Process Plant Silo

In his book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, Patrick Lencioni discusses the challenges that exist between groups within an organization.  Similar to his other books, he uses a fictional story of a hotel  in which the front desk, housekeeping and maintenance groups don’t work well together.  He also presents the story of a hospital emergency room.  While different groups exist, they work extremely well together.  The conclusion is that in an ER, critical work must be done and there is no time for politics – which, oddly enough, exist in the rest of the hospital.  Your company should be more like the ER when it comes to reliability.  Unfortunately, its probably more like the hotel.

Process plant, like most companies, are often the victims of politics, silos and tuft wars.  Management, Project Engineering, Operations, Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) and Maintenance all have their goals and objectives – the proverbial KPIs.  While they get along most of the time, there can be times when the KPIs work against each other.  I have presented how this might undermine your reliability.  Admittedly, it is a broad generalization, but I suspect there is a certain amount of truth in every plant.

Plant Management is responsible for the overall performance of the plant.  Their metrics are often those which are reported to the board of directors and share holders.  It is largely a function of money.  Simply, they are concerned with the Profit & Loss statement.

Project Management is responsible for staying on budget.  If they can buy a less expensive product they can and often do.  They are financially rewarded for buying a less expensive product, although it may require more energy or won’t last as long.  Total cost of ownership isn’t necessarily considered (or rewarded).

Operations is responsible for throughput.  The control board should have all the correct colors and animations should be properly displayed.  So long as the board is correct, there is not a problem (regardless of what the equipment is actually doing).  If something breaks, it becomes the responsibility of maintenance.  If I may be so bold, this is where reliability has the greatest challenges.

EH&S is responsible for maintaining a safe work environment.  This includes implementing safe work practices and eliminating spills.  I will argue that EH&S is most closely aligned with reliability, as a reliable plant is also a safe plant.

In the end, Maintenance becomes the proverbial “whipping boy” for reliability in a plant.  If an asset is a continual problem, it is their responsibility to fix it and correct it.  It doesn’t matter that Management won’t give them funding.  Or Project Engineering bought a less expensive product (which wouldn’t work for the application).  Or operations won’t shut the process down.  They have to make it work.  Period.

A better strategy is to work together to develop a comprehensive reliability strategy.  Everyone must participate and KPIs for all groups must include reliability considerations.  Plant Management will understand that lack of reliability (measured through unplanned events) costs them 10% of the profit every year.  Project Management will focus on total cost of ownership, not just initial capital cost.  Operations will benefit as a reliable plant leads to maximum availability and throughput.  EH&S will be ecstatic as people are no longer reactive and safe work practices will flourish.  Moreover, the time lost due to unplanned events can be better spent improving all areas of the plant.

Where this strategy becomes extremely powerful is through this process, all groups will start working toward goals of other groups.   There will be a tremendous appreciation for the challenges of the others.  Rather than a hotel, a plant will behave like an ER – not because it is an emergency, but because there is a common mission.

Keep in mind it will take several years for a comprehensive reliability strategy to emerge.  However, it is a strategy that is successful in any market condition.  It can only begin if someone takes initiative.  That person should be you.

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