It is not uncommon that many reliability and maintenance improvement initiatives fail to deliver expected results. Why is it so?

Some of the most common causes I have observed include:

  • Lack of top management understanding, directive and long-term support.
  • Initiatives are shortsighted and too cost-focused instead of long-term and reliability-focused.
  • Politics and disjointed organizational goals and objectives.
  • Mobility of management.
  • Confusing the organization with new names on well-known concepts.
  • Failing to understand that the reliability and maintenance improvement initiative is a process without an end, not a program with an end.
  • It is a process driven by disciplined thoughts and actions by people.
  • Technology is secondary to behavior and will be very successfully applied when an organization is ready.

In his best-selling book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins uses the famous essay “The hedgehog and the fox” by Isaiah Berlin as a comparison between good companies and great companies. The book is based on a detailed investigation of what the great companies share in common that distinguished them from good companies. In summary, and as a parallel with reliability and maintenance improvement initiatives, the great companies knew one thing they can be best in the world at. Then they did this for a long time. The study was based on a 30-year period, and all great companies sustained their results also after 15 years. The great companies can be described as hedgehogs; the good, but not great, companies can be described as foxes.

The fox companies often changed plans and many tried to outsmart the market with short-term initiatives. Their leaders were glamorous and well-known. The leaders of the great companies had much lower visibility.

The great companies typically worked with disciplined implementation for 15 years before they made a significant positive breakthrough in financial performance. They sustained this performance for 15 years and beyond that.

So, how does this relate to reliability and maintenance improvements? In the graph below, I make an attempt to describe the difference between the hedgehog and the fox approaches. The majority of organizations I know can be classified as foxes; the most successful companies are hedgehogs.


The fox organizations will try all new tricks. Perhaps it started many years ago when a new manager implemented “planned maintenance.” This led to short, but not sustained, improvements, so the next initiative, often with a new manager, was “predictive maintenance.” Again, short-term results were generated. When results disappeared, the next action was to implement TPM (Total Productive Maintenance). When this initiative also failed to give the significant results that had been expected, it was time to enter into AM (Asset Management) and then RCM (Reliability-Centered Maintenance). Almost all initiatives were initiated by changes in management.

The hedgehog organizations find out the things that need to be executed well. They spend time to identify best practices. Then, they execute disciplined thoughts and actions according to their best practices. For a long time, they implement in a disciplined manner, and as a result, they will come to a point when significant results will be generated after a breakthrough. Some organizations have seen this breakthrough after three to seven years. New managers will be requested to continue implementation of best practices.

The fox approach confuses organizations and people will not believe that the latest improvement initiative is there for a long term. The consequence is a lack of true and enthusiastic commitment, which is vitally important for success.

The hedgehog approach stabilizes the organization to focus on continually improving the right things.

Torbjörn (Tor) Idhammar is partner and vice president of reliability and maintenance management consultants for IDCON Inc. His primary responsibilities include training and implementation support for preventive maintenance/essential care and condition monitoring, planning and scheduling, spare parts management, and root cause problem elimination. He is the author of “Condition Monitoring Standards” (volumes 1 through 3). He earned a BS in industrial engineering from North Carolina State University and an MS in mechanical engineering from Lund University (Sweden). Contact Tor at 800-849-2041 or e-mail info@idcon.com.
Management Consultants in Reliability and Maintenance – IDCON
www.idcon.com