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How to be an effective internal consultant
Improving Reliability and Maintenance from Within
(The Business Case)

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   by Stephen J. Thomas
Published By:
Industrial Press Inc.
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The Business Case

for Internal Consulting

We know that internal consulting is needed

for successful change

The business case, if done correctly,

proves it to the doubters

 

4.1 Why Is a Business Case Needed?

 

Most companies have internal consultants, except they often do not call them by this name. The label often given people who hold these positions is engineering or reliability staff—people who work in other departments outside of maintenance whose role it is to provide support to those doing the work. If the role is filled from within the reliability / maintenance organization, either on a full or part-time basis, these people are often described as simply handling special projects. The projects can be of either short- or long-term duration.  

 

In each case, these people provide the services that we have been describing as those delivered by an internal consultant. The problem is that these individuals do not have the correct label assigned to their role. As a result, the incumbents often find it difficult to work in the role to which they have actually been assigned. What is needed is a way to validate the position of internal consultant, then fill the position with an individual or group whose sole job it is to perform this service for the organization. Years ago I was working as a lead engineer for a section of the plant. This job was not one that I really wanted; I had landed in this role as the result of a company-wide layoff. My options were lead engineer or seek work with another company. The reason I mention this was that this position was not something that needed my full-time attention due to the fact that the engineering was actually being handled by my staff. My role was one of coordination and it was not fully time consuming.  

 

As a result, I began having discussions with a good friend of mine who at the time was the manager of the Maintenance organization. Over the prior three years, he had become increasingly unhappy with the current maintenance work process. He had decided to redesign the work flow, the organizational structure, and many of the other components that were required for a successful, reliability-focused maintenance effort. With time on my hands, I agreed to help facilitate the effort. In addition to my experience in the maintenance arena, I was also able to deliver something else that was even more important. I did not have any line responsibilities. As a result, I was able to focus my efforts on the redesign initiative. As I was engaged in this initiative—which took over six months to complete—something was happening to me that I had not yet identified. I was becoming an internal consultant for the organization.  

 

After a great deal of effort on the part of many people within the organization, we developed and deployed an entirely new way of conducting maintenance within the plant. At the same time, the plant was also going through a total reorganization of which the maintenance organization was a part. The maintenance manager created a position reporting directly to him identified as Special Projects Coordinator; I was assigned to this newly-created role. In the back of both of our minds, we recognized that having someone who could detach himself from the day-to-day tactical work of the organization and work strategic (special) projects had the potential of providing immense value to the organization. Still we had not identified this as an internal consultant position.  

 

Over the next several years, I worked for the maintenance manager in this role. The problem that I had was that all of my assignments originated with him. While I did offer my services to others, they did not fully understand what I was capable of delivering. Nor did they see the value that I could deliver in a special project role.  

 

For line organizations that are focused on reactive maintenance, which mine was, this failure to recognize value from strategic work initiatives delivered by someone focused in this area is not uncommon. Strategic work is something that they do when they have some spare time, which never seems to happen. Their focus is on the day-to-day; focusing on longer-term initiatives is not what they get rewarded for doing.  

 

After the maintenance manager retired, I worked for several other managers who saw the value in what I was doing. As a result, I was allowed to keep working in my special projects role. Then something very interesting happened. In a move to further reorganize the department, I was asked if I could use some help handling the many initiatives that my managers had assigned me. Thus the organization grew from one to two people. This happened several times over the next few years and slowly I acquired an organization of people working on plant-wide strategic initiatives. At the same time, the organization itself evolved into one that placed a much higher value on reliability. This new direction supported the work my team was doing. Eventually my small organization was recognized as delivering strategic value and it was sought out to support the reliability / maintenance organization as well as others.  

 

The reason that I have related this story is that my journey from part-time special projects coordinator to one where my team acted as reliability/maintenance internal consultants—even though we were not named as such—was due to fortunate timing and a lot of luck.  

 

Placing people with strong internal consultant skills within the reliability/maintenance organization in order to support the development and implementation of strategic initiatives should not be left to chance. There needs to be a better way, a process that identifies the need for such a position and then goes about the task of justifying it. If this is handled correctly, then the individual or group appointed to these positions will have 1) a clear mandate from the site management, 2) recognition by the site personnel of their role within the scheme of plant operations, and 3) identification of the individual or group as internal consultants for the plant. This is clearly a better way to reach internal consultant status than banking success on timing and luck. The question is: How can this be accomplished? The answer is that a clear business case must be developed, submitted, and approved by site management, thereby sanctioning the role.

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