Keys to Improve Maintenance Workflow

Jon J. Thorne, Daniel Penn Associates

Regardless of what your company manufactures, two things are essential for product quality and customer satisfaction: how you manage, maintain and measure employees' work; and how you manage your equipment's performance.

The road to these two goals isn't always a clear path. Many organizations try to gain control of their work processes and equipment without first establishing the means to control the work and measure outcomes over time.

Before discussing some strategies to help you improve workflow and better integrate equipment availability and maintenance into your planning, let's explore the biggest challenge that companies face: developing a strong, viable work management process.

"This goes against our standard operating procedures."

"We don't have time to change the system."

"We've always done it this way."

If you've heard these statements within your organization, it's time to go deeper. It's impossible to address the organizational behaviors that encourage or discourage change without first understanding your organization's culture.

So what's culture? It's the pattern of shared basic assumptions that your management team and employees have learned over time by solving the company's internal and external challenges. It's how they perceive, think and feel about your company's problems. And it's about how they've historically addressed those problems.

Cultural forces are powerful because they operate outside of our conscious awareness. This is why individuals cannot consistently outperform their organization's embedded culture. Even in the face of overwhelming challenges, people continue to act according to their cultural assumptions, even when they are not correlated to actual performance.

Cultures exist in stable states and will always revert to the state of lowest stress (comfort zone). Each state exhibits a predictable set of behaviors, i.e., sub-optimization, change resistance, risk aversion, etc.

It's difficult to get just a little better and have that become a permanent state. This is why improvement initiatives often underperform and sometimes fail. The best process is of little value unless the organization's culture is aligned to support it. In other words, implementing any improvement measure requires aligning both process and behavior. This is the single biggest challenge for any organization.

Leadership must provide positive reinforcement of the new direction and its value to the organization. Through training, ongoing coaching and performance feedback, behaviors can change. They won't change all at once, and not for everyone at the same pace, but they will change.

How will you know when the improvements are sustainable? As with almost everything else, behavior must be measured, and changes in behavior must be trended to ensure that improvement efforts are on the right track.

Once you have a good handle on your company's current culture and how its evolution can support new processes, you'll be in a strong position to assess your workflow, your resources and the equipment that supports it all.

Workflow and Maintenance: Models for Improvement

If your company is already on the road to cultural evolution, it's time to assess your work products and the processes that support (or hinder) them based on your overarching goals and objectives. The model below shows the elements that must be fully implemented to gain control of your work process and the maintenance measures that support them. 

The process begins by identifying the steps to be implemented and culminates by defining the most efficient use of available, but limited, labor resources.

Once your facility has mastered workflow, the focus shifts to gaining control of the equipment. By systematically applying work-control efficiencies and proactively maintaining equipment, you're effectively deploying resources toward equipment availability and reliability.

As this model illustrates, work control enables more work with the same level of labor resources. Equipment control allows a more effective application of fewer of those resources.


While the steps above offer a roadmap, your company will also need to establish a high order of discipline to fully implement your improved approach to efficiency. This includes establishing clear responsibilities for every step of each element in the process, which will involve a good deal of training and practice. You'll also need to set up a viable management system to monitor and report key performance indicators (KPIs), key results indicators (KRIs) and the process behaviors that sustain your improvement measures.

Successful organizations with productive employees and happy customers have robust work processes that are supported by reliable, available equipment. When they master how work flows and equipment is maintained, they are able to more proactively focus on sustaining and growing the new process and less and less on reactive work.

The bottom line is that in order to gain the most benefit from these processes and practices, the organization's culture and its attendant behaviors must be in synch with its plans and goals. 

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About the Author

Jon J. Thorne is a senior consultant and associate of Daniel Penn Associates with more than 35 years of experience in world-class maintenance, operations and change management consulting. He is ...