2014 Management

Don’t Procrastinate, Innovate: What Maintenance Controls and What It Manages

Ken Bannister | August 28, 2014


Traditionally, maintenance departments have been marked as scapegoats within their respective organizations. As a consequence, they may have found themselves on the receiving end of unsolicited blame for production slowdowns and losses, excess spending of corporate profits, and unfairly referred to as a “necessary evil.”

Although there could sometimes be elements of truth in such allegations, the majority of blame is unfounded. What I find remarkable is the frequent inability of the maintenance department to combat these idle remarks with irrefutable evidence that exposes the true causal factors leading to asset failure and resource waste within plants and facilities.

Recognizing “who” and “what” failure-cause factors requires an intimate understanding of the difference between what maintenance controls versus what it must manage on a daily basis. Even with a well-implemented work-management system, many maintenance departments are still unable to define or report on this fundamental difference.

Understand what you control vs. manage

In her groundbreaking 2006 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. The pattern of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles and positions.”

Based on Wheatley’s premise, if a maintenance department is to be truly successful in its mission to provide adequate levels of equipment reliability and availability according to pre-defined service-level agreements, goals and expectations, it must strive to establish healthy working relationships on two levels:

  1. Inter-departmental relationships between clerical staff, trades, planners, schedulers, supervisors and managers; and
  2. Intra-departmental relationships between the maintenance group and its client base that can include production, purchasing, accounting, human resources, finance, IT and outside relationships with suppliers, contract specialist, consultants, etc.

Building and understanding these vital relationships calls for innovative thinking that borrows from the production-management handbook to build a modified value stream (also known as a material and information flow model). Modified for our purposes, this model diagrammatically maps out the upstream inputs that flow into the maintenance department against the downstream output deliverables it provides as part of its mandate to clients. These value streams are built on two levels:

1. Department Level.
This is a high-level map designed to identify the internal corporate groups and external groups that provide inputs to the maintenance department, balanced against the internal and external groups maintenance must provide output deliverables to. Often, the input side is identical to the output side with maybe a few exceptions; these are the relationships the maintenance department must manage on a daily basis.

2. Relationship Level.
This defines in detail each individual internal inter/intra-departmental, and external relationship through the identification of the material and information flow required to perform each specific function performed by the maintenance department on a daily basis. this includes asset life-cycle management, work-order management, inventory management, document and record management, contractual management, invoice reconciliation with similar tasks. Input requirements and output deliverables are analyzed and expressed in terms of requests, specific documents, access, agreements, legislative requirements, services (labor, skills), products (parts/tools), funding, etc.

The value stream Input/Output maps allow the maintenance department and its partners or clients to clearly see who maintenance relies on (upstream inputs) to perform its business. They will also show who relies on the maintenance department (downstream deliverables) for the well-being of their operations.

Not only does this exercise identify where efforts overlap between different departments and job positions, it highlights duplication and pinpoints critical relationships that can “bottleneck” the maintenance department’s ability to deliver on service agreements. (These types of relationships often are not within the control of maintenance but must still be managed.) For example, a maintenance manager is responsible for managing all equipment repairs, but is not always able to control access to the equipment (production), access to parts (purchasing), or access to funds (management, accounting), and must rely on a mutual working relationship with others to deliver on the maintenance mandate. Value mapping truly highlights the tangible value of the maintenance department and each position within it.

Track what you control vs. manage

Tracking what you control requires the maintenance department to keep two sets of books. When all labor and parts are accounted for in the CMMS, the CMMS automatically tracks the total cost of maintenance—or the sum of what the maintenance department controls and manages.

Maintenance is mandated to do work, regardless of how it comes about. When maintenance performs work caused by elements not under its control (such as vandalism or graffiti; operator abuse; production’s use of poor-quality or out-of-spec raw materials; or lack of access to perform basic preventive maintenance) and the equipment fails prematurely, the failures should be classified as non-maintenance-related. Identifying these types of incidents for what they are is as simple as coding the work order as a “non-maintenance related failure” upon completion of the job.

When maintenance could have prevented a failure (such as over- or under-lubricating a bearing; not using inferior parts; not repairing something it knew would fail before the failure occurred) should be classified as “maintenance-related failures.” Denoting them as such helps maintenance be more in tune with failure and better identify root causes. Maintenance teams can also leverage this information to either build enhanced preventive strategies or develop reports for client discussion on how to improve and better manage an asset by working together as a team.

This approach is also applicable in managing contract maintenance providers, especially in cases when a contractor arrives late and stalls a production process longer than expected. Capturing all wait time (from proposed start time to actual start time) against a standing work order for a specific contractor can pinpoint the total number of hours that production was delayed due to the service provider’s tardiness. This type of report can be used in service-level discussions with the contractor and the production department—both of which are reflective of non-maintenance-controlled issues.

Filtering out all of the non-maintenance failures and issues gives maintenance a second set of figures for identifying areas that are directly under its control. That ability, in turn, can help the department better depict the efficiency and effectiveness of its efforts.

Armed with new, more relevant information, a maintenance department can manage itself in a more positive manner, with full open disclosure. On one hand, it will be better equipped to recognize and pursue opportunities that increase its own effectiveness. Conversely, the department will be able to develop more reasonable service level agreements with its clients based on realistic relationship deliverables. That’s because the input side of the equation can finally be calculated in tangible terms, thus leading to a higher level of cooperation in areas that maintenance really does not control. Good luck!





Ken Bannister

Ken Bannister

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