Machinery Lubrication / Change Management

How to win your pitch to managers

In this Big Picture Interview, Thomas Kurtz says know what their expectations are. Know how you’ll respond. And *have numbers.*

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Thomas Kurtz is director of business development at Tulsa, OK-based Noria Corp., which offers lubrication and oil analysis training and services. Kurtz also is a level-two machinery lubrication technician and a level-three machine lubricant analyst (both certifications from the International Council for Machinery Lubrication). In March, he presented at the MARCON conference about how to use a financial opportunity analysis to help build support for a lubrication excellence program. He spoke with managing editor Christine LaFave Grace about further best practices in pitching to management.

PS: Why is a financial opportunity analysis a critical component when you’re building the business case for a lubrication excellence program?

TK: I think it’s important for a couple of reasons. First, in my experience, many plants have normalized a high maintenance repair spend in dollars and uptime. They’ve normalized this reactive or planned maintenance and the cost of those strategies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “Well we’ve always done it like that.” Or, “We don’t have lubrication-related failures.” And they’ve never really looked at the cost or the causes of machine failures. They’re not doing root-case investigations. So to me, that mindset has to be changed. A close look at those hard numbers is usually startling, and it’s a good shock to the system to promote change.

Secondly, that change may require potentially significant investment of money, time, human resources, and if you don’t have that solid financial payback evaluation, the odds of effecting that change are slim to none.

PS: As a maintenance team embarks on doing one of these, what tips what you offer? What pitfalls should those leading the analysis take care to avoid?

TK: One should keep in mind when going into this exercise that the hard maintenance and repair data may not exist, or it may be really difficult to obtain. Sometimes you’ve got three years of storeroom data that you can export and you can go through that data to see everything that uses lubricant. Sometimes companies change CMMS systems and they lose that data. Repair work may get coded to a general category, making it difficult to separate it out from capital improvements or new machine components. The data may reside in several locations or with several people, such as the storeroom or the purchasing department; planning and scheduling may have that data. I’ve even had to go to third-party MRO suppliers, pull three years of data they had, and then compile all of that data together.

There are hurdles, potentially. Not everyone gets lucky and can push a button and get all their data. The key is to be as thorough as possible. You want to document how you collected that data, what issues there were with collecting that data. If the hard numbers can’t be obtained or you can only obtain a partial data set, acknowledge that. But if the data doesn’t exist, don’t get discouraged, because there’s alternate methodology; you can still provide a compelling case.

I always like to start at stores – “What data do you have that you can give me?” If I’m putting myself in a reliability engineer’s position and I’m at a plant, I want this to be as easy on my team as possible. So just give me a data dump; I’ll go through it and circle back and we can sanity-check it. Ask for whatever is easiest for them to pull, and if that works, if that’s what you need, fantastic. If you need a little bit of change here or there or a different format to spot-check that data to make sure it’s complete, then do that. Just don’t give up. If you can get the hard data, it’s so important to do that. That’s what creates that “wow” moment.

It’s really important to know what leadership’s expectations are going into the exercise. You want to have the financial analysis prepared in advance to make a case for the project plan that has a great financial return as well as the highest level of credibility.

They want to see the impact and have an understanding of how the data was collected and how we’re going to get results. I’ve seen companies readily sponsor something with a three-year payback or a two-year payback, but some companies require a year-one cost-neutral project. And let’s say you run the math and it shows a 14-month payback. Then you look at that and ask, “What costs can be managed without sacrificing the ROI?” You want to be transparent with how that was derived, but (you say) if we can do some cost controls, we don’t have to get there in a Cadillac; we can get there in a Chevy, and that’s viable.