Do you have a PHB, “Pointy haired boss”? If you’ve seen any Dilbert comics, then you know who I mean. Dilbert is an engineer too. The PHB is oblivious to the reality around him, only interested in how things look, and impossible to get to with Dilbert’s good ideas.
The comic is popular, especially among engineers, for a good reason. Scott Adams (Dilbert’s creator) knew that the technical world is full of frustration because of the relationship that engineers have with their own PHBs. Technicians, supervisors, superintendents, and managers in maintenance and reliability almost always have technical backgrounds. I’d hazard to say that we’ve all had PHBs at some point.
If you have a PHB and you’ve had him/her for a long time, then you may well have given up on improvements and effectively retired on the job. If M&R is a mess, they’ll stay that way. So long as budgets constrain you from doing what makes sense before the next budget cycle, and the chances are that the improvements (includes: projects, training, consulting) budget will get cut anyway, then you stand little chance of having any sort of lasting impact.
As a consultant, I can confirm what many of my customers have observed – PHBs do exist. The good news is that only a few of them would truly be as bad as Dilbert’s. They aren’t always a lost cause, but they are constrained by corporate systems that constrain them and stall improvements. Even where the business case for improvement is compelling and the improvement will pay for itself within a year (or even shorter), the money to get it started is simply not available because it wasn’t in the budget. I’m always astounded that something beneficial that effectively comes for free within the budget cycle would be delayed or stopped because someone didn’t think of it before the accountants finalized a budget.
Budgets aren’t the only challenge. If the improvement requires a change outside of your own department, then you are potentially in trouble. Each departmental manager has his performance metrics and targets. Changes tend to disrupt those – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, depending on your perspective. Having a few more parts in stores to avoid repair downtime, helps maintainers and provides more uptime for production, but it will also add to inventory and possibly reduce inventory turns. The manager of stores could look bad. But his measures are not considering the big picture. And there are many other examples where collaboration among departments is hindered by the metrics intended to help them perform better. The whole concept of the “balanced scorecard” was developed to counter that sort of departmental optimization while sub-optimizing the whole.
Poorly crafted performance metrics can drive dysfunctional behaviors and create PHBs, even though the individuals truly care about making improvements. It’s the business systems that need to be addressed and they can’t be fixed by departmental managers without executive help.
When it comes to M&R, the executives are often “in the dark” because they just don’t have the right background. They need advice they can trust that comes from someone at their level. But they don’t usually have that internally. Even the corporate lead for M&R (whatever his/her title) is probably no more than a senior manager, director, or low-ranking VP. Those are usually a few levels from the real decision-making authority. They could be PHBs, but more than likely they too are constrained by their own role and scope of authority.
Making anything beyond a minor change that is entirely within your department, requires executive-level support or the change is at risk.
We usually work at the levels where changes must happen, where we have seen the greatest lasting impacts, and the biggest business improvements (costs, revenues, safety), we have had senior executive-level support and engagement. They need to be on-side from the start, and not brought in as an after-thought when things are stuck. Getting them on-side can be a challenge, if for no other reason than they are hard to get to. If your messaging is too technical, too long-winded, or fails to address their priorities, then it won’t be heard.
They play in a whole different league. If you were there, you’d be heard. Help is there for you, but it’s rarely within your own organization. Don’t be a PHB, the sooner you can see and admit that you are stuck, the better. It’s not your fault that the organization throws so many roadblocks in the way. Get some help – this is a bigger and more difficult challenge than anything technical will ever be.