The Keys to a Successful CMMS Implementation

Key considerations and pitfalls to avoid in saving time and money during implementation.

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Nearly one-third of software implementation projects fail, and a leading cause is poor stakeholder alignment at the start, according to The Standish Group, an independent research firm. To correct this problem, companies must take a project portfolio management (PPM) approach to software implementation, emphasizing pre-planning.

In my work with manufacturing operations teams, I've found that laying the strategic groundwork in advance of computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) installations substantially increases their chance of success. After all, what is true for the strategy-driven organization must also be true for the CMMS project.

In successful implementations, the team responsible not only starts its planning well ahead of the kickoff but also pauses team members from moving forward until they have firmly established the strategic direction, the justification for the project, and the motivational drive. That positions them to win the executive-level sponsorship necessary to secure the resources required for the project's duration.

I call this pre-planning the "mission before the mission," or, in short form, AIM (Align, Integrate, Monitor/Measure). For a successful implementation, three visions need to be aligned: the executive mission, the PPM process, and the CMMS implementation plan and execution.

AIM First

The AIM viewpoint is that clarity on strategy and mission must come before all else. Align first, then integrate, and then monitor. A good place to start the alignment process is confirming the team's rationale or the new CMMS software's purpose. In a recent poll I conducted of maintenance and reliability professionals, most responded that a CMMS is best used as part of a strategic program or multiple programs (42 percent) and/or as a maintenance and reliability database (40 percent).

The danger here is trying to implement a CMMS as a standalone strategic program. Plant vision and mission should define the strategy, and the CMMS software should always support the plant's vision and mission. The CMMS initiative strategy should be:

  • Strategically focused.
  • Objective driven.
  • Resource conscious
  • Technically feasible
  • Economically viable
  • With drivers that are justified

Validating those six points satisfies the AIM-first requirement and positions the core team to begin preparations. Note where AIM is located in Figure 1: at the very beginning. The AIM process starts before the implementation plan and carries through the entire initiative. As Figure 1 illustrates, a healthy CMMS implementation plan requires preparation, creating a blueprint and an implementation plan, carefully shepherding data transfer, system confirmation, and training to go-live and beyond to sustainment activities.

Figure 1. The 10 keys to CMMS implementation success.Figure 1. The 10 keys to CMMS implementation success.

By spending the extra time aligning on mission and vision before beginning the implementation process, the team not only attracts buy-in but has a much better chance of sustaining that buy-in throughout the implementation process.

Common Failure Points

CMMS implementation teams commonly encounter four levels of pitfalls. Each pitfall, of course, can be expanded to many layers of detail – I've taken it as far as 50 different culprits. Here are some examples:

Level 1

  • The organization is not committed to the CMMS implementation or lacks the culture to change.
  • Incomplete discovery of drivers and strategic benefits.

Level 2

  • Lack of top management understanding and support.
  • Insufficient budget or resources.

Level 3

  • Poor project planning.
  • No project performance measures.

Level 4

  • A flawed CMMS selection process.
  • No implementation process or project life-cycle methodology. 

Have you ever heard the advice that, when planning the timeframe for a job, you must do your best assessment and then double it? Apply this expectation to the timetable between the CMMS project charter sponsorship and go live. Make a sound estimate for the amount of time you think you need, and then double it. For example, in the poll I took, 47 percent of the respondents wanted six to 12 months for implementation. Even that may not be enough time if all the pieces aren't in place initially.

All five "green" elements in Figure 2 need to be present for a CMMS implementation to deliver its expected value. If any are missing at the start, expect the project to take longer than desired or to be unsuccessful. Trace to the right to see how the plant culture responds to missing elements.

Figure 2. Charting the five conditions required at the initiative level for successful project implementation.Figure 2. Charting the five conditions required at the initiative level for successful project implementation.

Without a diligent AIM-first methodology, those gaps in Figure 2 are likely to occur, leading to a dominating sense of organizational frustration and attrition, in addition to other damaging effects. Here are some signs that a CMMS project is in trouble:

  • Significant "scope-creep" without change control.
  • Escalating costs accompanied by a deterioration in value and benefits.
  • Schedule slippages that cannot be corrected.
  • Missed deadlines.
  • Low morale, accompanied by changes in key project personnel.

Good AIM

To avoid all this, re-align the project's strategic value and the business case. Here are some examples of applying AIM principles and starting correctly:

  • The Corporate Director of Maintenance is ready to deploy an enterprise-wide CMMS. He forms a Business Case Development (BCD) team to get the ball rolling.
  • The team conducts the appropriate due diligence and works to prepare a solid business case, including a cost-benefit analysis with all the portfolio selection criteria hitting the mark with the best case, average case, worst case, and do-nothing scenarios.
  • The business analyst on the team submits the business case for executive committee approval.
  • Having been approved, the project initiates, and a project manager is assigned to begin working, starting with thorough research and review of the high-level scope and work area subject to implementation.
  • With the help of crucial SMEs, the PM works diligently on the Project Charter. The PM provides updates and additional required scope items to the business case and augments other resource requirements.
  • The PM submits the Project Charter and strategic alignment updates, and the ROI still looks promising, thanks to the excellent upfront work of the BCD team.
  • The core project team enters the planning phase and begins to work with a business analyst, as requested in the Project Charter to develop the full scope of business requirements.

I suggest involving a business analyst in the project from the beginning and leaning heavily on their input. Also, be as thorough as possible when specifying other resources – i.e., can the in-house team do it all, or will external help be needed? Lastly, always conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis, do your due diligence, and develop a "rock-solid" business case at the preliminary stage.


Scott Rojas, a senior consultant and computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) deployment expert for Fluke Reliability.

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