Selling Success: How to get management’s approval for maintenance projects
Working as a consultant in operations and maintenance management for two decades, I’ve helped different companies successfully implement their continuous improvement initiatives. Over the years, however, I’ve discovered that presenting a great maintenance-related idea or design isn’t enough to sell the concept to management.
Although my ideas made perfect sense to me, permission to move ahead with a concept or design was granted only after I sold the project from management’s perspective. If management was looking for cost reduction, I sold the project based on efficiency. If management was looking for market leadership, I also sold based on innovation.
As well, I learned to break down a project into phases or "bite size" palatable pieces. By linking the project and phase goals with corporate objectives, management was able to significantly reduce its "buy-in" risks. This made it easy for management to support and move maintenance projects forward.
Realizing success and progressing to the next phase meant setting tangible goals, measuring and achieving these goals and capitalizing upon that success to drive full implementation. Here are some useful strategies to help you sell maintenance to management:
Choose winning projects
Every maintenance department is brimming with improvement opportunities. For example, performing a simple Maintenance Operation Effectiveness Review (MOER) will determine department strengths and areas of immediate opportunity. You’ll be establishing your present state of maintenance and future direction. It’s imperative that maintenance and management are going down the same path together.
"To successfully sell your project in a world of limited capital, you must work with your business partners [other departments] to prioritize your projects," says Dan Arsenault, manager of technical centre services for Mississauga, ON-based GlaxoSmithKlein. "Understanding and helping them meet their needs will help you meet your needs."
Successful projects bring sustainable benefits. You should look for projects that require minimal capital (i.e. waste reduction and elimination initiatives). Also, don’t forget to include in the proposal that you want to re-invest any savings into a subsequent phase. Management will tend to buy into a project that offers sustainable savings versus a "one-time" savings initiative.
A winning project is one that you and others will believe in. It’s also one that meets an immediate need and has achievable goals. As well, the project doesn’t require complex project management. Lastly, it’s one that you can confidently bring to a successful conclusion. Remember, your future credibility rests in the project’s success or failure.
Understand your sponsor(s)
In preparing your project proposal, you must build and present it in such a way as to appeal to the sponsor(s) who’ll approve the project. You’ll need to know if you’re interacting with a detail-oriented manager or a "big-picture" manager. It’s important to prepare your presentation to fit the audience. Have all details ready, if needed.
You should also prepare to justify your argument based on your needs and requirements, as well as those of the sponsor(s). In other words, you need to make it easy for the sponsor(s) to defend any supporting decisions. Finally, anticipate any objections ahead of time. Always have a response ready for objections.
"Present your proposal information in a language that your sponsor(s) can understand. Presenting to a controller will require special emphasis on budget spending and costs versus savings," says Stan Shantz, a past maintenance coordinator for a major Ontario food manufacturer. "When presenting to plant or production managers, you’ll need to help them understand the value of maintenance through performance measurements. This includes equipment uptime, availability and maintenance effectiveness."
Build an action plan
After choosing a winning project, you must now carefully prepare your business case. It’s essential to detail how you intend to manage the project. Clearly, implementation success will depend on building a solid Management Action Plan (MAP). The MAP is a project plan that outlines your W5 strategy:
- Who will you use to complete the project? Detail your expected internal and external (i.e. contractors, and consultants) human resource requirements;
- What will your project entail? Outline the scope of work, including a listing of special tools, permits and considerations required for the project;
- When will you commence and complete the project? Implement a detailed project timeline (usually a Gantt chart) complete with milestone achievement points;
- Where will the project take place? Detail the project’s geography; and
- Why are you proposing this project? List benefits, including clearly defined and tangible project goals. Use applicable performance indicators to help key players better understand the project’s current state, to set tangible goal measures and trend the project’s rate of success.
You must also know how much the project will cost. As well, you need to know who’ll pay for the project. A detailed cost/benefit analysis budget has to accompany your project proposal. A project budget isn’t complete without a return-on-investment (ROI) statement. This spells out expected savings and how long it will take to recoup project costs. Choosing a project with sustainable benefits will allow you to both amortize costs and gauge savings over a longer period of time (usually three to five years).
"When proposing new projects, you must do your homework. Back up your ROI statement with realistic figures that you can defend—not ‘best-guess’ efforts. Preparing a MAP takes practice and you shouldn’t be afraid to solicit help. You don’t have to be knowledgeable in all areas," says Shawn Crawford, manager, facilities services for the City of Mississauga, ON (Facility and Property Management Group). "A third-party can offer a different perspective and can motivate a project forward."
Committment to success
You have to be positive about your proposal. Part of feeling good, is the belief that you can successfully achieve the targets set out in your proposal. By doing your homework, you’ve earned the right to use convincing language to sell your proposal to management. Setting goals and a tangible measurement method displays confidence and a true commitment to success.
All of the preparation work has been completed. Now, you’re ready to present your proposal to your sponsor(s). Remember that a successful presentation is simple, concise and supported with facts. Nobody will tell you that selling maintenance to management is an easy proposition. However, you can make change happen. Believe in your project and present a detailed strategy. This will make it difficult for management not to support your case. You’re now ready to succeed. Good luck with your next presentation.
Ken Bannister is a founding partner with the Global Benchmarking Organization (a performance measurement company) and Engtech Industries Inc. (a production and maintenance management consulting company). Based in Cambridge, ON, you can email him at email@example.com.