Successfully Implement an Operator Care Program

Getting an operator to act as an owner of equipment can provide myriad benefits.

By Bill Wilder and Joel Levitt, Life Cycle Engineering

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Successful operator care programs improve reliability, quality and safety. They also enhance job satisfaction. By decreasing unexpected breakdowns, downtime and maintenance costs, operator care programs also boost financial performance.

Such programs aim to have operators act as owners of their equipment. They become full partners with maintenance, engineering and management to ensure equipment reaches operational goals every day. Successful operator care programs:

• improve production;
• provide individual professional development;
• promote reliability and safety;
• reduce waste; and
• decrease training and downtime.

Operator care has four elements, illustrated in Figure 1, that create a hybrid operator who is comfortable in the operations, maintenance and engineering worlds:

KYMP — Know Your Machine and Process. Operators increase their knowledge of their process and their machines. This may go well beyond current knowledge requirements.

P2 — Prevent or Postpone Failure. Activities to avoid failure include lubricating equipment, hands-on cleaning, tightening bolts and making minor adjustments. We consider this to be basic maintenance work.

D3R — Detect Defects, Diagnose and Report. Inspections directly resulting from the hands-on cleaning activity identify any deterioration or defects.

CI — Continuous Improvement. The operator always is involved in thinking about how to make the equipment work better. Potential improvements may come from reduced downtime, increased yields and lower utility usage. CI is an adjunctive engineering activity.

Implementation Challenges

You will encounter resistance when launching an operator care program. Success demands proactive steps to address resistance as well as a well-designed learning process. Organizations that simply announce a new expectation and schedule a class but do little intentionally and proactively to manage natural resistance or reinforce the desired change in behavior rarely achieve satisfactory results.

The groups typically involved or impacted by the operator care program are: management; operations; maintenance; sales and marketing; and supply chain vendors. People in each of these stakeholder groups will be required to change their behavior.

The stakeholder group most resistant to changes is management, particularly the direct supervisor. This individual also has the most influence over resistance from the operators and other people who must change.

To alter operator behavior to produce the desired results requires integrating the science of change management and learning. This can be achieved by leveraging established models within each discipline. An example is the integration of Prosci’s ADKAR model with our 3A learning process.

ADKAR is a model for the five phases or stages all individuals progress through when they change:

1. awareness of the need for change (why);
2. desire to support and participate in the change (our choice);
3. knowledge about how to change (the learning process);
4. ability to implement the change (turning knowledge into action); and
5. reinforcement to sustain the change (celebrating success).

The Life Cycle Engineering (LCE ) 3A Learning process (Figure 2) has three elements — align, assimilate and apply.

Achieveing Awareness and Desire

In the first phase of the LCE 3A learning process, we gain alignment by creating a direct line of sight from individual behavior to organizational goals. This is done through an intentional campaign to establish awareness of the business need for change and a desire to alter behavior. Senior leadership most influences awareness while direct supervisors most influence desire. The supervisors should work with an impact map that connects the desired individual behavior to organizational goals. This learning impact map can be a simple table that has columns for organizational goals, learning objectives, individual behaviors and individual results. The objective is to engage the operators’ manager in the discussion and setting of expectations for behavior change following the class. More information on how to implement a learning impact map is given at

Senior leadership will communicate the business reasons for the change. The message should outline the current business environment, including competitor and customer influences. It also should describe the risk of not changing. This communication should make operators and other impacted stakeholders aware of the business drivers for the operator care program.

The supervisor will introduce operator care concepts, pointing out the benefits for the operators’ jobs and lives. Operators will prefer to hear from their supervisor about how the change will impact them personally. The supervisor’s responsibility includes significant activities that require strong communication, planning and leadership skills to accomplish the following steps in rolling out an operator care program:

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