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Is your company a maintenance "hedgehog" or a "fox?".

Many reliability and maintenance improvement initiatives fail to deliver expected results. Why does this happen? 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 for well-known concepts.

Failing to understand three key facts: (1) that the improvement initiative is a process without an end, not a program with an end; (2) it is a process driven by disciplined thoughts and actions by people; and (3) technology is secondary to behavior and will be very successfully applied when an organization is ready.

In his best selling book, Good to Great (ISBN 0-06-662099-6), Jim Collins uses the famous essay "The hedgehog and the fox" by Isaiah Berlin to compare "good" companies with "great" companies. The book is based on a detailed investigation of what great companies share that distinguish them from good companies. In summary, and as a parallel with reliability and maintenance improvement initiatives, great companies know one thing they can be best in the world and they do this for a long time.

Collins describes the great companies as "hedgehogs" and the good but not great companies as foxes. The fox companies often change plans and many try to outsmart the market with short-term initiatives. Their leaders are glamorous and well known. By contrast, the leaders of great companies have much lower visibility. The great companies typically work with disciplined implementation for 15 years before they make a significant positive breakthrough in financial performance, but are able to sustain this positive performance for another 15 years and beyond.


So how does this relate to reliability and maintenance improvements? In Figure 1, I make an attempt to describe the differences between the hedgehog and the fox approach. Most organizations can be classified as foxes, but the most successful companies are hedgehogs.

Fox organizations try all new tricks. Perhaps it started many years ago when a new manager implemented "Planned Maintenance," leading to brief, non-sustainable improvements. The next initiative, often with a new manager, was "Predictive Maintenance." Again, only short-term results were generated. When the results disappeared, the next action was to implement Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). When this initiative also failed to produce the expected results, it was time to enter into Asset Management (AM) and then Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM). Almost all of these programs were initiated by changes in management.

Hedgehog organizations discover the things that need to be executed well. They spend time to identify Best Practices and then execute disciplined thoughts and actions according to their Best Practices. Over a sustained period, these companies implement in a disciplined manner and eventually generate significant results after a breakthrough. Some organizations have seen this breakthrough after 3 to 7 years. New managers at hedgehog companies are asked to continue implementation of Best Practices.

The fox approach confuses organizations, causing people to be skeptical that the latest improvement initiative will be sustained long term. The consequence is a lack of true and enthusiastic commitment by participants, which is vitally important for success.


In short, the hedgehog approach stabilizes the organization, allowing it to focus on continually improving the right things.

Note: To help me do a better job at addressing the right things in this column, I welcome input from the readers, please send ideas to, attention Christer Idhammar.


Christer Idhammar is president and founder of IDCON INC., Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. IDCON is a consulting company providing worldwide education, training and implementation of better operations and maintenance practices. For more information, go to:
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Title Annotation:Reliability and Maintenance Management
Author:Idhammar, Christer
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:May 1, 2004
Previous Article:Don't just survive ... thrive!!
Next Article:Back to earth.

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