Maintenance sits at the heart of any good asset management system. If it is not functioning correctly then the other systems that interface with it will not work efficiently either. There are foundational aspects of maintenance management that you must get right. They are universal and they are critical to your ability to improve.

In a review of their previous weeks work, a group of highly regarded maintenance supervisors were observed struggling over the poor state of their assets and the ineffectiveness of the work in the previous schedule. After hearing many acronyms and transaction codes called out across the room a visitor asked a simple but fundamental question, “How many primary inspections did your maintainers complete last week?” The room fell silent. The prepared visitor reported the answer as “105” and then asked another simple question, “How many secondary notifications were raised from those inspections?” The silence returned. The answer was as contrasting as the silence, “None”. The visitor’s next statement was now obvious to all in the room, “We all agree that our equipment is in poor condition, yet a team of skilled tradesmen carried out 105 inspections and failed to find a single fault that required rectification!”

The maintenance leadership team in this true story lacked nothing in skill, experience or motivation. The issue was that they had forgotten the fundamentals, forgotten the purpose of the very system they now served and forgotten the “Why”.  How can we hope to perform well if our leaders do not understand the foundations of what they doing and why they are doing it? 

“Your maintenance systems will perform at the same level as your leadership team’s comprehension of the foundations.”

That is a bold statement, but one that I feel has been proven to be true, time and time again. If your maintenance leadership team does not understand the fundamentals of work management then they will struggle to interface with the very systems that are in desperate need of their experience and leadership. Their understanding of the foundations of work management acts as a ceiling to your team’s performance and your ability to maintain your assets.

The following ‘10 Tips for Better Maintenance’ are based around our basic ‘Work Management’ framework as shown in Figure 1.0.  They will apply to your situation regardless of whether you have a highly integrated Computerised Maintenance Management System (CMMS), an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) system, a set of spreadsheets or a well setup whiteboard.  

A diagram showing a basic work management framework, including identification, planning, scheduling, executing and completing.

These fundamentals are not exhaustive and there are other things you will need to consider on your improvement journey, however, you will not improve without them. 

It’s time to forget the terminology, acronyms and transaction codes that you have learnt along the way and discover, in simple terms, what is required to start improving your work management system and to start delivering results.  

1. Review your notifications

A notification is a simple record used to report a problem, request work or record an event.  They capture events and maintenance requirements related to the actual condition of your equipment. Good quality notifications are a key source of data and a fundamental building block of your process. 

Review your notifications to improve their quality and consistency.

The following sources of notifications are a good place to start:

  • Operators who are performing regular operational checks should be picking up issues that require remediation. The method for capturing these in your system may vary but the need to manage their quality is fundamental to any good maintenance system.   Every operational leader should know that notifications will be seen, reviewed, challenged and celebrated by their maintenance peers. Ensure that the quality and consistency of the operator’s notifications are reviewed and that feedback is given on a regular basis.
  • Even on brand new equipment an inspection is very likely to pick up problems requiring remedial work that should then be captured in a series of notifications. Maintenance personnel should be encouraged to perform inspections in a way that allows for the condition of the asset to be better understood and for the subsequent remedial work to be captured. Each shift the maintenance supervisors should review all inspections performed by their personnel and give feedback on subsequent notifications raised.

A review process that improves notifications quality is fundamental to any good maintenance system. 

2. Approve or reject notifications quickly

We have all seen examples of notifications like “Strange noise near conveyor” or “Truck steering poorly” which both give little indication of the type of fault or the remedial work required. If these notifications are not reviewed immediately by the supervisor then they may not be seen for days potentially causing avoidable production loss. 

The shift supervisor should approve or reject relevant notifications on the shift they were created. 

If this step is missed then resources can also be wasted in an attempt to correctly scope the task. This happens when a planner is unsure of the scope of the work and schedules the task to be scoped. This not only causes further delay in rectifying the fault but also requires further resources and scheduling. 

How much of this waste could be significantly reduced by asking a few key questions, directly to the personnel who raised the notification, while it is still fresh in their mind? 

This step is often overlooked but it is critical as it reduces the number of unnecessary or poorly defined notifications from being released into the system.

3. Ensure planners plan

In our previous article, The Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Maintenance Planning”, we discuss a number of aspects of maintenance planning. We can, however, summarise the role of the planner as follows.

Planners turn notifications into maintenance orders for scheduling.

That sounds simple and almost too obvious! So why do many organisations schedule work that has not yet been fully planned? In my experience it is driven by a combination of time constrains and the dangerous thought “We have done that task before thus it will be the same as last time”. How many times has this assumption caused tasks to be cancelled due to lack of parts, access, tooling or skills? 

Setup your planners to plan and don’t allow non-urgent tasks to be scheduled until they are planned.  Work identified and required within the current schedule will require the supervisor to manage. Allow this to happen without the planner or they will be forever caught up in unscheduled work.  

4. Consolidate parts before scheduling

“Those parts will be in next week so we can schedule the task”

The scheduler

“I can’t believe those parts didn’t arrive in time”

No one, ever

Let’s face it, death, taxes and ‘parts not arriving on time’ are all inevitable. Well I may be pushing it a bit but how often do we schedule a task only to find the parts have not arrived, causing the task to be rescheduled. “But it’s urgent and needs to be done!” says the scheduler. This may be so; however it won’t get done just because you schedule it. 

Ensure parts are consolidated against the order before the work is scheduled.

If you can’t do this, it often points to problems within your maintenance strategy or the quality of your primary inspections. If you do not have sufficient lead time to source parts before a task is required to be done then something is wrong! If you are continuously scheduling tasks without confirmation of the parts being available then something is wrong! If it is an important task then plan it with enough time for the parts to arrive, or stock the part in your warehouse.

A good consolidation process will require good communication and forward planning. Any effort invested in this space will be returned in your increased ability to complete tasks when needed.  

5. The supervisor updates resource capability

This one is almost out of place! It is so simple that I sometimes wonder why it made the list, however I have seen too many schedulers flying blind to ignore it. 

The supervisor must update the available resource for future schedules

How can a scheduler appropriately balance the workload with the resources if they are not aware of the resources available for each future schedule?

Resource loading is a simple term used to show how much of your available labour you want to allocate to scheduled work in each schedule. If your schedule was a bucket, and its size was based on the available resources then it is like asking the question, “How full do I want my bucket?”  It allows a scheduler to leave resources unallocated to cope with unscheduled or ‘break-in’ tasks. This in turn provides protection for the scheduled work. Contrary to popular logic I have seen teams complete more planned work by lowering their resource loading. I am not just saying that they complete a greater percentage of the planned work, I am saying that they complete more hours of planned work! But how can we have this discussion if your scheduler isn’t updated with the available resource for future schedules? It stops the conversation in its tracks, just as we were getting started!

The scheduler must have an understanding of the resources that will be available for future schedules. This can only come from the supervisor!

6. Your scheduler needs to know they are important

In our previous article 5 tips for more effective Maintenance Planning and Scheduling, we discuss aspects such as the management of logs, working with supply and forward schedules. Building on this we need to make sure our scheduler understands how important they are and how important we think they are!

Ensure the scheduling work is highly valued, reviewed and encouraged.

The scheduler is a critical role, allocating tasks between teams, schedules and shutdowns. They make things fit in spaces that seem impossible and make decisions that require attention. A scheduler can allocate work to future schedules and leave work in past schedules. Both of these may be beneficial – or detrimental – to the reliability of the asset. If the work of this role is not monitored and reviewed then expect your data to get messy and your scheduling to be ineffective.

Value this role by reviewing the work at appropriate weekly and monthly intervals. Discuss the decisions made in this role by looking at future schedules, reviewing previous schedules and analysing trends.

Make sure your scheduler knows they are valuable and vital by making sure the outcome of their work is transparent.

7. Only the supervisor manages the current schedule

There is no doubt that the supervisor carries the bulk of responsibility for the current schedule of work. Our recent article, Maintenance Supervisors – Driving Safety, Effectiveness & Efficiency goes into the life of a supervisor in detail; and it’s a full life! The following statement is made with the full appreciation of the difficult work that a supervisor is tasked with:

Supervisors are the only ones accountable to execute and reschedule work within the current schedule.

The supervisor should have authority, within certain boundaries, to reschedule work within their current schedule. Notice I didn’t include the scheduler in this comment.  It is up to the supervisor, not the scheduler to reschedule within the current schedule. It is also only within the current schedule and may be subject to specific conditions as set by the superintendent.

8. Data is important

As well as managing the welfare of their people, the current schedule and all break-in work the supervisor also has to make sure all of the history and data is collected in the correct way and captured in the correct place. If this is not happening then everything else will start to fall down.

Review your orders and notifications at the frequency that will best drive quality.

There is no point only reviewing data quality on an annual basis.It needs to be done at the level and frequency that will identify corrective actions to improve the consistency and effectiveness of the data. If a supervisor is not closing off orders correctly a weekly review would be the appropriate time frame to coach them. If personnel are not capturing labour hours against tasks then a daily review would be more relevant. 

Data can also be reviewed in two ways:

  1. Review the input, timing and location of relevant data. Data needs to be in the right place at the right time to be useful. Look for simple reports that highlight the conformance of your data to your own rules.
  2. Review the data itself. Nothing with help you to improve data quality more than by using it. Gaps and inconsistencies will pop out as soon as you attempt to use your data to learn and make decisions.

Data is your friend. It becomes the basis to understanding your performance and how to improve. 

9. The review process is a critical learning step

The review process is critical. It should typically be held as part of the cycle of each schedule. 

Improvement is facilitated by asking the correct questions.

A superintendent prepared with the right data and the right questions will bring about significant change in the behaviour of their team.

Using ‘Tip 1: Review your notifications’ as an example, the following simple set of questions could easily be developed and supported with data:

  • How many notifications were raised last week?
  • How many notifications were not approved on the same shift they were created?
  • How many secondary notifications were generated from primary inspections?

The conversation that flows out of these questions could become an effective form of mentoring and coaching providing the team understands the foundations!

Building on this principle a simple set of measures and questions for all of the 10 tips could easily be developed. If the right people are then encouraged to come with the right information a review can then be held that is both efficient and effective. I have seen reviews setup in this way take as little as 15 minutes per week. Typically however 45 to 60 minutes per week is more than enough for an effective review of work management performance.

A good review is all about the question. If your questions are lacking, your review will be as well. Refer to our articles Maintenance KPIs – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly for more on this topic.

10. Defect elimination is not optional

Without defect elimination you are doomed to repeat the events that are causing increased risk, lost production, increased cost and poor asset management performance.

It is essential.

Defect elimination should form part of the review cycle. This is where good data, good reporting and good questions combine to drive improvement. Defect elimination should be celebrated and supported. 

There are many tools that can be used to assist with defect elimination as well as effective training opportunities.  Experience suggests that any investment in this area will pay for itself over time.

Where do I start?

There are many more aspects of maintenance management to consider however if you have not addressed these 10 areas then you will struggle to improve.  Some options to consider in addressing these include:

  • Audit your systems and behaviour using these ‘10 Tips for Better Maintenance’.
  • Train your leadership team in these areas, including defect elimination.  You need your leaders to improve your systems so invest in them!
  • Implement these tips and modify your processes to make them work.

For your own sake, don’t accept the status quo! It can be done differently.  Simple changes in leadership behaviour and processes can bring about significant results in a shorter space of time and for less investment than you may otherwise expect.

If you would like to take up the opportunity to engage us with a review of your practices, training for your personnel or assistance in implementing improvements, please contact us.

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