Column Management Work Processes Workforce

Seeking the Culture of Discipline

Klaus M. Blache | June 15, 2018

This graph shows the relationship of repair costs to various maintenance approaches. Source: “Taking the Forties Field to 2010,” R.L. Thompson, et al, BP Exploration, presented at the SPE International Offshore European Conference, Aberdeen Scotland, Sept. 1993.

Most companies want to reduce their level of reactive maintenance, yet most are too busy fighting daily plant-floor issues and struggle to find a workable path toward continual improvement.

Some are able to start in a good direction, but cannot sustain it. Others are making so much money they can’t (or won’t) stop long enough to make the necessary adjustments.

There are many reasons for this, such as focus on short-term results, lack of understanding of a reliability-based maintenance process, not enough resources to implement, not preparing a good cost justification, changes in management leadership/direction, and refusing to make an initial investment. A new maintenance/reliability initiative usually involves additional cost. This is because it requires some training, obtaining technologies and tools, and possibly obtaining expert guidance, often with a result of uncovering additional issues that need to be addressed. The accompanying chart depicts the relationship of maintenance and cost over time.

Since North America is averaging slightly more than 30% reactive maintenance, the chart is reflective of current situations. If you don’t have the revenue to get it all started, use smaller steps in targeted areas. The process changes, although difficult, will be the easier step for many. Establishing a supportive culture will be even more challenging. When a workforce has good processes and is able and willing, you have discipline. Jim Collins, in Good to Great (Harper Business, New York, 2001) said it best: “All companies have a culture, some companies have discipline, but few companies have a culture of discipline.

• When you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy.

• When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy.

• When you have disciplined action, you don’t need excessive controls.

With a culture of discipline, where people know what to do and are capable of and willing to do it, great performance is a natural outcome.”

When performing reliability and maintainability assessments in various companies (interviewing numerous employees), most say that they want to be able to do the right thing to improve operations. This kind of change takes more than the few months that executives are typically willing to wait. A discipline of culture starts with management daily actions and sustains when employees are held accountable. EP

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at




Klaus M. Blache

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