How Does Your Maintenance Program Measure Up?

Kathy | February 1, 2005

Mastery of the fundamentals dictates future success

The most critical aspect of successful industrial maintenance is the existence of a well-defined, properly understood, and well-executed maintenance program.

There are many advantages to the organization that defines its maintenance program properly. It allows the elements of an existing program to be confirmed. The best organization derives from a well-defined program as does the ability to select and use the right information system. New strategies such as reliability centered maintenance (RCM) or total productive maintenance (TPM) can be implemented with success because the program definition has caused maintenance to master the fundamentals.

The maintenance program should prescribe what maintenance does, how it is done, who does what, when, and why. Because the maintenance program includes coordination with production or obtaining services from warehousing, for example, it must clearly describe these essential interactions. The absence of a well-defined maintenance program or the ineffective communication of program elements to other departments penalizes the maintenance organization because it denies needed cooperation and support.

The section “Elements of an Effective Maintenance Program outlines the ingredients for success and offers standards for evaluating a program.

The computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is not the maintenance program. There are a surprising number of maintenance organizations that have concluded that the purchase of a maintenance information system automatically equips them with a program. It does not. The information system is only the communications network that enables a well-organized maintenance department to execute a well-defined and understood program more efficiently as the result of using reliable, timely, and complete information. The maintenance program states what maintenance does, how, who does what, when, and why. If a maintenance organization has not defined its program first, it is unlikely that it will select an information system that best supports the needs of the program.

Impact across the plant

The efficient interaction of departments is critical to the success of maintenance. Maintenance efforts would fail if, for example, production did not make equipment available for scheduled repairs or purchasing failed to deliver needed materials on time. Similarly, this interaction among departments requires that the plant manager guide efforts with clear objectives and policies. Concurrently, he must monitor the total performance of departments toward his goal of consistently reliable equipment.

All departments are adversely affected by an inadequate program. Production, for instance, wonders how it can best cooperate with maintenance. Staff departments like warehousing try to second guess what maintenance wants. Plant managers are frustrated and impatient, expecting that maintenance should, by now, know what it is supposed to do and how. In those instances that maintenance organizations have not defined their programs, maintenance and operations personnel, as well as staff department members whose help is essential to successful maintenance, have little idea of what is expected of them. Thus, essential, basic support for the program is not provided. Instead, confusion and uncertainty prevail. The maintenance program guides the interaction of plant departments as they carry out mutually-supporting procedures. Warehousing and purchasing, for example, will specify procedures to obtain materials while maintenance will include these procedures in its own program to ensure they are understood, coordinated, and followed.

Constructing the program

Program definition begins with the plant manager. He should make certain his operating plan meshes with the company’s mission. His operating plan should state how he wishes departments to work together efficiently and productively by providing them with specific objectives. He then would provide policies to amplify the objectives. From his policies, departments would develop the interlocking procedures that make the plant’s maintenance program work efficiently (Fig. 1).

The plant manager must create an inter-department working environment in which maintenance can succeed. His policy should state, “I want a logical, well-defined program from maintenance that fits my operating plan, and I want all plant personnel to understand it, support it, and make it work.”

Defining the program is a joint effort of all departments. How to withdraw stock materials is as important as how to schedule PM services. The participation among departments clarifies procedures and objectives so that the total plant work force is better informed and more helpful. This interdepartmental participation assures better future performance.

This joint effort in developing the program assures that the objectives of quality work, higher productivity, lower costs, and consistently reliable equipment will be attained. The essential interaction of departments is illustrated in the table “Typical Maintenance-Operations Interaction.”

The process of program definition requires that each program element be considered. Therefore, it should be a composite action of all departments. As they work together, maintenance crews, equipment operators, supervisors, and staff personnel (like planners, warehouse personnel, and purchasing agents) should confer as the procedures for each department are explained and added to the program. This collaboration assures the practicality and workability of the final program.

Once the program has been documented, all personnel should be educated. Education must include everyone in the maintenance work force, all operations personnel, and staff. Plant managers should make a special effort to participate in and observe the discussion between departments as they test out and commit to the procedures necessary to carry out the plant’s operating plan. Pertinent questions should be answered promptly and correctly. Those giving the instruction should be aware that their preliminary program definition may require clarification. As a result, recommendations with merit from their listeners should be welcomed and encouraged.

When explanation of the program definition is being given, adhere to the chain of command so that those responsible for work control (supervisors or team leaders) will be addressing their own crews. Plant managers should monitor the educational process and then measure how effectively the new program helps improve performance.

Successful implementation of any maintenance strategy will require plant personnel to rethink how they will perform maintenance. They also will consider how to best use modern management techniques, new technologies, and information to achieve greater equipment reliability and capacity. Thus, the act of defining the maintenance program is an opportunity to change thinking and align responsibilities to apply the new program elements. In the process of defining the program, greater participation is encouraged and commitments are secured as a result of better understanding.


Following over 35 years of observing and evaluating the industrial maintenance landscape, we have found countless situations of poor maintenance management and performance directly traceable to the lack of a solid, coherent maintenance program.

No program means little help from other departments. Maintenance is not a stand-alone effort. To be successful, it requires the guidance of management, the cooperation of operations customers, and the support of staff departments such as purchasing or warehousing. Only the plant manager with his operating plan, clear objectives, and policies can assure this cooperation and support. But he must ensure that maintenance has the essential foundation—a solid program.

Plant managers play a vital role in the success of maintenance. Their operating plan must assign mutually supporting objectives to each department. For example, a production department that fails to make equipment available to maintenance for necessary scheduled maintenance so it can meet its production targets undermines overall plant performance. Plant managers must make production responsible for effective use of maintenance services and hold it accountable.

The managers’ policies must reach into maintenance as well. For example, the plant manager who insists that “PM takes precedence over every type of work except a bona-fide emergency” will be rewarded with high PM compliance, sufficient planned work, quality work, and acceptable downtime levels.

Most operations and staff departments want to help maintenance. But, if there is no well-defined maintenance program, those who must assist do not know how to help. Maintenance has violated an essential axiom: “If you want someone to help you, step one is to tell them how.” That is a primary objective of the maintenance program.

Common failures

Numerous maintenance organizations have failed in attempts to organize teams or implement strategies such as RCM or TPM because they have not yet mastered the fundamentals required to successfully make these changes. Effective teams and employee empowerment do not simply happen. They happen only after clear, logical management oversight is provided and a meaningful program is created to guide interactions. Only then are the initiatives and progressive thinking of team organizations and empowered employees realized. In every instance those organizations failing are the same ones who lack a well-defined program.

Plant managers are often inclined to leave maintenance alone unless something goes astray. Many feel that a maintenance supervisor with 20 years experience must know what he is about. Yet, the incumbent supervisor, while he means well and is conscientious, may still think the same way he did as a craftsman. “Making the equipment run again” may be his primary objective. Working out the overall program and all of the ramifications that go with it may be his least concern. Too often, if a well-defined maintenance program is to happen at all, the plant manager must insist on it.

Pay attention to the program definition

A well-defined and effective maintenance program spells out the interaction of all departments as they request or identify work, classify it to determine the best reaction, plan selected work to ensure it is accomplished efficiently, and schedule the work to ensure it is performed at the best time with the most effective use of resources. In addition, the maintenance program specifies how work is assigned to personnel in a way that assures each person has a full shift of bona fide work. Then, as work is performed, the program establishes work control procedures to ensure quality work, completed on time. In addition, the program specifies how completed work is measured to ensure timely completion, under budget with quality results. The maintenance program also should prescribe a means of periodic evaluations to identify and prioritize improvement needs.

The key words in the maintenance program, noted in the section “Elements of an Effective Maintenance Program,” are request, identify, classify, plan, schedule, assign, control, measure and assess work. Each of these elements must answer the questions of who, what, how, when, and why. Let’s examine each program element:

• Request work. This task is carried out primarily by production personnel. However, anyone can request work with a modern electronic work order system.

• Identify work. Work identification is a primary objective of the preventive maintenance program. However, the examination of repair history, cost assessment, or the need to comply with safety or regulatory matters are other sources of work identification. In turn, the work order system is used to convey newly identified work into the maintenance program where it is classified, planned, scheduled, assigned, controlled, completed, and measured.

• Classify work. Is the newly requested or identified work an emergency repair, work that should be planned, or is it not maintenance at all but, instead, construction? The maintenance program should define the various categories of work and spell out actions to be taken if the new work is nonmaintenance, an emergency, or work requiring planning, for example.

• Plan work. There should be criteria for determining which work will be planned and scheduled. Criteria ensure the most effective use of planners and, concurrently, define work that is the sole responsibility of maintenance field personnel. The program should spell out the planning steps and the use of the work order system in planning. In addition, the supporting roles of the warehouse and purchasing should be described. Planning details also should prescribe the use of standards to support periodic tasks such as component replacements or overhauls. Some organizations insist that all jobs go through the planner. In most instances, this arrangement has resulted from a population of supervisors reluctant to use the computer. Typically, an emergency repair funneled through the planner guarantees that the equipment will deteriorate further by the time the job reaches the crew who must make the repair. In virtually every instance of this practice, the planner becomes the work order administrator who is soon overcome with the volume of jobs for which he must prepare work orders. Soon little planning takes place. Alternately, clerks are designated as planners and consider work order administration as job security.

• Schedule work. Scheduling is a joint production-maintenance activity. Its objective is to negotiate the best future time for completing major planned jobs or static PM services to guarantee least interference with production and the best use of maintenance resources—especially labor. The approved schedule then becomes a contract between production to make the equipment available and maintenance to complete the work. Subsequently, schedule compliance should be reported up to plant manager level. The program should detail all of these steps.

• Assign work. Every craftsman should have a full shift of ready-to-be-performed, bona fide work. In the case of nonplanned work, a craftsman should be expected to obtain the necessary stock materials with the same skill level that he selects the right tool for the job. The procedure for making work assignments should be specified and the duties of the supervisor as well as the craftsman prescribed in completing work and reporting associated field data.

• Control work. Work can be controlled in a number of ways. For a large planned job involving numerous craftsmen, the presence of the supervisor at the job site contributes to the best control. Jobs performed by individuals are best controlled with frequent progress reports to the supervisor. Control is also exercised indirectly. Progress on a long-term job such as an overhaul may be monitored by observing current reports, for example. The end result of good work control is manifested by timely completion, work quality, high productivity, on-target costs and, in the long term, reliable equipment.

• Measure work. When major work has been completed, cost and performance should be measured. Individual job costs are summarized by work order and, in the case of planned work, actual costs are contrasted with job estimates. Job performance is measured in both single jobs as well as a multitude of jobs. With single planned jobs, timely completion, man-hour utilization, and work quality are important. With multiple jobs, schedule compliance, for example, is a very significant measure of performance.

• Evaluate (long term). A regular evaluation procedure is the best guarantee of continuous improvement. The first step of any improvement effort must be an evaluation to identify activities requiring improvement and prioritize their impact on improvement objectives. Not to evaluate before attempting an improvement project invites guesswork and frustration. A failed improvement effort is virtually guaranteed.

Program documentation

A maintenance program can be documented using several different techniques. However, the readability of the final product and how well it conveys the details of the program to the plant work force should be the criteria. A thick notebook filled with verbiage is unlikely to be read. A schematic diagram showing actual personnel as they perform program tasks with a legend explaining each action is more effective in explaining the program and as a reference while personnel work out any inconsistencies (Fig. 2). Definition must be good enough so that a person of equal qualifications of any incumbent can step in, follow the program, and achieve equally good results.

No program is final. A technique that allows easy modification is best. Program definition must establish that maintenance does what it says it will do.

Paul D. Tomlingson, author of the book Equipment Management–Breakthrough Maintenance Management Strategy for the 21st Century, is principal, Paul D. Tomlingson Associates, Inc., Management Consultants, 1905 Glencoe Street, Denver, CO 80220; (303) 377-5585


Typically, a well-defined and effective maintenance program spells out the interaction of all departments as they request or identify work, classify it to determine the best reaction, plan selected work to ensure it is accomplished efficiently, and schedule the work to ensure it is performed at the best time with the most effective use of resources. In addition, the maintenance program specifies how work is assigned to personnel in a way that assures each person has a full shift of bona-fide work. Then, as work is performed, the program establishes work control procedures to ensure quality work, completed on time. In addition, the program specifies how completed work is measured to ensure timely completion, under budget with quality results. The maintenance program also should prescribe a means of periodic evaluations to identify and prioritize improvement needs.

The following standards can be used to evaluate a maintenance program.

1. Maintenance has a well-defined program.

2. The program prescribes effective ways to identify new work using preventive or predictive maintenance services, analysis of repair history, costs, etc.

3. Clear procedures are prescribed for requesting new work.

4. The maintenance program specifies how nonmaintenance work such as construction, new equipment installation, or major equipment modifications will be submitted, assessed, funded, and carried out.

5. The program has defined what “maintenance” consists of to eliminate any confusion with other work it might do such as construction.

6. As part of its program definition, maintenance has defined everyday terminology. It has, for example, explained the difference between a rebuild and an overhaul or between corrective maintenance and modification.

7. Within the program, maintenance has carefully defined the workload. Workload elements such as emergency repairs, preventive maintenance services, or planned/scheduled maintenance have been defined, agreed upon, and published.

8. There are criteria for determining which work will be planned and scheduled. Criteria ensure the most effective use of planners and, concurrently, define work that is the sole responsibility of maintenance field personnel.

9. Procedures for scheduling are prescribed.

10. The maintenance program prescribes how work will be assigned to maintenance personnel and states clear objectives. A typical objective might be, for example, to ensure that each maintenance person has a full shift of realistic, bona fide, ready-to-work jobs assigned to him or her.

11. Information required to carry out the maintenance program and control work properly is prescribed by the maintenance program. For example, the use of repair history or cost reports is prescribed to help identify new work. Similarly, the program might specify how the backlog is used to help determine whether maintenance is keeping up with the generation of new work.

12. Methods of controlling on-going work are prescribed by the maintenance program. For example, on-site work control by supervisors, team leaders, lead men, or others is prescribed. In addition, field reporting procedures are prescribed for personnel working on their own or working in a team environment.

13. The program prescribes how completed work will be measured to ensure timely finish, within budget, against standards with quality results.

14. The maintenance program includes procedures whereby maintenance performance can be evaluated to identify improvement needs, prioritize them, and carry out improvement actions.

15. The maintenance program has been explained to all plant personnel to enable them to support it effectively.

16. The maintenance program has been sufficiently well-documented so that a person of equal qualifications to any incumbent can follow the program details and deliver performance equal to the incumbent.

17. Implementation of maintenance strategies such as total productive maintenance (TPM) or reliability centered maintenance (RCM) is preceded by verification that maintenance fundamentals and use of information are effective.

Maintenance performance standards for 13 other maintenance activities can be downloaded from the author’s Web site

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Fig. 1. The plant manager’s operating plan derives from the company’s mission. In turn, the operating plan specifies objectives for each department and amplifies them with pertinent policies. From these policies, individual departments establish procedures on how they provide or receive services. Then, the procedures are arranged into a program spelling out who does what, how, when, and why; an information system is added to provide control; and the best organization is determined and implemented.

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Fig. 2. Process diagram depicts the preventive maintenance portion of the maintenance program. Elements of the process: 1. Scheduling of preventive maintenance services is determined by the information system. 2. Services on equipment due are either static (require shutdown) or dynamic (done while running). 3. Static services are integrated into the weekly schedule and operations advised of the approved, scheduled shutdown times. 4. Dynamic services are done at the discretion of the maintenance supervisor. 5. The maintenance supervisor assigns services to individual crew members. 6. Services are performed by crew members. 7. Crew members confer with operators to learn about actual equipment condition. 8. Operators assist according to checklist instructions. 9. Operations supervisors are advised of new deficiencies by the crew member. 10. Deficiencies are then reviewed by the maintenance supervisor and the crew member and converted into work as follows: 11. Emergency repairs—Supervisor assigns at first opportunity. 12. Work to be planned—Supervisor forwards to planner. 13. Unscheduled repairs—Crew member enters in work order system as new work.

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