Achieving World-Class Maintenance Status

EP Editorial Staff | November 2, 2006

1106_maintenancestrategies_img1What does such a designation really mean, and how do you derive the type of performance standards that let you know when you have arrived?

“World-class” performance marks an organization as a leader in its industry and sets it apart as the ultimate achiever. But, what is world class and, how can it be achieved? Is there a “yardstick” by which an industrial organization can measure the relative performance of its maintenance activity and compare it with performance levels that universally identify world-class status? Are there financial formulas, achievements, evaluation techniques, or indices that provide this yardstick?

The challenge is to determine what constitutes a world-class maintenance organization and then derive a specific set of performance standards that, if honestly met, universally identify the qualifying organization as worldclass within its type of industry (food processing, mining, pulp and paper etc.).

Most maintenance organizations admit a need to improve.With worldclass performance as a target, they should take steps to assess their current performance status and to determine what they must improve to meet the target. Evaluation is the first step of improvement. An evaluation establishes the current performance level by identifying those activities needing improvement as well as those being performed well.

The evaluation results are the basis of the improvement plan in which specific improvements are accurately identified and priorities established. The improvement plan sets forth the procedures for implementing improvements, monitoring their success and assigning improvement responsibilities.

The most important byproducts of a well-conceived and effectively conducted evaluation will be: (1) the education of personnel about specific improvements and their purpose; and (2) obtaining their genuine commitment to help achieve the desired improvements.

Evaluating against standards
An effective evaluation must compare the demonstrated performance of the organization against a comprehensive set of standards that are consistent with the type of industrial maintenance organization being assessed. The evaluation procedure should be an established management practice that initially sets the organization’s as-is performance level and then, at regular intervals, measures progress toward meeting the standards.

1106_maintenancestrategies_img2There are differences in applicable performance standards among types of industries and the environments in which they operate (a food processing plant versus an underground coal mine, for example, or an industrial plant versus a commercial or institutional campus).

The inevitable question is what standards and who says they are the right ones? In an era when maintenance people in the same organization even have trouble agreeing on what constitutes preventive maintenance or whether modifications should be capitalized, establishing the right standards by which an industrial organization can evaluate itself is a task that requires full, across-the-plant participation. But, if done well, the result will be the right evaluation technique that accurately points the way to improvement— and world class status (see Fig. 1.) Developing the right standards is a task that must precede any evaluation effort that compares current performance against them. The standards must be based on a well-conceived, fully documented, well-understood, and effectively executed maintenance program.

Evaluating in context
Successful maintenance is not a stand-alone activity. Nor will any plant operation achieve world-class status if the perception is that maintenance can improve without the help of every department. The determination of whether world-class maintenance status is met must include a broad examination of every aspect of plant operation that affects maintenance performance.

Using consultants
We often think of consultants as evaluators. They can be neutral third parties with experience in various types of operations. But, their evaluation could come with a huge price tag and might cause prolonged disruption of plant operations. Plants should choose wisely if they want consultants to evaluate them.

If a plant uses a consultant for evaluation, plant personnel might become spectators rather than participants in the evaluation process. Thus, employees’ unique, pertinent and factual knowledge of actual plant circumstances could be overlooked.Despite their willingness to contribute information that affects their own futures, employees may instead resist the consultant’s improvement recommendations.

Yet, there are other evaluation techniques, just as effective as those provided by consultants, that are less disruptive and costly and capable of producing reliable results.

Using plant personnel
A self-evaluation, assuming it contains the right standards, has considerable, direct improvement potential. Personnel know the plant well. They are familiar with people in other departments and how they must interact successfully. As they rate the standards, they are likely to be frank and objective in identifying and prioritizing actions or procedures that should be changed or improved.

The plant population has the performance facts. A cross-section of plant personnel rating maintenance against a series of performance standards can be effective. Such evaluations should touch on everything from plant management to production cooperation to staff department support to preventive maintenance, planning, scheduling, and effective use of information.

If that cross-section consists of managers from all departments that interact with maintenance, it is possible to obtain a good picture of actual performance. Moreover, if each group is represented by a vertical slice of its personnel, the results should be even better.

Most importantly, the self-evaluation allows dedicated, skilled craftsmen and others to participate in the assessment process. They seize the opportunity to offer frank and objective assessments knowing that otherwise they might never have been asked.

They know that they are going to be directly affected by the potentially beneficial outcome they visualize. They concurrently make a genuine commitment to help implement changes they see as practical and necessary.Unlike spectators to third-party evaluations by consultants or employees who simply observe the irate plant manager’s demand for more planning, participants in self-evaluation can impact their own futures directly- and they know it.

When all of the responses of the cross-section of the plant population are combined, the result is a reliable assessment with specific insights into the right corrective actions.

Benchmarking is the “systematic process of searching for best practices, innovative ideas, and highly effective procedures that lead to superior performance.”1

In short, a benchmark is a standard by which others may be measured. The goal is to answer the perennial question, “What is it that other organizations do to get results so much better than ours?”2

There is much to be said for the benefits of learning from the experiences of others and adapting them to one’s own situation. This can save time, avoid trial and error, or speed up the process of change. But, benchmarking alone will not bring about the improvement necessary to achieve world-class performance. Benchmarking is helpful along the pathway to world-class performance status, but only in a supporting role.3

Using KPIs
Serious flaws exist in the prevailing notion that key performance indices (KPI’s) are an effective performance measurement tool and that actions based on their results can help a maintenance organization achieve world-class performance status. Key performance indices are useful in revealing a trend toward realizing a visualized performance target. However, unless the monitoring organization can verify the validity of the ingredient data, the resulting indices may be suspect. Agreement on which performance indices best reveal actual circumstances can be difficult and the logic for their inclusion questioned. Inconsistencies abound. For example, one popular index is the amount of work that a maintenance organization plans. Preventive maintenance, for instance, is often considered to be planned and scheduled. In reality,PM services were planned when the PM program was initially developed. Thus,PM services are repetitively scheduled, not planned on a week-to-week basis as is other work embraced by this index. Therefore, the interpretation of indices must be established with care.

While a typical manager who looks at an array of performance indices can observe relative scores, he often cannot direct a specific corrective action as a result. By contrast, an evaluation technique built on a cross-section of plant personnel rating a series of appropriate, pertinent performance standards will identify exactly what is in need of improvement and establish the proper corrective actions-by urgency and priority.

Performance indices are often limited to examining only direct maintenance activities, like planning,without assessing underlying factors that influence the success of planning, such as the quality of material support provided by warehousing or purchasing.

From the plant manager’s view, the contrast between looking at indices and reviewing the details of a wellconceived self-evaluation is the difference between looking out the window to guess how you are doing versus “management by walking around.”

A self-evaluation against a series of pertinent standards provides a wide range of interested, knowledgeable plant employees with the opportunity to report accurately on improvements they know are necessary. Moreover, these participants also are making an initial, genuine commitment to help achieve the improvements they have accurately identified and prioritized with their ratings.

The plant manager is the direct recipient of this performance information from his own people. They are the best source of information and their futures are directly affected by their correct identification of the right improvements and their commitment to successful implementation.Accordingly, the manager can be confident in acting on their recommendations.

Evaluation frequency
The repetition of weekly indices soon loses it appeal. Such procedures often get off to an enthusiastic start but quickly deteriorate into a “pencil whipping” exercise that is soon abandoned. Problems revealed in this week’s index are seldom able to be acted on in the short interval. By contrast, a self-evaluation procedure applied at longer intervals (every six months, for example) is less intrusive and something people can look forward to.

Following the initial effort, a periodic repeat of the evaluation acts as a report card on improvement progress. This report card should be welcomed, because it represents the progress made by the same personnel who identified necessary improvements at the start of the self-evaluation process.

Laying the foundation
For maintenance departments without a well-defined and effective maintenance program (see Sidebar), life is difficult. Developing standards is out of the question, and attempts to adopt advanced strategies like reliability centered maintenance (RCM) or total productive maintenance (TPM) fail most of the time. Similarly, implementation of modern techniques for improving equipment reliability likely will fail as well.

Keep in mind that the fundamentals of maintenance management are never mastered. A totally reactionary maintenance organization can never hope to achieve world-class status. But, the organization that has a well-defined program can establish the standards it must meet and, with an established self-evaluation procedure,move toward and achieve world-class status. That organization will yield reliable equipment consistently and help guarantee effective plant operation and the satisfaction and profitability associated with world-class status.

An evaluation that covers hundreds of performance standards, all rated by a cross-section of knowledgeable, caring plant personnel, will help propel maintenance toward positive corrective actions leading to the real attainment of world-class status. Repetitions of the evaluation at thoughtful intervals act to measure interim improvement progress toward that goal. MT

1. Christopher E. Bogan and Michael J. English, Benchmarking for Best Practices- Winning Through Innovative Adaptation, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, pgs. 1-2.

2. Juran, J.M., Quality Control Handbook, New York, McGraw-Hill, pgs. 95-96.

3. Tomlingson, Paul D., Equipment Management-Breakthrough Maintenance Management Strategy for the 21st Century, Kendall-Hunt, 1998, pgs. 479-486.

Paul D. Tomlingson is the principal consultant of Paul D. Tomlingson Associates, Inc., based in Denver, CO. He is a veteran of 38 years of world-wide maintenance management consulting. E-mail him directly at

Defining The Maintenance Program

The maintenance program is the soul of the overall maintenance effort. It defines the basics of what maintenance does, who does what, how they do it, and why. When the program is well conceived, fully documented and clearly understood across the operation, it will be effectively executed and produce quality results. By sharp contrast, a maintenance department uncertain of these basics cannot determine how it will organize or even select the right information system—much less use it effectively. The end result is a totally reactionary maintenance effort.

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.

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 should also prescribe a means of periodic evaluations to identify and prioritize improvement needs.

A quality maintenance program is fundamental to the development of performance standards and to the ultimate success of maintenance. Regrettably, few maintenance organizations have such programs, fewer yet have documented them and very, very few have bothered to explain how they do their work, even to their own people. Customers in operations and supporting departments such as warehousing guess at what is expected of them, fail to be of proper assistance to maintenance and, in exasperation, usually ask, ‘what program’. Plant managers often express the same frustration.




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