Six ways to convince management continuous improvement is the right thing to do

July 14, 2005
Use these six tactics to help justify improvement projects to corporate management and your workforce.

Justifying continuous improvement projects to corporate management may be difficult, but convincing the workforce is almost impossible. The natural aversion to change makes selling an improvement difficult, but six tactics can help.

Concise goals and objectives: Management expects you to offer a well-defined plan to correct problems that are reducing plant effectiveness. You need a clear, concise game plan. The first step, a comprehensive facility evaluation, is the most difficult part. Cost-accounting and performance-tracking systems miss the indices that define performance. The typical tracking report reveals only part of the picture. Consider delays, for example. Maintenance delays might be divided into two reports: unplanned and planned downtime. Operating delays might appear in other reports, and material control in yet another. An accurate downtime picture requires consolidating nonproduction time into one report.

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Normalize data to the physical limits that constrain plant performance. For example, a plant that operates continuously has a physical limit of 8,760 production hours annually. Base your capacity, availability and other performance indices on this value, not on an arbitrary number of hours. Normalize the data to remove other variables, such as selling price or sales volume.

Self-evaluation is difficult. Built-in, deep-rooted perceptions influence how we interpret data and may hinder developing an honest plant effectiveness evaluation. Either make a commitment to an honest evaluation or hire a qualified consultant to make the evaluation for you.

Know your audience: A successful program requires selling at five levels -- corporate management, plant management, division management, line supervision and the hourly workforce. Corporate management must make the first move. Supply these executives with a way to improve their perceived value. Prepare the initial package for this critical audience and couch it in terms of the bottom line. Illuminate the road to improved profitability. Phrase your argument in terms of man-hours per unit produced, increased yields and reduced overall costs. Return-on-investment must be the driving force behind your timeline and implementation approach.

Plant executives are the same, but to a lesser degree. They want to see justification couched in terms of the total plant. Most lack a maintenance background, and many have a built-in bias against the maintenance organization. Some believe maintenance is the root cause of poor performance. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by justifying your package in maintenance terms or limiting improvements to traditional maintenance issues.

Insecure first-line supervisors can be most resistant to change because this tier is the first to be cut during reengineering or downsizing. Naturally, they resist any program touted as a plant improvement. Other first-line supervisors have seen many failed attempts to correct plant problems and are frustrated by the program-of-the-month approach. You’ll need their absolute, unconditional support, so include the motivation and rationale that convinces this level to get involved as a positive force for change.

Program proposals that ignore the hourly workforce make a fatal mistake. Without support and assistance from this tier, nothing will change. You need to win both initial and long-term worker support. Include their representatives in program development and seek their involvement throughout the program.

Implementation plan: Proposals without a concise, detailed program plan fail within a year. Yours should include well-defined goals and objectives that are achievable within your timeline. Use a phased approach. Define specific tasks in a sequence that minimizes investment and maximizes returns. Include every task required to accomplish your program. Define each clearly in terms of tools, skills and support required. Show deliverables with a start and end date, and assign responsibility to a specific individual.

Return on investment: Viable improvement programs pay for themselves. Unless there’s absolute certainty that your program can pay for itself, don’t implement it. Frankly, most maintenance improvement programs can’t pay for themselves. Traditional applications of contemporary maintenance practices can’t generate enough return to justify implementation. The only proven means of generating a positive return is to include the total plant in your program.

Don’t overstate benefits: It’s the greatest mistake you can make. Remember that your justification establishes expectations that you must exceed later. Beware of projections based on data provided by consultants or vendors of improvement systems. Never overstate expected return-on-investment numbers to ensure approval.

Tracking and evaluation: The need to sell the program doesn’t stop when your package is approved. Continue to promote the program during its entire life. A well-defined tracking and evaluation plan, coupled with clearly defined milestones, improves your chance of success. Newsletters, video presentations, periodic reports and personal contact are additional essentials.

Contributing Editor R. Keith Mobley, CMRP, is principal consultant at Life Cycle Engineering in Charleston, S.C. E-mail him at [email protected]