Preparing the Organization for Reliability Based Maintenance

Kathy | February 1, 2005

Addressing the soft side results in hard dollars

Most of our organizations have operated in a highly reactive mode for as long as anyone can remember. Most of us would say, “That’s the way it’s always been.” When we live in a world of reactive maintenance, we naturally develop a work culture that supports the reactive model. Everything about the work culture has been developed, or has evolved, to support the reactive model. A value system also has evolved to support the reactive model. Let’s look at the culture and values of the maintenance and operations organizations before the introduction of a reliability based maintenance model.

Typical operations
Maintenance supervision. A look at our maintenance supervisors will reveal some interesting insights about the work culture we have created. In our reactive model, one of the supervisor’s primary responsibilities is the immediate correction of an equipment breakdown. How many of your supervisors carry radios? Why? In general, the answer will be, “So they can respond to an emergency faster.”

Our expectation is that supervisors respond to emergencies. We have taught them that failure to respond to the emergency is unacceptable. Have you ever had a supervisor stand up at a meeting so that you could publicly recognize him or her for “saving the day” by rushing out to fix pump such and such? What were the things you remembered that went into the supervisor’s last performance appraisal? To meet the demands of the reactive maintenance environment, we expect, we promote, and we reward reactive behavior. Supervisors who do not “race into the fire” are often by-passed for promotion as personnel who do not have the right spirit.

Maintenance technicians. Our craft technicians are not immune from the reactive mentality. Listen to the war stories told around the bench or at the local watering hole. Most have the common theme of how they ran out to save the day. Here again, the rewards system has been established to recognize the “firefighter” rather than the individual who plans the work. Since most of us have grown up in an environment where equipment is expected to fail, it makes sense that we reward those who save the day with a quick fix to the problem.

Operations supervision. Is it any wonder that our operations organizations have the same mind set toward reactive maintenance as our maintenance personnel? There has always been that rivalry between operations and maintenance. Why? Simply stated, when equipment breaks down, all the operator cares about is how soon it will be restored. How much more reactive can you get? All discussions about how it broke, why it broke, or who is responsible for it breaking take a back seat to the discussion of how soon it will be fixed.

Very often it is operations personnel who are the ones pushing, pushing, pushing for equipment to be returned to service and encouraging the bubble gum and bailing wire fix that leads to a repeat failure. Of course, if it fails again, shame on maintenance.

This is a logical attitude for the operations supervisor to take. After all, the experience has been that equipment fails and maintenance “just can’t seem to get it fixed.” And all the time the equipment is down is impacting production, whether real or perceived. When production goals are not met, the first one to feel the sting is the operations personnel. Whether the equipment is vital to plant operations is not important. To operations supervision, generally, all equipment is critical. The question is always, “How soon will we get it back?”

Operations personnel. When production goals are not met, who feels the heat? Usually the first to feel it are the operators. From plant management down through operations management, the questions and criticism are heaped on the operator. From the operator’s perspective, every minute that maintenance has the machine down is an extra minute of heat from management. Whether an operator drove a forklift into the machine or maintenance failed to fix a routine problem, the operator now perceives the problem to be a “maintenance problem.” Once the problem is out of their control, operators claim not to be responsible. And in many organizations, rightly so.

As we move toward a more proactive maintenance philosophy, the culture we start with is firmly entrenched in a reactive mode. The expectations, attitudes, and even the rewards system have evolved to support the reactive world we have grown up with. How will we change? What can we do to change the mindset we have worked so hard to create?

Reactions to change
For most people, change is bad. They may not openly state that change is bad, but there is an aversion to change nevertheless. We are all creatures of habit. We are comfortable when we can predict how a situation will play out. We feel secure in familiar surroundings. As leaders of our organizations, we must recognize and acknowledge these facts. And more than that, we must be prepared to deal with them.

Maintenance supervisors. Let’s face it. Working in the truly proactive work place can be pretty boring. Especially if your whole working life has been filled with the challenge and excitement of fighting fires—and winning. The other reality of the transition to a proactive maintenance environment is that it generally starts with the equipment in relatively poor condition.

When now confronted with an organizational change to a proactive work environment, the usual reaction of supervisors who have generally been on the forefront of the fire fighting is “it’ll never work.” The supervisors actually are key personnel as to whether the change from reactive to proactive maintenance will work.

After a proactive model has been started, the first thing the supervisor typically sees is an increase in the amount of work on his or her plate. The scheduler does a great job in building the schedule for all hours available for each supervisor, just like the book says. However, the material condition of the equipment results in continued breakdowns that must be addressed by the supervisor. Since for most proactive models planners have been told that they do not get involved with reactive work, the supervisor can no longer count on help from his or her buddies in planning and he is on his own to “put out the fire.” The supervisor may not even know how to actually order parts since that task was likely something the planner had been performing.

Since a proactive model has been instituted, there are probably metrics established around such items as schedule compliance and/or percentage of hours on scheduled work. With the supervisor still fighting fires and often spending more time doing it due to lack of help from planners, the level of frustration quickly rises. The cry of “it’ll never work” quickly becomes, “I told you it wouldn’t work.” If this is uttered in front of the wrong audience (craft or operators), it could quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maintenance technicians. The reaction by craft technicians to a change to proactive maintenance practices is slightly different. In our reactive world, craft technicians were often the ones “planning” the job—planning in the sense that they needed to visit the work site, determine how the work should be done, identify parts and tools required, etc. To be honest, this was often the only way a task could be planned. If the equipment had been allowed to run to hard failure, it was necessary to open and inspect the equipment to determine what parts were required. In our proactive world, with detailed planning and scheduling, the craft/technicians are given work orders that contain parts lists and tool lists and work execution instructions.

One of the common reactions we hear is, “Why are they giving me this? I know how to do my job!” Another common reaction is, “How does the planner know what needs to be done?” There is a measure of truth to both reactions. Even if we are identifying work earlier in our proactive model and not waiting for hard failure to initiate repair, there may be some collateral damage to the equipment and the parts identified on a planned work order may not be complete. And our technicians generally do know their jobs but do not consider the inefficiency that the “open and inspect” approach contains.

The craft technicians also may react to what they perceive as disorganization. If they are being assigned to scheduled work and routinely pulled off that work to address reactive problems, they are likely to see this as disorganization on the part of maintenance management. If their supervisors are also crying “I told you it would never work” then the perception of disorganization is reinforced.

Operations personnel. The reaction to the proactive model by operations personnel is generally the same, whether they are supervisors or operators. Their reaction is based on the “training” and expectations we have set for them in the past. As stated earlier, operations has been accustomed to maintenance rushing out to fight the fire. Whatever the problem, no matter what piece of equipment, maintenance would respond to the urgent requests.

Now in a proactive world, where equipment has been ranked according to its criticality to operations, maintenance, environment, safety, and quality, operations may be told that it has to wait while maintenance addresses a more critical piece of equipment that is exhibiting signs of an impending failure. Remember, to most operations personnel, the most critical piece of equipment is the one that is bothering them right now. Having to wait while maintenance works on a piece of equipment that is not even broken yet is unthinkable.

The other typical reaction for operations personnel involves the reluctance to lock out/tag out equipment for maintenance when the equipment is still available for production. After so many years of reacting to the equipment when it dictates maintenance activity, it is a difficult transition to responding to maintenance requests when the equipment is not broken. To most operations personnel, the idea of voluntarily shutting down production equipment is foreign to everything they believe. Besides, the last time maintenance told them the machine would be down for an hour, it was more like 4 hours. No matter how convincing the arguments for the benefits of proactive maintenance, the operations mindset is likely more influenced by its past experience. This is especially true if the culture at the site held operations responsible for production downtime, no matter what the cause.

Senior management. The reaction of more senior plant officials is sometimes the most confusing. After all, it is likely that these are the individuals who have driven the change to a proactive maintenance strategy. It is their budget dollars that are fueling the change. However, these are the individuals who very often have the largest negative impact on the success of the move to proactive maintenance.

While the business case for proactive maintenance is clear and compelling to most senior managers, they are still products of the reactive model that has always existed. Many of them probably climbed the organizational ladder on the strength of their ability to manage in the crisis or be the successful firefighter. Their cultural compass is no different than the employees who report to them.

The bad news here is that senior managers may have the greatest impact, even negative impact, on the success of the transition to proactive maintenance. Even when the senior managers have intellectually accepted the benefits of the change to proactive maintenance, they may still react to equipment failures with the knee jerk reaction they have operated on for years. When subordinates see this kind of behavior, they may easily jump to the conclusion that the move to proactive maintenance is merely the latest attempted program, the program de jour. Further attempts by senior management to persuade site personnel on the benefits of proactive maintenance will just be a waste of breath.

Preparing for change
When most organizations begin the process of moving to a proactive maintenance model, time is initially spent on very tangible acts, such as upgrading the CMMS, improving maintenance processes and procedures, rewriting preventive maintenance tasks, etc. These are the tasks that are easily defined, can be estimated and scheduled, and generally produce a very concrete result. These are the exciting new ideas and concepts that brought the organization to proactive maintenance in the first place. As these tangible tasks are completed and implementation is attempted, they are implemented into the culture we have already discussed.

Now comes the hard part. And it is the hard part because most of us would rather deal with the tangible tasks, the hard deliverables, rather than venture into the softer side of the problem.

It is imperative that when an organization embarks on the transition to proactive maintenance that the intangible soft side tasks be addressed from the very beginning of the project. Even when an organization acknowledges that there is a soft side to the process, the tendency is generally to begin with the concrete deliverables and leave the softer issues to later. In far too many instances, later never arrives.

As good project managers, we all recognize the need to develop a logical and reasonable project plan before the project begins. Moving toward a proactive maintenance model should be addressed like any other project in this regard. Included in your project plan should be the time and necessary budget to address the soft side issues of implementation. These line items in the project plan should receive the same level of importance and the same attention to detail that any other task in the project plan receives.

Placing the soft side items in the project plan and schedule allows you to “see” their role in the overall implementation strategy. It also helps to keep them in front of you. As stated previously, these types of tasks are easy to push off. They are pushed off not because they are viewed as unimportant but because they are often the more difficult to deal with.

Start with the vision
Moving from the reactive environment that has existed in our plants to a proactive maintenance strategy represents such a dramatic change in how we do business that it takes a strong commitment by the entire organization. A deep understanding of what that commitment means must exist across the whole organization.

One of the most important actions senior management can take at the beginning of the change to proactive maintenance (or any large cultural change, for that matter) is to create a vision for the organization. Create a vision of how the organization will look, behave, and interact at the end of the process. The vision also should tell the organization how it will feel to live and work in the new place. A strong vision becomes the target. The vision is the object on which the organization can focus as it moves, sometimes with faltering steps, toward the goal.

Think about the role of a clear vision. Having a clear vision brings many benefits to an organization. I am sure that many of your organizations have gone through the exercise in the past several years to revise vision statements or mission statements. But how many of these initiatives resulted in measurable benefits? All too often the answer is very few. Why is that? Our experience has shown that a vision cannot move an organization unless the organization truly believes in the vision, believes that the vision is achievable, and that there is reward to each and every individual within the organization when the vision is achieved. And remember that there should be rewards all along the way. We need not wait until the vision is achieved.

So now the question becomes, “Do you believe 100 percent in the benefits of the change to a proactive maintenance model?” If you cannot answer a resounding “yes” to that question, the road ahead may be bumpier than it needs to be.

If you answered “yes,” it is time to get started with creating the vision. Experience has shown that a multi-level team from within the organization can best perform the creation of a vision. Here multi-level means across all organizational levels from the top to the bottom. Consultants may be used to help in facilitation. But in defining the vision, the consultant’s role should be limited to facilitation so the vision does not appear as merely another product from the outside pushed on the organization.

Review the rewards system
As stated earlier, the culture in most of our organizations has rewarded success in the reactive world. This includes the tangible financial rewards including salary increases, bonuses, opportunity for promotion, etc. But it also includes some less tangible and less formal rewards systems. Was the special parking space up front reserved for the employee of the month given to the individual who found a problem before the equipment failed or to the individual who ran out and fixed it fast? Is there informal competition among the craft as to who can fix the broken whatever the fastest? Do you recognize the firefighter at staff meetings?

In the reactive work place, many of our rewards exist only because equipment fails. All of these are part of what individuals would consider the “overall” rewards package. As we transition to the proactive maintenance process, it would not be appropriate to remove all such rewards. However, there should be new rewards created that recognize outstanding performance in the area of failure prevention.

In the beginning of the process, it is well worth the time to review the organization’s formal and informal rewards system and assess how it will be perceived in the proactive environment. It may be a good time to check your personnel reward system. How do you treat the firefighter vs the individual who did something less flashy behind the scenes and prevented a failure?

It may even be appropriate to include some new rewards in the vision statement.

Communicating the vision
Our experience has shown that many proactive maintenance processes fail not because of poor implementation tools but because of the lack of a good communication plan. Simply put, no one believes that we are going to get to the vision. Success in the implementation of a proactive maintenance program is much more dependent on a good communication plan than on an effective implementation model. Your staff needs to know what you are planning to do before you announce that you are doing it. This is particularly true in bargaining unit situations. The basic rule of thumb is no surprises here.

Assuming that your vision was developed by a cross-functional team, communication of the vision to the organization should proceed fairly simply. Communications strategy may be as simple as town meetings with all personnel invited. To facilitate ownership and commitment to the vision a strategy of having teams of senior staff deliver the message to their respective departments may be employed. Whatever method is employed, a formal communication strategy should be developed and agreed to by the organization. The main purpose of being so formal with a communication strategy is to assure a consistent message is delivered to all personnel.

It cannot be understated that consistency of the message is a key element to success. So it pays to take a few minutes to look at what must be done to keep the message pure. There is no simple answer here and this may be the single most difficult part in assuring the success of your endeavors. As Jim Collins stated so well in his best-selling book “Good to Great,” you must get the right people in the right seats on your bus.

As you build your vision and as you discuss that vision with your senior staff, you must look, listen, and feel for any telltale sign that the members of your staff are not on the bus with you. You may have to go outside your staff meetings and more formal interfaces with your staff and test to see if they are saying the same things to their peers and subordinates as they are saying in front of you. We have experienced many situations where someone who is a cheerleader in front of the senior staff is a detractor outside that inner circle. This mixed message can be devastating to the success of the process.

Some of your better employees may staunchly refuse to embrace the new model of proactive maintenance. Some will voice their beliefs that the change is unnecessary or that it will not work. Some will say nothing but passively resist change. Their resistance can be as subtle as negative body language in meetings or rolling of the eyes. Whatever form the resistance takes, open or passive, it cannot be tolerated if the organization is to succeed as a whole. Using another transportation metaphor, if these detractors do not want to get on the train with you, you may have to ask them to get out of your station.

As hard as it is to say (and even harder to do), detractors may need to be coached, moved to an area of less influence, and in the extreme case removed from the organization. In most cases, the cost of moving to a proactive maintenance approach is a very expensive one for the organization. You must ask yourself if you can afford to have even a single detractor delay or even derail the process.

Listening is an important part of the communication plan you initiate. Your employees will have fears and concerns about how they are going to act in the new proactive world. With no experience to draw upon, they may not understand what will be expected of them. It is important to listen carefully to their concerns and address them.

Most employees will not be interested in the business case for the change to proactive maintenance (not that you should not share that with them). What will be of concern is what they will see each day, what their work day will consist of, how they will recognize success. You may not know the answers to some of their questions. After all, you probably have not lived in the new proactive world either. It is OK to admit that you do not have all the answers, but do not dismiss the employee concerns.

Training and mentoring
Providing training to the entire organization should be a significant part of any implementation strategy in the transition to proactive maintenance. Of course you will provide training on any of the new tools (the hard stuff) that have been developed. You will provide training on any new or revised processes and procedures that will be used in implementing proactive maintenance. This training is the way you will be communicating the organization’s expectations for behavior in the new proactive maintenance model.

But before the training on the nuts and bolts of the new model is presented, all of your employees will need to see presentations on your vision. Presenting your vision should include information on the proactive maintenance model. It is an excellent opportunity to discuss the business case for the new model and the steps that you will be taking to move toward your vision. But do not just focus on the business case.

Use the presentation to inform employees as to what they will see as you move toward the vision. Discuss any changes that you expect in organization structure and responsibilities. One of the most common misconceptions about changing to a proactive model is that it is management’s way to reduce work force size. Be prepared to address this concern.

While the training for the nuts and bolts of the new processes should be targeted to individual user group needs, the material on the vision and the business case for the new model should be consistently delivered to all employees. As stated earlier, consistency of the message is a vital element to successful implementation. This presentation is likely the first time many of the employees are learning about the new vision and the new way they will be performing their jobs. It is important that you begin with a consistent message. Who presents the message also can be important. You may elect to have your primary team share the duties of making this presentation or you may have one or two individuals make the presentation.

Whatever approach you choose, it is important that a large segment of senior management be present at each session. It is recommended that attendance at these presentations not be done in isolated work groups. A town meeting style of meeting with a broad spectrum of the organization present usually works best for two reasons. First, this method will need fewer presentations, which will aid in keeping the message consistent. Second, it gives your team an opportunity to show solidarity and support of the initiative to a larger segment of the organization, dispelling the belief that this is a maintenance initiative or this is driven down from corporate.

Since it may be difficult for employees to “see” the benefits of the proactive maintenance model, it is highly recommended that one of the available simulations be used to show the employees the benefits of the proactive model.

There can be no more powerful training tool than mentoring when trying to change an organization’s culture. Because our individual behavior is driven by the culture of our organization, individuals, when asked to change their behavior, cannot recognize that their behavior continues to model the old culture.

Mentoring allows the mentor the opportunity to coach, explain, and train by example how the new desired behavior will look. The mentored is provided with a ready ear to ask questions or just to vent frustration. Since this is likely a cultural change for both the mentor and the mentored, through the mentoring process the mentor has an opportunity to strengthen their beliefs and behaviors.

Some of the same cautions we have noted throughout this discussion need to be considered in the mentoring process as well. When choosing mentors, they must be individuals who are fully committed to the change to the proactive model. If they are not 100 percent committed, there is a distinct danger that both the mentor and the mentored will become nay-sayers. As stated earlier, this cannot be tolerated if the shift to the proactive model is to succeed in a timely manner.

Training by example
While formal training on processes, procedures, and new technologies is important, it alone will never change the culture. One of the most effective tools in cultural shift is leading by example.

We talked earlier about the importance of having all leadership personnel presenting a united front regarding the move to the proactive maintenance model. But there is more that they can be doing. While they are “walking the walk” they should take every opportunity to teach, preach, or speak about the benefits of the proactive maintenance model. If plant leadership is not only modeling the appropriate behavior but taking the time to explain why that behavior is needed, the message spreads quicker and the staff gains a better understanding of the goal for the behavior.

This training by example can and should include some new rewards for the trainees. Remember to reward an act that models the new desired behavior. But more importantly, stop rewarding the old reactive behavior. As part of the planning model, the rewards we are talking about are not the monetary ones but the more subtle ones including the pat on the back, the nominal award or prize, and the public recognition of an act that demonstrates the benefit of the proactive model.

One of the hardest parts of training by example is to be able to stay the course when the going gets a little tough. When your pet project falls behind schedule, do not work around the priority system to get the project back on track. When the “suits” are coming down from corporate, do not put in an emergency work order to install the new flagpole. Changing the culture of an organization is very much like trying to change the course of a supertanker with a rowboat. The laws of physics dictate that it is possible. The reality is that it will take constant pressure on the oars. A momentary rest and the supertanker is back on the original course. So it is with a small slip in your behavior in your quest for the proactive maintenance model.

As part of any process reengineering effort, there are metrics established to monitor the success of the implementation. The cultural change is no different. Metrics can be established that will help you evaluate if the culture is changing.

Metrics around numbers of misclassified work order priority, percentage of PM/PdM work orders written as results work, numbers of root cause analyses completed, and many others can be used to determine if your staff is in the middle of a culture change. Generally, these types of metrics are not permanent. They are in place only for as long as necessary to demonstrate that the change is taking place or has taken place.

If you subscribe to the idea that the cultural change is a vital part of the move to proactive maintenance, then it follows that these types of metrics are important as well. In the early stages of a shift to the proactive maintenance model, there are so many issues to address and so many metrics






View Comments

Sign up for insights, trends, & developments in
  • Machinery Solutions
  • Maintenance & Reliability Solutions
  • Energy Efficiency
Return to top