From Our Perspective: Relationship-Building And Best-Practice Maintenance

EP Editorial Staff | June 8, 2011


By Ken Bannister, Contributing Editor

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” …Henry Winkler

 As I conducted a Lubrication Operation Effectiveness Review (LOER), my client seemed baffled and intrigued by my strong interest in exploring relationships and assumptions.


They were the relationships and assumptions set up between the lubrication specialist and the machine operator; between the maintenance department and other departments; and between the lubricator/maintainer and the asset.

In her book Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, management guru Margaret Wheatley states: “In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. This pattern of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles and positions.”

For the maintenance group to truly succeed in its mission to deliver asset availability and reliability with a decreasing skilled resource base, it must establish improved working relationships on three levels: 1) intra-departmentally among clerical staff, planners, schedulers, inventory stockkeepers and managers; 2) inter-departmentally among equipment operators, production supervisors, production planners, engineers, purchasers, accounting, human resources and all management personnel; and 3) intimacy with the maintainable assets.

Building these vital relationships begins with understanding what you manage, versus what you control. For example, a maintenance department is responsible for managing all equipment repairs. Unfortunately, it is not always able to control access to the equipment (operator, production planner, production scheduler, production manager); control access to parts (purchaser, vendors); or control access to funds (accounting, management). Instead, it must depend on mutual working relationships with others to deliver the maintenance mandate.

In any relationship, both sides have different needs and must work together to establish, document and develop areas in which cooperation is required, establishing mutual agreement(s) to prioritize actions based on the consequences of ignoring those needs—all of which must also be based on facts, not assumptions. Similarly, we must review the relationships formed with the asset.

B.F. Skinner, in his 1969 book Contingencies of Reinforcement, wrote, “The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether men do.” In the area of reliability-centered maintenance (RCM), we’re taught to understand each of our machines intimately, as well as understand their idiosyncratic nature within their operating context and the how and consequence of each possible failure.

Modern technology allows us to take an intimate look at equipment health—through oil analysis, infrared thermography, vibration analysis, ultrasonic analysis, historical failure analysis, etc. Ultimately, though, we still must do the thinking for the equipment and work collaboratively with our peers, management and vendors to ensure that we address a machine’s needs in a timely manner while still meeting the needs of the maintenance department and its various relationship partners.

Building relationships allows both sides to state their respective points of view—and teaches us not to make assumptions on each other’s behalf. Understanding, measuring and tracking what we control lets us objectively define how and where the partnership must work together to better manage and resolve issues that are out of our control.

Relationship-building is key to dispelling hurtful assumptions, as well as to delivering a value-added, best-practice maintenance approach in an ever-changing world. Good Luck! LMT





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