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How to combine data and storytelling to get your maintenance project approved

How to combine data and storytelling to get your maintenance project approved

Competing for money and resources can be brutal. Everyone wants the same slice of budget that just opened up. That includes the maintenance team. There are probably a thousand things you can think of doing with a little extra money. And you know they would all make a difference. But you need to convince the people with the keys to the budget that this money will be well-spent in your hands. That requires you to stand out from the crowd and get business leaders to buy into your vision for your maintenance project. If it seems like it would be easier to climb Mount Everest than to get that buy-in, this article is for you. It gives you a formula for combining two powerful forces in the fight for project approval: Data and storytelling. There are six steps for building the perfect pitch for your maintenance project. At each stage, you’ll find out how to use data and storytelling to elevate your ask above others so you can get approval for your project and the budget to match.

Step 1: Present a problem

Why this works

Your project is a change. And change is painful. That’s why you need to show that the pain of doing nothing (aka your current situation) is worse than the pain of changing. Find a problem that your project solves and lead with it.

How to tell the story

There are three steps for telling the story of your problem:
  1. Describe the problem
  2. Show what the problem looks like
  3. Explain the impact of the problem
The problem: Our storeroom is disorganized, What it looks like: Technicians can’t find the parts they are looking for and it’s hard to track parts usage, The impact: Work takes longer than expected and is leading to delays, downtime, and more backlog

What data to use

Make your best effort to quantify your problem. In the example above, you might talk about:
  • The average time to retrieve parts from the storeroom
  • The number of emergency parts needed each month
  • The number of downtime hours tied to the disorganized storeroom
Some other examples of quantifying a problem include:
  • Cost: How much is the problem costing your team?
  • Time: Are you spending more time than you should on a task? What is that keeping you from doing instead?
  • Health and safety: Are audit compliance tasks not getting done, or are near misses getting higher?
  • Employee retention: Is it hard to hang on to good team members?
  • Quality: How is a deficiency for your team affecting the end product?

Step 2: Outline your solution

Why this works

Now that you have a villain in your story (the problem), it’s time to introduce the hero (your project). People like to poke holes in a project because it’s a leap into the unknown. But they’re less likely to do this when the project is the answer to a problem they’re worried about.

How to tell the story

Describing your solution with a three-step approach:
  • Describe your solution/project
  • Explain how it solves the problem
  • Outline the outcome/benefits
We’ll hire a storeroom manager who will be responsible for organizing, purchasing, and tracking parts. Having someone dedicated to managing the storeroom will allow us to find parts faster, complete work easier, and respond to emergencies quickly. We’ll be able to slash downtime, reduce our massive backlog, and hit our throughput targets.

What data to use

Attaching numbers to your claims will help them resonate. For example, find out how many labor hours you could save if technicians didn’t need to spend their time searching for parts. That may seem like a small number. But if you multiply it by weeks, months, or years, it can add up fast. All those benefits don’t exist in a vacuum. If you spend five hours a month on repairs instead of rifling through the storeroom, it could mean five more hours of production, which could be huge for your organization. There are a few ways you can get this data:
  • Work order data: If you want to improve a process, break it out on your work orders and have technicians record how much time or money they spend on that process
  • Your peers: If you don’t know how much of an hour is worth to the production team, ask them or consult the OEM guidelines for an asset
  • Conduct a controlled experiment: Test your solution on a small, low-risk asset or process and measure the results before and after (this will also help you in step #4).

Step 3: Align your solution with business goals

Why this works

Everyone, from the CEO to a junior technician, has a target to hit. If your project gets people closer to hitting their targets, you’re more likely to get their support. It turns your project from something the maintenance department wants to do to something the business has to do. It creates an emotional investment in the idea, which can quickly turn into a financial investment.

How to tell the story

This story is told in three parts:
  1. Determine the goals of the business: This could be anything from reducing costs to opening new sites around the world
  2. Connect that goal to maintenance work: Highlight what the maintenance team is doing and how that impacts the higher-level goal
  3. Tie that work to the project: Explain how your project can either close a gap or improve what you’re already doing in your maintenance program
The business goal: Improve cost efficiency, The maintenance work: Maintenance costs (labor and inventory) impact the cost efficiency of production and distribution, The project: Hiring a storeroom manager will cut maintenance costs by reducing spending on emergency parts.

What data to use

You’ve identified the impact of your maintenance project on business goals. Now it’s time to answer the question, “By how much?” Here are a few examples of tying a maintenance project to company initiatives with data:
  • Cost efficiency: Hiring a specialist will allow us to cut contractor costs by $100,000 a year and increase production time by 8% a year
  • Expansion: Buying maintenance software gives us the power to standardize maintenance processes so we can set up new maintenance teams in 30 days instead of 60 (This guide has many more tips for convincing your boss to invest in software)
  • Risk reduction: A dedicated inventory manager will track and forecast parts usage so we can prepare for supply chain disruptions and cut emergency purchases by 40%

Step 4: Prove the project will work

Why this works

People hate the unknown. Risk is a dirty word, especially in budget discussions. That’s why proving your project will work is essential for getting it, and its budget, approved. A lot of skepticism around your plan will disappear if you can show your idea can, and has been done, before.

How to tell the story

There are a few different angles you can take to prove your project is a sure thing:
  1. Find examples of other companies that have done the same project with good results. Bonus points if it’s a competitor or a well-known company.
  2. See if another team or site at your company has gone through a similar project and what the positive outcomes were. For example, how have maintenance teams at other sites approached the problem you’re trying to solve?
  3. Conduct a small experiment or pilot of your idea and present the findings. If you do a trial of free maintenance software, you can show how a paid version will bring a return on the investment.
Where to find proof that your project will work: Case studies, Similar internal projects, pilot programs.

What data to use

Collecting data from case studies or pilot projects is only half the battle. The strongest pitches take these results and translate them to fit your team and the scale of the project. For example, another company may have seen 30% fewer breakdowns after installing sensors on all their machines. But what if it’s only realistic for you to monitor sensor readings on a handful of assets? Will it yield the same results? Here’s another example: Let’s say a month-long pilot project has helped you save 20 hours of administrative work. If you put this project in place full-time, it would save you 240 hours a year. In other words, it would free up 12% of your time.

Step 5: Identify risks

Why this works

Every project has its risks. This isn’t a secret. Ignoring potential pitfalls will quickly send your project into ‘too good to be true’ territory. Anticipating these speed bumps shows you are prepared to navigate around them without spending too much time or money. And that’ll make your boss (and their boss) more comfortable with the project.

How to tell the story

The secret is to pair every risk you’ve identified with a plan for conquering it, like these examples:
  1.  Risk: Technicians won’t use the software we’re introducing Plan: Involve them in the selection process so they’re comfortable with the system
  2.  Risk: It will take longer than we think to onboard a new hire Plan: Record short tutorials for routine tasks to shorten the learning curve
  3.  Risk: Our backlog will get bigger while we implement the project Plan: Develop a system to prioritize and complete backlogged work to reduce risk
  4.  Risk: We’ll overspend on the project Plan: Create a well-defined project roadmap to prevent scope creep and overspending

What data to use

Risk prevention is about spotting red flags on the horizon. Just like a high level of vibration could signal an impending breaking down, there’s data that’ll help you find a threat to your project and stop it. Presenting these KPIs during your pitch will show that you’re not gauging risk based on a hunch. For example, you could measure adoption rates if you were implementing new software. If adoption rates are low, you could do more training to get your team comfortable with the system. Other examples of red flag data include:
Costs, Completion rates for project tasks, Backlog of project tasks, Planned time on project tasks vs. actual time on project tasks, Data quality, Employee satisfaction

Step 6: Outline your plan and requirements

Why this works

This step is about filling out the specifics of your plan so everyone understands how it’ll affect you, your team, and the rest of the organization in the weeks or months to come. It also shows that the resources and support you’re asking for will be put to use quickly and effectively to produce reliable results faster.

How to tell the story

Avoid a massive list of everything you plan to accomplish and the resources you need. Break your project into milestones. Then figure out what you’ll need and how you’ll measure success at each step using this framework:
Milestones A, B & C with 1. Timeline  2. Tasks  3. Stakeholders  4. Resources and costs  5. KPIs
  1. Timeline: How long will this step of the project take? Pro tip: if it takes longer than a couple of months, consider breaking this step into even smaller touchpoints.
  2. Tasks: What will you accomplish at this step of the project? If the end goal of this step is to complete an audit of all weekly scheduled maintenance, one of your tasks could be to review all task lists for accuracy.
  3. Stakeholders: Determine who’ll be involved at each step of the project. Pro tip: Highlight how involved each stakeholder will be. For example, who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed?
  4. Resources and costs: What resources will you need to accomplish each task and how much will they cost? This can range from labor and parts costs to software subscriptions.
  5. KPIs: How will you measure success at each stage. This could be anything from what you’ve accomplished (ie. audit 50% of work orders) to its impact (ie. wrench time in the last 90 days).

What data to use

A lot of focus will be put on costs at this step. The best way to soften the blow is to compare the cost of the project to what the company is spending (or losing) without your solution. For example, hiring a storeroom manager and creating an inventory program will cost about $125,000 a year. The company is currently spending about $250,000 a year on lost production time and emergency parts purchases. When measuring success metrics, look at rolling averages to mark progress. Set up your metrics like this:
  1. Define your success metrics. Ie. Time to retrieve parts
  2. Set benchmarks. Ie. It takes an average of 20 minutes to retrieve parts
  3. Track 90-day progress. Ie. The average time to retrieve parts has dropped by 33% (6.5 minutes) over the last 90 days

The perfect pitch combines data and storytelling

People don’t invest in projects. They invest in problems, solutions and outcomes. And the best way to get their attention is with stories. Sprinkling some data in there drives home the size, scale, and impact of those problems, solutions, and outcomes. You don’t need a ground-breaking idea to use this framework. It works just as well for a massive overhaul of your maintenance systems as it does for getting extra money for a contractor. So the next time you need to justify your budget, pitch an idea, or just want a vote of confidence for a new process, just remember that storytelling and data are your best friends. Source: https://www.fiixsoftware.com/blog/using-data-and-storytelling-to-get-maintenance-project-and-budget-approval/