Reliability Insights

5 Common Mistakes in Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM)

Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) is not an easy process to complete. Along the way, you will likely make mistakes, or identify things you could do better next time round.  

That’s fine. That’s continuous improvement. 

But what you don’t want to do, is to start up an RCM study making some of the fundamental mistakes that so many people before you have already made. And that is exactly what I’ll talk about in this article. 

I’ll walk you through some of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to RCM. That way, there is no reason why you should face the same issues. 

Here are 5 of the most common mistakes in RCM. 

To be honest, there’s plenty more that I could discuss, but then this would end up being a pretty long article.  

Mistake #1 – Not understanding what you’re starting.  

A lot of organizations start an RCM program without really understanding what it requires.  

Here’s what often happens: 

An external consultant sells the big benefits of RCM to your organisation’s leadership. But leadership was never advised the large amount of effort it would take to get there. Often, they are shown programs where investment is all upfront and all tangible benefits come at the end (convenient if you’re an external consultant). 

So when a lot of money has been spent with relatively little to show for, support falters. The reputation of the person who brought RCM into the organization has been tarnished… 

 And the consultant who overpromised and underdelivered is unlikely to be invited back. 

Sounds grim. But I’ve seen this happen more than once myself. I’ve heard plenty of experiences from others that went along these lines. When you get ready to commit to RCM, make sure you are very open to everyone about the amount of effort and input you need to get the required result.  

Be honest and upfront about the likely timeline and the required investment. Don’t overpromise any results and try to set up your program so that you implement improvements early in the program to quickly get tangible benefits!  

Mistake #2 – Doing RCM on your whole plant  

See, it’s quite common for RCM service providers to insist doing RCM on your whole plant. But let me be very blunt.  

You do NOT want to do RCM on your whole plant. You’ll waste a large amount of time and money.  

Instead, apply RCM on your most complex and troublesome systems. And then use other approaches (which I discuss inside my course) on those systems that are less complex and are causing you less grief. This is really an easy mistake to avoid.  

If you happen to work in a very complex plant like a refinery, and you really believe that doing RCM across your full plant will drive significant value…  

…then start by doing RCM on a few systems first. 

Clearly document the costs and the benefit. And as long as you’re really achieving very good ROIs, keep going with further RCM analysis. Remember, be clear to your management that doing RCM on the whole plant of that size and complexity is going to take several years.  

But in general, my recommendation is don’t do RCM on your whole plant. Focus on the most troublesome, the most complex systems. 

Mistake #3 – Not having the right people involved 

This happens a lot. It’s common for organizations to try and limit their efforts and do RCM analysis with a smaller team than really required. And if you try to do RCM without bringing all the required expertise in the room, you won’t succeed. 

Now, this applies for both internal and external resources. To succeed in RCM, you really need to have an experienced, competent RCM facilitator to lead the process.  

Few organizations have this kind of capability internally, so you need to bring this capability in via an external consultant. And make sure you bring in a highly capable consultant because the success of your study will depend on it. Have a couple of deep conversations with the consultant and make sure you check references of their past projects.  

Don’t just rely on their words. Call previous clients and get to understand how successful their RCM projects really were. Remember, get the right people involved from day one. 

Mistake #4 – Wasting too much time on block diagrams and criticality analysis. 

Now, I’m not saying block diagrams and criticality analysis are a waste of time. I’m saying don’t ‘waste too much time’. See, it is very easy to spend countless hours on beautiful block diagrams and detailed criticality analysis. This normally happens when an RCM project plan is developed to eventually cover the whole plant.  

But doing both block diagrams and criticality analysis for a full plant typically takes a lot of time and effort. By the time these are done, there is very little time and budget left to do an actual RCM analysis. So what often happens, a relatively simple system is included in the first phase of the RCM study as a proof of concept. 

But guess what? You have just spent a significant amount of money and generated very little return on investment. That small, simple system you analyzed is not likely to give you a payback large enough to cover the expenses for all the block diagrams criticality analysis you’ve done for the full plant.  

From the plant manager’s perspective, RCM is not generating value. So don’t do all your block diagrams and all your criticality analysis upfront. Do it system by system as much as possible.   

Mistake #5 – Doing a great RCM analysis followed by zero implementation. 

Quite some time ago, I visited a company in Asia whilst I worked and lived in the Philippines. So yes, a few years back. And they had done some of the best documented RCM analyse I have ever seen.   

Extensive criticality analysis, great block diagrams, well-written operating context, clear and precise functions, functional failures, extensive FMA, and a good task analysis. Every RCM analysis for every system that was done was beautifully bound in big binders.  

It was all there. It was Perfect. It must have been pretty expensive to get that done. There was just one small problem. When I asked about those binders… they were simply sitting on a shelf in an office for many years simply gathering dust.   

That expensive RCM analysis never went any further than those binders. None of the great work had found its way into the CMMS or had in any way, shape or form been implemented. And unfortunately this happens more often than you think. 

So when you set up your project, make sure you have the right stakeholders involved. Especially in big organizations. You need to make sure that the people who will implement the RCM in your CMMS are involved from the beginning. So they get the analysis results in a format they can easily understand and implement.  

And then set your study up in phases whereby you implement the findings of the first phase before you move on to the next phase. Remember, implementation is where the value is created. If you don’t implement your RCM project, you’re going to deliver zero value. And that is not what you want.  

Final Thoughts 

Those were 5 common mistakes in RCM. 

I hope you find it useful. And like I said at the beginning, it is important to learn from your mistakes, but it is even more important to learn from the mistakes that other people have made before you. Now, before I end this article, I want to make one thing very clear.  

Although these are common mistakes done in RCM, these mistakes also apply to running a preventive maintenance improvement project. These are not just RCM specific mistakes. Sure, the need for expert facilitators does become less when you opt for different approaches. But just be aware that by opting for approaches apart from RCM, you are not necessarily escaping all these potential pitfalls. 

Which is why inside my course, PM100: Developing and Improving Preventive Maintenance Programs, I talk more in depth on how to set up and successfully deliver a PM improvement project. 


What other common mistakes in RCM do you often see?

Let us know in the comments.

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