Every engineering, maintenance and reliability manager faces the same daily pressures around uptime, production, budget, skills, people and compliance. The days of a maintenance manager just being responsible for maintenance are long gone. The department manager now needs to be the leader of a mini-business unit.
Businesses with maintenance teams that are slow to adapt to this new way of working find themselves with increasing production costs and ever-decreasing profitability. These organizations operating in a largely reactive way will see high turnover of maintenance staff, and it is not unusual for the maintenance manager to be the recipient of night-time calls, long hours and the feeling of never making any progress.
Ironically, it is also true that no matter how seasoned the department leader is, improvement can only be made through the transformation of the maintenance crew into a high-performing team.
“An interdependent, stable, role-defined group of individuals who share responsibility, mutual trust and values, while having strong leadership and a clear focus on a common goal” – Wikipedia
Among the research on high-performance teams, there are some common traits:
There are hundreds if not thousands of different suggestions, methods tools and systems that are marketed as being the magic key to improving equipment reliability and effectiveness. While most of these tools will add value when implemented correctly, the true potential of any improvement is often not realized, as the environment into which the initiative is introduced rejects the change at the first opportunity.
Any new idea introduced to a disengaged workforce, without systems to maintain the process and without business support to measure the impact, will ultimately fail. However, when you know how to engage your team in a common purpose, systemize all the processes and steps that are needed, and action the right work at the right time, then you will have all the tools necessary to rapidly move your department toward maintenance excellence.
Below is a nine-step process you can use to create a high-performance maintenance team that will be able to lead continuous improvement and increased profitability in your organization.
With only 34 percent of U.S. workers actively engaged in their work, there is clearly opportunity to better harness the motivation of our people. Fortunately, it is a simple (but not always easy) process to reverse these statistics within your team. Use the techniques below to improve engagement, reduce turnover and transform morale.
Too often the company vision (where we are going), mission (how we will get there) and values (how we will behave on the way) are produced and posted in a reception area and quickly forgotten. These artifacts of company culture need to be the basis of the language used in the business and should be inspirational enough to engage and motivate all staff.
It is usually beyond the scope of the maintenance team to develop and socialize the broader vision, mission and values. However, what can be done to serve the same intent is the development of maintenance department purpose and standards.
While a defined purpose and standards establish a quantitative assessment of the departmental direction, this must also be supported by a qualitative roadmap. With most maintenance teams being made up of analytical left-brain thinkers, this qualitative roadmap will provide the bridge between the department vision and the actual tactics to be used to reach it. It is this roadmap that can be used to articulate what the future looks like from a measurable numbers point of view and may also include such goals as increasing uptime and reducing turnover.
Usually the complaint I hear when I raise the discussion of measures and key performance indicators (KPIs) is that “we already have too many.” Often the workers are correct. The problem lies in the way some managers misuse performance measures. Instead of picking measures that are within the control of the worker and that can be used to drive improvement toward the company’s strategic goals, the manager uses the KPI framework as a reporting tool to track actions that are a job requirement rather than a measure of improvement.
The setting of meaningful KPIs that each worker can own and take responsibility for should be a structured and considered process rather than a list of requirements of the role.
The daily huddle is the single most important tool that the department manager owns to maintain focus on the common purpose and tactical goals of the team. When I watch huddles for the first time, I usually see a meeting where the manager is leading a one-way discussion, where the team members stand back and do not contribute, or worse still where all the discussion is around top-level business performance measures.
By contrast, “the greatest huddle” is a 10-minute gathering of the maintenance team that, like a huddle in any sport team, strengthens the bond of teammates and also sets the team up for success in the next play. A well-run huddle is the foundation for every successful day in any maintenance department.
To maintain the momentum of a highly engaged and motivated team, it is important to quickly create the systems and framework that the department will need to deliver rapid, significant results and impact to the business. One of the biggest hurdles to creating a high-performance maintenance team is inconsistency in how work is prepared for the tradesmen and how the work that is being done is communicated to the rest of the business.
The choice and use of an effective computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is an important aspect of the team’s success. However, it is also possible for great teams to operate with no computerized systems at all. What is important is for the team to understand what information is needed and how it can be collected, organized and used. At its core, most maintenance software is only designed to format and spit out the information that has been put into it (poor information in, useless instructions out).
While a large proportion of the high-performance maintenance team’s work will be spent on improvement activities, there is also a requirement for the team to develop, implement and support an effective preventive maintenance program.
To the inexperienced, a preventive maintenance program can be seen as the silver bullet to fix an unreliable plant. The truth is very different, however. In most unreliable plants, the real cause of failures is well known, and the development of more inspections and services will do little to accelerate the correction of issues.
The correct maintenance tactic to use will vary from business to business and machine to machine, and should include basic operator care, time-based servicing, condition-based monitoring and even run-to-failure approaches.
Maintenance planning and the role of the maintenance planner are often misunderstood. This misunderstanding leads to work being pushed to front-line workers before it is ready to be started. A tradesman who receives a work order when parts are missing or the job is not fully understood quickly becomes disengaged with the process and the vision of the team.
Maintenance work planning can be seen as the what and how of what needs to be done. In truly efficient teams, the planning process is responsible for taking an identified job (be it a defect, improvement or planned work) and getting that job to the point where it can be completed. This process includes the scoping of work and identification of required resources, tools, materials and even permits and procedures.
With a highly engaged team onboard and systems in place to ensure the right work is being done in the right way, the final piece of the puzzle is to take consistent, daily action to deliver massive impact to the business so that the maintenance team members are seen as the leaders of business improvement and the role models of how a department should be run.
By far, the biggest mistake with work scheduling is when work is given to the front-line trades to complete at a time of their choosing. Worse still is the need for each trade to communicate with operations to find the best time to perform tasks.
If planning defines the what and how of a job, then scheduling is very much about the who and when. Much like a production line, the maintenance planner should be working hard to get jobs to the ready-to-schedule stage. From here, it becomes the responsibility of the maintenance scheduler to find the appropriate time and person to get the work completed.
An effective work scheduler is not only an expert in juggling various commitments and priorities but is also an artful negotiator, able to find maintenance windows and opportunities where others cannot see the gap.
When work is well-planned, scheduled appropriately and passed onto a highly engaged team of trades who understand why they are doing what is asked, then work completion should be a simple process. This of course only holds true where there is just one job to be completed at a time. The reality of modern organizations is much different. With competing priorities, unexpected events and the pressure of high-intensity maintenance shutdowns, there is an art to getting more done each week.
To maintain a high work-completion ratio, the traditional approach of working harder and faster and micro-managing simply will not suffice. Instead, within the high-performance maintenance team, each trade, supervisor and manager understands the role they must play and how they can support each other for the best outcome.
The high-performance maintenance team must be able to perform at an exceptional level every day regardless of the challenges that are faced. This can only be done if there is a different mindset and attitude than what often exists in most other organizations. The required mindset is one of continuous improvement, where the team sees every challenge as an opportunity and always seeks to find a way to make today better than yesterday.
Of course, the creation of a culture of continuous improvement takes time and must be sustained by an engaged team working with structured systems and business support to take action every day.
This article was previously published in the Reliable Plant 2019 Conference Proceedings.