Dining on Elephants: A Glutton’s Guide to CMMS Success


I’m often asked if implementing a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is a big project. The people asking usually have the same hopeful expressions on their faces. They know, after all, that the technology is much easier to use than it ever has been. Cloud-based software has eliminated the need for complicated local installs. And modern applications have features to address even the most complex maintenance operations. The difficulties, though, never lie in the actual software installation and or usage. It’s always about managing the process and the changes within the organization.

After 20 years of experience with such processes, I always give the same answer: “CMMS implementation is like eating an elephant. It’s a big job. If you take it one bite at a time, though, there’s no reason you can’t get it done.”

So where do the difficulties arise? Typically they start with the selection process. Selection committees write requirements documents like 8-year-olds write Christmas lists: hopefully, unrealistically, and out of sync with their parents’ bank accounts.  The requirements grow when salespeople present features you hadn’t even considered.  Your wish list changes, and project scope grows.

Eventually, you make a selection, but, as you begin the implementation process, your feeling of accomplishment is short-lived.  Expectations are high, timelines get accelerated, and the pressure to succeed quickly is tremendous. Everyone’s ready to reap the benefit, but you’re only just getting started.

It all looked so easy during the demonstrations, but this is a BIG job—and your golden opportunity to shine. Like eating an elephant, it’s a project you can finish—if you can take it one bite at a time. Here are a few tips to help you succeed.

  1. Get help from a competent partner. Whether it’s the software company providing the product, or a CMMS implementation consulting firm, there are great services resources available to help you with the effort. They’ve likely seen it all, and they will help you plan the project carefully to avoid “land mines” and accelerate results.
  2. Revisit your selection committee. During the selection process, you learned a lot about CMMS—and you made a selection. Report back to the team that created the requirements and show them what you bought. Brief them on the capabilities and ask them to prioritize “needs” vs. “wants.” Come away with a short list of the features divided into those that must be implemented in 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months.
  3. Create manageable “bites.” Set achievable goals that you can accomplish in 30 days or less. Take one “bite” at a time and fully chew it—until that task is completely accomplished—before you move on to the next one. As you get to know your software and your organization’s ability to absorb the new technology you’ll be able to increase the size of your bites.

CMMS software today is more capable than ever before—and much more affordable. You get lots of bang for your buck. But change is still hard, and implementing new technologies and processes will always be challenging. That’s the real “elephant in the room.” You’ll find that elephant tasting a lot better, though, if you eat it in small bites of success you can savor along the way.