Lessons from my early years

Wayne Vaughn
Tags: maintenance and reliability

Steven R. Covey says you must "start with the end in mind." Good advice, but what do you do when you aren't sure what the end looks like? Things are constantly in a state of flux - equipment changes, the competitive environment changes, people change and expectations change.

When I entered the field of maintenance years ago, I had one advantage: I knew absolutely nothing about the field of maintenance. I had spent several years doing design engineering work in power plants and other industry sectors. Immediately prior to my first job in maintenance at Harley-Davidson, I had spent a couple of years doing program management, helping the engineering organization get its designs into production. My specialty was planning how to get things done and then getting projects started. I had little experience in "polishing the brass".

This experience served me well in maintenance. I had a small crew of experienced people who were now standing at the biggest crossroad of Harley-Davidson's history, but we did not know it. All I knew was that I had a new job and I needed to learn it quickly. On my first day on the job, a millwright handed me a gray trash container adorned with a long list of names. Each named was crossed out. My name was added to the bottom. When I asked what this was, he said that it was the names of all the maintenance managers for whom he had worked, and now this trash can was mine. I love skilled trades!

At the time, and after years of layoffs, I was one of the youngest people in the plant; the remaining crew had at least 15 years of seniority; many had a long history in the trades. As I mentioned, it was a small crew but it was divided into many trades. While they knew their jobs well, they had not received formal training in years. In fact, they had been somewhat ignored - viewed as a necessary evil and encouraged to fix breakdowns as quickly as possible.

I could see that our business was beginning to recover; we were beginning to install CNC machine tools with a technology that was completely foreign to my people. I knew I had to plan for success and get some things started. My program management and engineering experience would serve me well.

I bought some books on maintenance and began to educate myself. In the first couple of years, I attended seminars, read books, benchmarked several places and hired a consultant to help guide me. All of these saved time and money in the long run. This process takes a long time, and the most immediate asset I had was people who knew our factory and had spent their lives in maintenance. I solicited and formed a small study group. Our goal was to understand where we were as a maintenance organization, what we should fix, and to establish a strategic plan to get there. I personally wanted to create a three-year plan to become a world-class maintenance organization (this would not be the case).

We did some benchmarking at our sister plant in York, Pa. We found out that this plant had a good storeroom system, a list of its assets and a thorough work order system, all managed manually. We had none of these things, so we clearly had our work cut out for us. We also looked around the Milwaukee area at companies such as Briggs & Stratton, did a little additional benchmarking and research, and it was now obvious that we had a huge mountain to climb.

What are the principles that I am trying to get across in my first Advisor column? Get employee engagement. It's the key ingredient to a successful implementation. Second, build transparency. Both of these seem to be things that put you at personal risk. You may fail and it may seem more risky to you personally and professionally to create a very public failure potential, but the fact is, by getting engagement of your people and letting them see where you want to go, and getting their input to that final destination, you are far more likely to succeed than if you just did it on your own.

We finalized this work with a plan to implement a computerized maintenance management software system, establish a formal storeroom, establish a preventive maintenance program and get our people trained on the new technology that we saw coming. We wrote a three-year strategic plan that was shared with operations and management.

I'll talk more about the details of the strategy and what was accomplished in our future discussions.

Wayne Vaughn is a principal consultant for Vesta Partners. He recently retired as the director of maintenance for Harley-Davidson's Powertrain Operations in Milwaukee, where he worked for 28 years. During his time as the leader of maintenance at H-D, he implemented many programs including reliability and condition-monitoring programs, extensive training programs, apprentice programs, storeroom projects, CMMS systems, predictive and preventive maintenance, and a TPM program. Wayne is a registered Professional Engineer and is a CMRP. Contact him at wvaughn@wi.rr.com.

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