Why do RCM projects sometimes fail?

With a sound implementation plan, RCM delivers efficient, robust maintenance schedules. So what are the potential issues to avoid if the project is going to be successful?

Here are some of the most common pitfalls.

Lack of planning

Inadequate planning probably dooms more RCM projects than any other issue. It’s natural to want to get started as quickly as possible, but no one will thank you if the analysis stops because there is no documentation, or if key staff are unavailable when you need them.


When an organisation has pervasive downtime issues, it is easy to see RCM or any other methodology as a silver bullet that will fix everything in a short timescale. The truth is that RCM is probably only a part of the solution: by itself it can’t do anything to improve documentation, working practices, or information systems.


This goes hand-in-hand with over-optimism: the expectation that inexperienced group members and facilitators can produce reliable maintenance schedules within a reasonable schedule.

Would you want to fly a helicopter solo after having lessons for a couple of hours? It probably wouldn’t end well. Your RCM team needs to be realistic about its level of expertise to ensure success. An inexperienced team would be wise to start with a relatively simple, short analysis and work up from there.

Undefined objectives

Surely no one would start a labour-intensive project without specifying the outcome? Think again. With RCM, as with many other initiatives, this can and does happen. Sometimes there may be stated objectives, but no evidence that RCM is capable of achieving them.

Lack of understanding of RCM

A theoretical understanding of RCM, perhaps from a book, doesn’t always prepare you for the challenges of a real meeting: conflicting opinions, poor documentation, analysing complex protective systems and more. Try to try to be realistic about your level of expertise; if you know that there are going to be challenges, have an experienced RCM practitioner on call.

Lack of resources

Most often, “lack of resources” can be equated with “absence of the right people”. There is not much point in putting together a review group that doesn’t know the equipment well (unless the primary objective of doing RCM is to learn about the equipment).
The challenge is that the “right people” are likely to be busy, and are the same individuals who will be in demand if there is a critical operational or maintenance problem. For this reason, senior management needs to approve the RCM resource plan, and the plan needs to take into account the inevitable occasional disruption.

No implementation plans

This might not stop the analysis immediately, but it turns RCM into an expensive talking shop. RCM planners need to include implementation of the schedules—and of any redesign recommendations—right from the beginning so that the benefits are actually realised.

“No scheduled maintenance” means what it says

It can be hard for maintainers to accept schedules that include a large proportion of No scheduled maintenance, and there is a serious temptation to add tasks to the RCM analysis “just in case”. Don't.

Remember the airlines’ experience of maintenance tasks: ineffective maintenance not only costs more to carry out, but it can be a source of failures and downtime in its own right.