Do’s and Don’ts for Making Process Improvements that Stick

Daniel Penn - Article What's Your Maintenance Strategy?

What’s holding your maintenance organization back from making process improvements?

Here’s a scenario you may recognize:

What’s holding your maintenance organization back from making process improvements?A team from headquarters has assessed your production facility’s maintenance department. The goal?  To bring all facilities in line with a comprehensive set of practices, procedures, and outcomes developed from industry benchmarks and current best practices.

How will you implement the team’s recommended changes to achieve and sustain the new program’s benefits in your maintenance organization?

Implementing significant process improvement in an organization is no simple task. Successfully changing people’s work behavior in very specific ways is not easy. In fact, literature on change management suggests that up to 70 percent of all change initiatives fail. Reason enough to take steps to ensure your changes stay put.

The Dos and Don’ts of Change

Here are some dos and don’ts for organizations that want to implement change that sticks:


  • Define in specific and measurable terms the desired outcomes of the planned implementation. Measure and communicate progress against these terms on a regular basis through the implementation period to everyone involved.
  • Make sure you have active, visible executive sponsorship or senior management support. Meaningful change in an organization with an entrenched culture is never easy.  All levels of management have to be on board and rowing in the same direction. Senior management has to walk the walk just like everyone else.

Top management sponsorship is generally recognized as the single most important factor in successful change programs.

  • Change should be mandated. When management commits to a change, the message must be that the change is not an option. You cannot allow for misunderstanding or present change as an option. When people have the option not to change, they usually won’t.
  • Appoint an effective change champion in the organization to support the change agents and the employees as they work through the implementation.
  • Create and follow a formal approach to planning and managing change. Allowing an unstructured approach will most certainly produce inconsistent and unsustainable results.
  • Get employees involved early in the change process so they have a chance to take ownership. Employees should to be asked for their input when planning the change and they should be involved in determining the means. Management should ask them for their help in identifying the best way to make the changes happen.
  • Assign a dedicated implementation team of skilled change agents for the duration of the implementation if you want to do this entirely in-house. The success of change programs depends on the quality of the implementation teams, therefore you should free up the best staff while making sure day-to-day operations don’t suffer. If you cannot spare the resources or do not have skilled implementation resources on staff, get help from outside such as consultants or other resources within the larger company.
  • Understand the risks of in-house implementation. Day to day work demands may conflict with the effort, especially if the implementation team still has their original jobs to do. Without the proper approach, the organization risks breaking into factions ‘for’ and ‘against’ the new change. If this happens, the objective may switch from attaining the original goal to simply surviving the interpersonal and inter-departmental battles. This will end up damaging the culture and perhaps even company performance.
  • Institutionalize the change to make it the “[company name] way”. This helps overcome the “flavor of the month” objections and makes it easier for employees to get on board.
  • Implement a process for continually testing the effect of the new behaviors using the department’s key performance indicators with employee feedback. This leads naturally to a continuous improvement program to fine tune processes and procedures to create and sustain new improvements.


  • Don’t allow politics and conflicting organizational issues to get in the way of implementing the changes. The implementation team should be constantly working with area managers and process champions to counter these distractions.
  • Don’t ignore the impact of a constantly changing management team if this is the case for your organization. Offset this with continuity established by written procedures, established routines, process champions, and “tribal knowledge” held within the workforce.
  • Don’t confuse the organization with new names for well-known concepts. Change only what needs to be changed and leave the rest as a familiar context for the new ones.
  • Don’t forget that reliability and maintenance improvement is a continuous process with no end point; it is not a fixed program with a hard stop at the end.

When organizational change initiatives such as a maintenance improvement project fail, they make the next improvement effort more difficult because employees may feel betrayed or skeptical of management’s ability to effect positive change for them. Getting it right is critical. This is why so many managers get anxious about making process improvement changes.

Change takes time. Large-scale changes within maintenance organizations take can take a year or more. Be prepared to give your culture sufficient time to adapt and take ownership of the new ways of working. The more entrenched your culture and/or the more significant the planned change, the greater the need for all levels of management to act together to support implementation.

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Niccolo Machiavelli
The Prince (1532)

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Steve Mueller is Director of Commercial Operations for Daniel Penn Associates, LLC (@DPALLC). He is responsible for project development, management and delivery of results for the company’s private sector clients. Steve has over 30 years consulting experience.

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