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To Talk: Key Players and Inclusive Management in Reliability Centered Maintenance
Carlos Altschul & Henry Ellmann

Effective execution and sustainability projects were analyzed and best practices developed on the basis of consulting project experience. Special attention was devoted to the role of safe havens created for open discussion to insure satisfactory implementation of Reliability programs and to simultaneously strengthen the social fabric to insure sustainability1.

A. Cultural change... a pending assignment

Impelled by market and internally induced transformations, new tools are added to bolster profitability, productivity, quality. Improving performance and generating a new organization. Prevailing notions, however, stand in their way and managers face a mess, need to discover new ways out2.

Because, much to our regret, organizations are complex and we attempt to respond without challenging accepted ideas that rely on hierarchy and division of labor. We assume that putting two and two together will inevitably produce four when the nature of the factors involve multiplification or division rather than simple adding up.

Hard and soft factors are hardly ever integrated, results are meager and participants say innovations do not produce expected benefits. Dissatisfaction rules, young talent flees, older staff are diffident and corporation prestige decays. Because, above all else, succesful implementation requires leaving aside customary approaches, and looking at things with a new vision.

In a 2006 issue of Project Management Review we learn that 70% of project failures include people realizing something is out of joint, yet keeping silent. Dissatisfaction stands at 54%. 68% of all budgets run above expectations, deadlines are not met in 77% of all projects; 75% include quality specs deviations. This is mainly traced to management, not technical, issues, i.e. (a) lack of Top Management commitment; (b) stretch goals that establish unrealistic terms; (c) turf issues; and (d) sectorial fragmentation.

Findings show that these factors are the key, not so the access to funds, equipment nor qualified personnel. A paradigm shift is required.

B. To talk: the way out

In managing a succesful Reliability program, executives create support networks; tie the organization to the improvement project, and use resources fully.

Soft metrics are installed through leadership that values key issues rather than urgency, and includes stakeholders to strengthen organizational culture. In this paper we concentrate on a reflective approach, i.e. inclusive management, that creates organizationally aware key players.

Cultural change remains a pending assignment. Unless exchange is fostered, Reliability programs, with all their promise, may remain a glint in our eyes.

After participating in numerous Change Projects and analyzing their results, the following surface repeatedly.

a. After major changes in the corporate culture, the work ethic was swept away, credibility vanished, trust was corroded. Mainstream acceptance of the distance between Operations and Maintenance has been further fragmented. Under these circumstances, going from thinking to doing needs a major shift in priorities.

b. Open exchange may be the single over-riding factor that may reinstitute trust and explain improvement project results. Time and time again, inadequacies are mentioned that can be traced to personal and organizational failings in establishing conversation between departments. Participants repeat that the example set by key executives as they balance strategic, management and cultural issues is critical.

c. Rooting Reliability Centered Maintenance innovations requires stressing the balance between hard and soft indices, and learning to identify and follow soft metrics e.g. circumstantial evidence, traces, token discoveries. Without this complementation it seems unlikely to expect innovations to take hold. Inefficiency can be traced to over-emphasis on technical-hierarchical variables.

C. Managed or under-managed operations

In the light of the above, what new competencies are required from top executives to develop a viable Reliabilty Project? Because a project can only stay alive and prosper as long as interdependent contributions arise. Otherwise, we should speak of under-management.

Surely close attention is to be paid to project scope, that leads us to deadlines, costs, quality and Health, Safety and Environmental criteria, dynamically balanced by soft variables.

Which is difficult because managers traditionally emphasize Engineering and Accounting practices while the recommended approach suggests bringing in Social Psychology.

Reliabilty Maintenance practices draw attention and projects are on the rise, but few teams devote the required time to goal establishment, to balance means and ends, to develop budgets, to value interpersonal contributions, to insure improvements are attained. Procrastination has the upper hand and cultural issues are only addressed when stakeholders are couragoeus enough to speak up. They are seldom part of the planning and preparation stages2.

As time passes, best practices are available, and more teams are paying attention to this matter. Most do so as part of certification processes, others by emulation but the majority does so only after major costs have been incurred.

D. Making sense

Managing a complex operation presents manifold hurdles. And Reliability projects require acknowledging that a spectrum of discomforting data arise when individuals take the time to speak out.
In safe havens, people mention eight tightly interwoven hard and soft fields to be addressed. When this is done, shared understandings facilitate program execution.

Hard metrics:

1a. Costs
- Can reasonable, yet ambitious goals be established?
- How can valid information be brought to light?
- Can priorities be agreed to before launching?

b. Deadlines
- Are fear and self-complacency key concerns in the organization?
- Can resistance to change be minimized?
- How can goal attainment be insured?

1c. Quality
- What is the impact of Quality on Reliability decisions?
- What role can stakeholders play?
- Are communications to remain an open sore?

1d. Health, Safety, Environmental
- How can testimonials be shared and discussed?
- Can HSE best contribute?
- Are HSE´s contribution´s acknowledged?

Soft metrics:

2a. Leadership
- Does top management value Reliability?
- How can alignment be effected?
- Can double standards be eliminated?

2b. Processes
- Are current systems and procedures adequate?
- Can learning curve obstacles be reduced?
- How can anticipated deviations be eliminated?

2c. Competencies
- Who dares talk about what must be said?
- Can systemic thinking be learned?
- Is everybody conscious of Added Value Chain ideas?

2d. Interdependencies
- Can the relationship between Maintenance, Operations and other areas be improved?
- Can turf issues be addressed to reduce conflict?
- Is it possible to develop overarching goals?

E. Knowing how

Reliability improvements, as any others, are best included after a critical mass of stakeholders realize major costs will be undergone unless such an initiative is launched. Once felt needs are openly discussed and pilot projects approved, the following prescriptions may be of help.3

1. Managing transitions: Know a transition is to be managed. Reliability involves new approaches to administration and cannot be incorporated without full support from Top Management. Failure and recriminations can be forecasted when backing is divided, especially in times of financial or marketing concerns. So, show the way, stay close to the action, use control and feedback systematically.

2. Set the course: Top Management should closely tie the Reliability project to Company Strategic Results. Poor performance and hardship follow when executives consider it is only a question of managing direct costs; paying lip service to compliance; ignoring how the effort ties into short and medium term results.

3. Agree on results: Devote time to develop accords., only then fix goals. Think strategically, even in an unstable enviroment: understand what every stakeholder wants. After SWOT analyses, insure means-ends equillibria are brought to bear, identify gaps and only then develop an Action Plan.

4. Acknolwedge a company is an economic, political and social system: To develop the dynamics that will strengthen the improvement process, power considerations have to be brought in. Authority needs to be redistributed; change agents must be trained to support the process; identification with the change process must develop; and profit from the emergence of crises to plan and reajust creatively.

5. Agree on fundamentals: Reward and evaluation systems, risk aversion, resistance to change, vested interests pressure participants to limit their actions to tried and true, but run-of.the-mill systems and indicators. Review assumptions carefully. On this foundation, create deliverables and new data bases, monitor and feed back on a systematic basis.

6. Deploy: Reliability can take hold if isolation between areas can be questioned, and every participant contributes to colleagues´ needs: in this manner, firm interdependence will shorten the learning curve under-belly. Devoting special attention to the particular circumstances of the project, participants will know their reality is being considered and performance may be sustained.

7. Align, go one step at a time: Change is processed in small doses, and first indications of success should be celebrated as well as those signals that replace quantititve measures. Discover and analyze the impact of in-bred habits.Tear down barriers. Do not use teambuidling to gratify people, but to show behaviors can be changed and learning can be trasnferred.

8. Empower: Take risks, use mistakes to review current approaches. Identifiy gaps in profesional and personal competencies, specify training needs, rigorously relate every expected improvement to particular project stages and provide coaching to empower in technical, managerial and interpersonal competencies needed to install the new tools and criteria. Delegate, do not micro-manage.

9. Communicate: Tell and discuss what´s going on in the world and in the industry, on how this affects the corporation and individuals, and on which initiatives can best be put in place to consolidate and grow. Communications help understand, come to shared definitions and lead to commitment. Innovations take hold when goals, resources and limitations are known, when invitations are sent to all parties who know the situation and operate in it; when questions are heard and answered.

10. Include: Every stakeholder contributes to success, or becomes a rigid barrier. Define how to take into account customers, suppliers, unions and government offices as well as other parties. Which introduces spot interventions to reflect and come to an understanding of the goals of the Reliability Project, insure social ties are reinforced and reparations taken into account

F. Inclusive management

The following Virtuous and Vicious circles show the straight and narrow path as well as foreseeable hurdles.

Virtuous and Vicious Circles

G. Owning up

No project can reach its goals unless accords are arrived at. Every party interested in improving performance, or in moving out of deadlock, spontaneously thinks of consulting others and hopes reflective practices will open the way to breakthroughs.

At the very start the project leader should attempt to generate consensus, and gain respect by exercising judgement: every specialist knows of the vagaries of influence as against coercive management, as for example a respected physician who prescribes knowing his prescriptions will not commit the patient to accept his indications, and there is little he can do to insure he will comply fully. His potential impact lies solely in his capacity to develop interest and initiative in his counterpart, and become influential if and when he develops interdependence.

All consulting projects assume equipment can be purchased and maintained, numbers must reflect reality in the field, but new resources can only contibute when individuals follow agreed upon patterns of behavior.

Coming to an understanding involves two or more parties agreeing on what must be done. It happens when they realize that unless they do, implementation will be compromised. When it is attained, benefits are immediately apparent: individuals become aware that a team spirit arises and that sensible behaviors lead to sensible participation.

This means owning up, and takes time, and these two combined explain the major hurdle in implementation.

H. Enabling

1. In response to perceived threats and opportunities, create safe havens and suspend critical judgement. Draw up a Stakeholder Map to include those who will be most affected. Install exchanges to understand preventions, interests and consequences and include suggestions.

2. Plan and develop field work: listen, circulate information and develop answers. Persist in stimulating data collection even though first responses will be defensive and deal with reparations, compensations for real or perceived losses.

3. Monitor closely and invite stakeholders to collect disconfirming data and share problem definition. Make certain all discomfitting facts are gathered to define a viable project. The oftener this is done, fear and apprehensions may be lowered and informaiton quality will increase.

4. Add stakeholders formally and provide unconditional support. Make sure action follows words: persevere to enrich dialogue, develop acceptable criteria and overcome customary top-down approaches to gain crediibity and solidify reputations.

5. Implement formal pilot-project and develop win-win approaches, insuring all affected parties honestly commit to desired legitimate goals. Special attention should be paid to process -how things are done-, and not only to technical execution -EXCEL format information.

6. Document the impact of the first events, process complex data and move ahead. Trust can be fostered by showing how things can be different this time. This includes giving witness before top management. As progress is made, debate should forestall potential restrictions so objetives can be met.

7. Acknowedge process becomes autonomous, generate further alignment and review evaluation criteria. Normally, only a small protion of stakeholders participate, whereas during execution, support will be required from all. Under pressure, some may respond with coercive measures, a negative turn of events. Reject inspirational messages.

8. Assess through metrics and deliverables. Document what has been attained and concentrate on process followed emphasizing the benefits of inclusive management so as to extend these practices in coming endeavors. Celebrate, reward, value effort and creativity.

9. Institutionalize changes and learning, question how best to extend the project. Intelligence is produced when, after debriefing, managers install new approaches to reliability programs. This remains in participants´ memories as a common sense epic. If you consider this was just another effort, go back to Square 1.

I. Lessons learned

Ideally, implantation is a managed process. Still, every incorporation provokes resistance to change, and affects performance. And the greater the disregard for the experience curve, the longer it will take and the greater the cost.

Every cell in the next table summarizes experience derived from projects in which design responded to the needs of the single case.
The following actions help reduce implementation time and improve learning curve data. The later soft considerations are included, the greater the probability that the social fabric will suffer and trust will have to be reinstituted.


J. Tentative findings

Our paper summarizes lessons learned, and explains steps to be taken to develop sense-making. Success hangs on inclusive management. On this basis, success can be measured both in efficiency and social responsiveness.

We found that by talking, a Reliability Centered Maintenance program adds know how, owns up to leave aside technical-economic over-simplification, and enables new stakeholders. This explains implantation success.


1. Altschul, Carlos & Carbonell, Roberto. Transformando: Procesos de cambio en empresas argentinas.
Eudeba, Buenos Aires. 2003.

2. Ackoff, R. The art and science of mess management. Interfaces, 11,1, Feb. 1981, 20:26.

3. Mitroff, Ian. Stakeholders of the organizational mind. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. 1983

4. RCM2 Reliability centered Maintenance - John Moubray, Industrial Press Inc. 1997, Aladon LLC.

5. Administración. Enrique Herrscher, Carlos Altschul, Enrique Ellmann and others. Editorial Granica 2009.

Article submited by:  Carlos Altschul & Henry Ellmann

Carlos Altschul, founding head of Altschul Consultores and Associate Director of Ellmann, Sueiro y Asociados, coordinates change projects, heads the Conflict / Negotiation Center, Universidad Nacional de Rosario and teaches graduate programs at the Buenos Aires, Córdoba and FLACSO - San Andrés universities (Argentina). He was Country Cooordinator for the Wharton School of Business GLOBE Project on Leadership and Managerial Practices. Published Transformando: Proyectos de cambio, Construir tratos; and Dinámica de la Negociación Estratégica. Formerly with Ford Motor Co, and Deere & Co, he holds Master of Science and PhD degrees in Social and Counseling Psychology Iowa State University. /

Henry Ellmann, Management and Industrial Engineering Consultant since his 1958 graduation from the Engineering School of Buenos Aires University 1958. Head of Ellmann, Sueiro y Asociados, he has conducted profit-improvement and sustainability projects in hundreds of industries and institutions in twenty countries of America and Europe with his team of highly qualified proferssionals and in association with US and European consulting firms.
Within the wide scope of his activities, he has specialized in RCM2 Reliability Centered Maintenance, implementing these techniques at over 200 sites of diverse branches of Industry. /

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