The Value of Reliability-Driven Partnership Work Systems

Kathy | March 1, 2007

When Operations, Maintenance and Engineering take this commonsense approach, it’s a win-win-win situation.

In poorly performing plants, it is typical for Operations, Maintenance and Engineering organizations to work in silos without much cooperation. The traditional view in these plants is that the Maintenance organization delivers service to its customer-which is Operations. The Engineering organization is called “the black hole,” where requests for drawing and other documentation updates disappear, and input on design by Maintenance and Production is not included when new equipment is specified and procured. This traditional view doesn’t make much sense, as the results of maintenance work are not service. Services are the resources the organization uses to deliver equipment reliability and asset preservation.

0307_reliability_idcon1One common observation in best manufacturing organizations is that Operations, Maintenance and Engineering work in a close partnership. They view reliable production as their common goal.

The Maintenance organization delivers equipment reliability; the Operations organization delivers process reliability; the Engineering organization designs and procures equipment based on lowest Life-Cycle Cost (LCC) instead of lowest purchase price. As noted in Fig. 1, effective Life-Cycle Costing is an outcome of reliability-driven partnership work systems. LCC considers total cost of ownership for acquisition, installation, operations and maintenance, energy, scrapping, etc. Reliability and maintainability requirements are included in early Engineering specifications with involvement from both Operations and Maintenance organizations.

Harvesting the benefits
Many organizations agree on the principles of a partnership work system-but seldom implement the changes aggressively enough to harvest the benefits. Most of these organizations are under the illusion that they already work in partnership, therefore they do nothing with respect to true implementation. Today, though, plants simply can’t afford not to implement a partnership work system. The potential savings are too big to be ignored. Yet, the decision to implement a partnership work system frequently must come from the site-manager level or above. The rest of the organization often is gridlocked and protective of their old roles.

Table I summarizes some maintenancerelated differences between traditional servicefocused organizations and those based on a partnership work system driven by reliability performance.

Moving from gridlock into a position that allows an operation to harvest the many benefits of a partnership work system requires several things.

First of all, your plant manager must believe that implementing partnership work practices is the right thing to do, because it improves the plant’s competitiveness and because the plant can’t afford not to do it. It is imperative to understand that the shift to partnership practices is not a revolution, but rather more of an evolution through implementation of a lot of common sense. As such, it does not need to take a long time or cost a lot of capital dollars.

Recommended implementation steps…
If much of what you have read in this article makes sense, you now need to sell these ideas to key people in your organization. You often can speed up this process by assembling Operations, Maintenance and Engineering to present and discuss these ideas. Because the principles are based on common sense, there is a very good chance that acceptance will be very high.

Mission statement…
It will help you to first agree on a joint mission statement between Operations and Maintenance for your Production organization. Key Operations and Maintenance leaders must develop this statement together. Start by listing some key terms that should be included in the statement (e.g. Reliable Production, Safety, Partnership). Split into a small groups to work out the wording. Review the statements you come up with several times and you will most probably come up with a mission statement you all agree to. An example could be:

“In a partnership between Operations and Maintenance, we shall safely deliver continuously improved production reliability through long-term implementation of best practices.”

Belief: Improved production reliability will decrease manufacturing costs.

The mission statements for Maintenance and Operations must be tied with the foregoing statement. For the Maintenance organization the mission statement could say:

“As an equal partner with Operations, we shall safely deliver continuously improved equipment reliability through long-term implementation of best practices.”

Belief: Improved equipment reliability will decrease maintenance costs.

The application and true use of the previous statement will drive very different work practices than if were to be worded like that of the following statement from an actual Maintenance organization:

“As a service organization to Production, we will safely provide effective services at lowest cost.”


You would be right in guessing that this organization became extremely cost-driven. The Maintenance manager focused on cutting the cost of his function year after year. He did exactly what was asked by his manager, and followed the mission statement-to the letter. The easiest way to cut maintenance costs was to defer maintenance work and that was what he did. After two years, however, maintenance costs began to rise drastically and reliability decreased. In the end, this Maintenance manager was fired.

What good looks like
What does your organization look like? You might want to conduct a structured educational evaluation of your maintenance performance in order to increase awareness and let your organization discover the gap between best practices and your actual practices. This evaluation should describe your new work practices in such a way that improvements, or the lack thereof, can be measured.

As for what “good” really looks like, refer to Fig. 2.


Christer Idhammar is president and CEO of IDCON, Inc., an international reliability and maintenance consulting group, based in Raleigh, NC, since 1985, and Sweden since 1972. This article, similar to one that first appeared in Paper Age Magazine, is the subject of Idhammar’s presentation at MARTS 2007 in Rosemont, IL. For more information, e-mail: attn.






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