t really be a planner. It takes time to plan work for 20 persons. Can you protect me from being on too many teams? I’m already on the safety team, the NS1 project team, two root-cause teams, and an RCM team. I’m probably past the point of effectively planning. Can you help?”

Planner to an operator: “They have me set up to share information that would otherwise go into technician lockers. We really need to have a system so that whenever anyone works on a job, it won’t be like the first time we’ve done it. We’re trying to start off our crews with a mission of work each week that we think will help us complete more work and help us better coordinate with operators.”

Planning is an area of great potential, but it’s commonly misunderstood, and so its potential often goes unrealized. We need to actively gain support for this great area of maintenance. Prepare, practice, and use elevator speeches to gain support for planning.

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