Don't forget the human factor in your CMMS project

Oct. 6, 2008
In Part 2 of this article, David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, reminds you not to forget the human factor when designing a CMMS implementation process.

This month, we build on the change-management concepts introduced in September’s column ("Change Management, Part 1," The typical change initiative success rate is quite poor. It’s critical to get attention from senior management and buy-in from workers. A potential weak point is the process you use. In some cases, a change is viewed as a technical move rather than a strategic move, and the human factor is ignored. Other times, a company won’t provide the time or resources needed to set the stage for acceptance. Change also can fail because there’s no formal process that describes the necessary steps.

Technical versus strategic change

Technical people like technical change. They understand and are comfortable with improvement tools like software, reliability-centered maintenance and Six Sigma. However, the success rate in implementing these tools is no better than 50%. One reason is that change often relies on technology as its main driver and assumes that technology alone will somehow make things better. This is rarely possible unless the new technology supports process change.

Implementing a strategic change dramatically increases the probability of success. Strategic change starts with defining what’s critical in light of the company’s qualitative and quantitative goals and objectives. Then, redesign processes to align them with these priorities and success measures. Introduce technical tools to enable process changes and rebalance jobs to ensure the savings are realized. Use measurements to define project success and to track progress against expectations. Thus, the major difference between technical and strategic change is the human factor. You need sustained behavioral change in all stakeholders.

The change life cycle

Using the human factor requires an understanding of human nature. Faced with change, especially if it’s perceived as having negative consequences, most people go through four stages as defined in Claes Janssen’s "Model of Change." It starts with the current state. Whether good or bad, at least the current state is familiar and comfortable. Then comes denial. People’s typical reaction to change is denial, ranging from skepticism to anger and frustration. People ask, "What’s in it for me?" Next are upheaval and disorder. Confusion results because people are stuck between the old and new ways of doing things. This is where leadership and planning can ensure a successful transition. Finally, you get acceptance and regeneration. After the change is accepted, it renews and regenerates as focus shifts to new priorities, processes, measures and behaviors.

Manage change effectively

Following is a mix of ideas from Lewin, Kotter, Nadler and other great change-management gurus of our times.

Determine the need for change: The first step is to build a case for change. Analyze and cost-justify the need, determine the risks and how to mitigate them, and understand key issues. Spending money to upgrade or implement a CMMS must be a priority relative to competing initiatives and must support your strategy.

Establish stakeholder involvement: Once you decide to proceed, pick a leader to be responsible for implementation and a project team having representation from every stakeholder. For a CMMS implementation, my preference is having an operations supervisor or operations manager champion the change. If it surprises you, think about who owns the assets. Consider how important it is to integrate the many processes that span both maintenance and operations. Consider how much higher buy-in might be if operations leads the change.

Develop a change plan: To ensure a successful change process, plan, plan, plan. Start with goals, objectives and measures that define success. Think both qualitatively and quantitatively. Link everything to your asset-management strategy. Include a risk assessment, a communications plan, an implementation plan and a change-readiness assessment. The latter provides a snapshot of the organization’s motivation, understanding and preparedness for the change.

Determine and address barriers to change: The change team now shares information about the assessments and plans. This ensures early and sustained support. Implement "quick wins" that remove barriers to change and build a track record. An example is a service-level agreement between operations and maintenance. Align rewards and consequences with desired behavior to enhance momentum.

Establish reliable, two-way communication: As the change initiative progresses, provide information to, and receive feedback from, stakeholders. The most credible communication comes from a supervisor one level up, so take time to get front-line supervisors on board and comfortable with the message before you take it to the shop floor.

Implement the change: It’s easy to forget the original vision and success criteria. Many companies are too focused on simply getting the CMMS implementation system up and running instead of focusing on changing the way people think and behave. The CMMS is an enabling tool – a means to the end – not the end itself.

Build on successes: The change team should take corrective action that builds on successes and removes barriers to change. Mid- and post-implementation audits track acceptance and determine what can be improved, either now or later. If we’re talking about a CMMS, in my view, it’s more productive in the long term to break the implementation into separate three-month to six-month phases spread over 18 months to three years, rather than trying to force change down stakeholder throats under a compressed timeline. For example, work order control, PM and spare parts inventory management can be implemented first, followed by further phases to implement condition-based monitoring, root cause analysis, mobile technology and automated interfaces with other applications.

(Editor’s note: The Plant Services CMMS/EAM Software Review, at, provides a side-by-side comparison of more than a dozen popular software packages.)

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at [email protected].

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