How you lead and support maintenance and reliability improvements may cause it’s failure

Have you ever wondered what some leaders and ghosts have in common? Well, I will get to that, but let me paint you a picture. You have been told to start improving the storeroom, so you start by analyzing the performance, identify gaps and finally develop a plan to make the improvement. You share this improvement plan and business case with the senior leadership of the site. You get a resounding “Let’s do it” across the room. You leave super excited to start the improvement journey. As you start implementing the improvements, you run up against multiple barriers, such as finance not willing to write off obsolete parts or sell them back to the supplier for a discount. The storeroom staff “don’t have time” to assist with the cleanup or the data analysis. Since the storeroom doesn’t directly report to you, you talk to their manager, and the manager says their staff are too busy. You go to discuss the barriers with the project sponsor and leadership team, and they are still behind the project. Yet, they don’t go out and talk to the staff, nor do you hear about the project anywhere in the facility. So where are these leaders? They are a ghost to the project.

What Are Ghost Leaders?

Ghost leaders are the leaders and sponsors of projects, that tell you or the project leader that they support the project in private, but never go out and communicate the project with the wider plant. One of the key things that sponsors and leaders should do is to communicate the project, its benefits, and expectations with the plant. This communication, whether formal or informal, go a long way in demonstrating the importance of the project to all. Without this communication, the improvement is just another pet project of the reliability engineer and goes quickly to the back burner for most in the plant. Often times, without the visible support of the leaders, the project will either fail or not reach the value that was expected. As such, eliminating the ghost leader is critical to the success of the project.

How to Prevent Ghost Leaders?

Many leaders don’t realize they are being ghosts, so with a little planning and fore thought, we can prevent the ghost leader.Here are some quick tips tp preventing the ghost leader for your next improvement project;

  • Be clear on expectations for the leaders: Make sure you communicate your expectations on the project sponsor and site leadership for the project. While they shouldn’t have to run the project, be clear about mentioning the project in the company newsletter, talk to the most impacted groups, and communicate the vision with the plant.
  • Define a communication plan: Have talking points for the leadership team, and have a communication plan to share information on the project when it is kicked off, and throughout the project. Some communication may be email, formal meetings, or just walking around the plant floor and talk to staff about it.
  • Get the leadership team out on the floor: Having the leadership team available from time to time to ask about the project and answer questions about the project, goes a long way in demonstrating support for the project. Remember, that “what is important to my boss, is important to me”.
  • Bring up issues quickly: If there is a barrier that you can’t overcome, be willing to bring it up to the project sponsor quickly, but also have a plan to overcome it. This will make it easier for the sponsor to quickly address the barrier because the ask is clear.

There are many more things that can be done to ensure success in the project, including change management activities. For more information on these topics, please look at the past posts.

What Happens When the Ghost Leaders become Visible

When leaders and sponsors are visibly supporting the projects, the importance of them is known throughout the plant. Staff will make some time (maybe not all of the time you want), to work on the project and start delivering results. As the sponsors conitnue to ask about and talk about the project, it will not be seen as someone’s pet project, nor a flavor of the month. Gaining visible support is a major contributor for a successful improvement project, so make sure you give it thought before kicking off your next improvement project.
If you have any questions about gaining leadership support or project sponsorship and how it can help your organization, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

I’m James Kovacevic
Principal Instructor at Eruditio
Where Education Meets Application
Follow @EruditioLLC
Follow @ReliableJames