MRO Magazine

New Plan Needs A Champion

By Cliff Williams   

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO's February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archiv...

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archived online at this issue, we pick up where we left off in the June 2009 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards and members of his team return from an information-gathering visit to a big US paper mill. We join Bob on his way home.

I reflected on what we had just seen as we travelled back from the paper mill in Wisconsin and realized that there was a constant theme of improving that ran throughout the plant, starting with the bottom line. We had made some strides in our own mill, but we still had a long way to go.

I must have looked pensive, as Carol, our reliability manager, commented, “Don’t worry, Bob, I know it’s a lot to think about, but I really believe that we only have to take small steps and we’ll be getting close. Everyone at our mill is poised to make the change. Once we really start, I’m sure the momentum will take over.”


By the time I arrived back at my mill the next morning, I had some ideas that would hopefully get the ball rolling. I called Joe Davis, the plant manager, to see if I could go over our visit to the US mill with him and tell him about my new ideas.

“Sure come on up to my office at 10.30 — I’m looking forward to hearing what you learned.”

Suddenly, Carol appeared at my office door. “Well what do you think — are you ready for the big push?”

“Come in, sit down. Let’s talk. I’ll be meeting with Joe later this morning and I want to run something by you. You saw how Chuck, the Wisconsin mill’s maintenance manager, was front and centre there. He wasn’t just their mill manager; he was the champion for their operating mode. I’m going to ask Joe if he will do the same for us.”

“You’re right about Chuck. It was definitely top-down as far as the strategy was concerned. But it was completely

sustained by the guys on the floor.”

‘That’s it. I think we’ve got the guys on board and I know Joe supports us. We just haven’t pulled them all together. If we can do that, then Fred and his production group will have no choice but to join in. In fairness to Fred, as our production manager, he seems to be at least interested in changing. I know if Joe were to actively ‘champion the cause’, Fred would be fully on board”

“Well, we’ve seen the results at the other mill, so I think it’s worth a try.”

By the time I got to Joe’s office, I had a plan as to how I could get him involved.

“Come in, Bob. Tell me all about the ‘wonder mill’. Was it as good as everyone has made out?” “If you mean, are they very profitable, the answer’s yes. If you mean, have they grown their business since start-up, that’s an emphatic yes. Are they the preferred supplier for their customers? Yes again. Do they have very little turnover? Yes, one more time!”

“Okay, okay. Those are good things about the company. But what about the mill?, Joe asked.”

“That was about the mill, Joe, and pretty much anyone at the mill would have answered the same way I did. They all understand that those things are the most important ones and take great pride in telling you about them.” “But what about their predictive systems and things like that?”

Everyone is focused on the bottom liine

“They’re all fine, but what makes the biggest difference between that mill and any other that I’ve visited is that everyone is focused on the bottom line.”

I went on to tell Joe about our discussion with Chuck, their maintenance manager, and Alan, their mechanical team lead, and about their insistence that the way they operated the mill was the way it was because they felt it would give them the best bottom-line results.

“Don’t get me wrong. The whole set-up is fantastic, but it was all secondary to the results — and that’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”

Joe seemed a little uncomfortable at first, as I explained that Chuck was the champion at the plant and that he insisted that the end justified the means.

“Everyone at the mill talked the same talk — about the well-being of the company — so it was pretty obvious that this approach was top-down driven and that the guys on the floor sustained the approach,” I commented, stealing Carol’s words.

I talked about the pride and the neatness that was everywhere in the mill.

“I realize that we can’t make too many physical changes to our mill, but if we did things like brighten up the control rooms, use the 5S approach and start to involve everyone in a business perspective, I really believe we can make big improvements to our bottom line.”

“I’m sure you could get some of those things done — a few lights and a coat of paint here and there. You already involve your guys more than anyone, so that’s not a problem.”

The mill needs a champion for change

“I guess I need to be more blunt, Joe. It’s not about what I can do; it’s about what you can do. We need a champion at this mill. Someone who can transform what we in maintenance are trying to achieve into ‘the way we operate’, all based on the idea that what’s good for the company will be good for us all. And whatever is good for the individual must be good for the company. So what do you think, Joe? Can you be the champion?”

“I’m not really sure what to say, Bob. I don’t know what it is you want me to do.”

“That’s the problem Joe. I’m not really sure either. I just know that what I saw works.

Then I told him what I had in mind. “What I was thinking was that you make an announcement that we have an improvement project that involves everyone — something that is bottom-line driven.

“Right now we produce 565 tonnes of paper a day, so why don’t we develop a plan to increase it to, say, 600 tonnes per day? We could identify the issues that prevent us from reaching that level today and then develop a path forward. One of the things that I learned in Wisconsin is that succeeding is about partnerships — from a maintenance perspective, it’s partnering with operations, purchasing, scheduling and so on. Nobody succeeds alone.

“So what do you think?”

“Hmm, this actually falls in line with the corporate goals, so it may be a good idea. We could call it ‘Solution Six Hundred’ or something.”

“The way they approached it in Wisconsin was to explain what it is we’re hoping to achieve. Then they told everyone why they needed to succeed. This was followed with the plan for the road was followed with the plan for the road-map and then it was explained — on an departmental and individual basis — what part they played in it.”

“Okay, I think I’ve got the idea, Bob. We could have departmental goals that would add up to 600 tonnes per day and we can ensure that if any department is struggling, then the rest help out. I’ll pull these ideas together and hold ‘town hall’ meetings this week to announce what we’re going to do.

“Obviously the first step will be to analyze what our problems are right now, and then, to be honest, I’m going to depend very heavily on you and the other department managers, as you will know more about the solutions.”

“Sounds good, Joe, but this can’t be smoke and mirrors. We’ll only get one chance at this and it’ll be a tough go for some people.”

I went on to tell Joe that the ‘fit’ of people in this sort of culture was extremely important. “They lost people early on as they couldn’t accept the way things happened; those that stayed took on greater responsibility.”

I described that there were no shift supervisors, and more importantly, the operators and maintenance took care of problems on the off-shifts.

“I don’t know how Fred will accept that. He likes to be called for everything.”

“That’s true, Bob, but obviously we’ll have to give the tools to the operators before we stop the calls to Fred. We’re going
to think long and hard before we make these radical changes and you know what — we’re going to involve all levels in them.”

“Wow, that’s the spirit. Just be careful to let everyone know what their level of decision-making is.”

I brought Joe up to speed with the way things were done in Wisconsin and how they had adapted to 5S.

“We need to have someone trained in 5S, maybe one of Fred’s people.”

“I think we have enough work ahead of us, Bob. Let’s get this rolling but don’t forget that we need to track in detail what we are doing. Because of corporate’s response to your efforts, we’re going to have to give them a template to be rolled out.”

‘I’ll make a start on moving our department down the path we identified. This visit just reinforced that we’re on the right track.”

The meeting had gone better than I could have imagined and I felt confident that we could achieve a lot of the success I had seen in Wisconsin.

Cliff Williams is the corporate maintenance manager at Erco Worldwide in Toronto, ON, and a consultant with TMS — Total Maintenance Solutions Inc., Markham, ON. He can be reached by e-mail at


Key Points

Have a Change Champion. For change, use the 4 Ps:

Picture: What you’re going to do.

Purpose: Why you need to do it.

Plan: Which way you’re going to travel.

Parts to play: Where they fit in.


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