The Maintenance Effectiveness Assessment: A Catalyst for Change
For the maintenance manager there are some words that often evoke feelings of worry, nervousness, anxiety and even fear. One of the most dreaded words the maintenance manager can hear is “audit”. There is, however, another tool that is often used to measure business performance; it’s called the maintenance effectiveness assessment or MEA.
When the auditor’s report is out, those on the receiving end may feel like they are being cross-examined in a courtroom. It may not be quite like this in reality but that is exactly how many feel when they are on the receiving end of these types of business audits or examinations.
At the same time, some may argue that the MEA is nothing but a “Benchmark Study”. Although they do have similar outcomes, compared to a benchmark study an MEA uses different tools, is usually more comprehensive in scope, and more focused in defining performance gaps and a way forward.
Audits and MEA’s are different with one stark distinction. First of all, the MEA, compared to the audit has a completely different purpose, approach, and philosophy although similar protocol and methodology. The audit focuses on compliance, the MEA focus is on improvement. You would think that maintenance professionals and leaders would embrace the MEA more enthusiastically but unfortunately that is not always the case.
What Areas of Business Does the MEA examine?
The MEA, as opposed to the audit, is an investigation to find ways to improve. If managed and conducted properly it should represent a partnership between the assessors and the maintenance leadership and the assessors. Thus, the outcome of the MEA should not be considered punitive nor something that creates unnecessary burden.
Just like audits and benchmark studies the MEA follows a structured methodology. Listed below are the typical practice areas that are reviewed:
• Strategic Planning and Policy Deployment
• Maintenance Organization
• Training and development
• Performance Management
• Competence and Skills
• Continuous Improvement & Teams
• Work Management
• Shutdown/Outage Management
• Work Execution
• Preventive and Predictive
• Reliability Centred Maintenance
• Root Cause Analysis
• Inventory Management
• Contractor Management
• Operator Care
• Reliability Engineering
• Life Cycle Analysis
• Risk Based Inspection
• Management of Change
• Performance Standards
• Safety Critical Equipment
The above practices may vary from industry to industry but the ones listed represent what is needed to manage and operate an effective and efficient maintenance organization.
MEA Tools and Techniques
When conducting an MEA the assessors will use a variety of tools to perform their evaluation and investigation into these areas. Some of the tools and methods used include:
• Maintenance Effectiveness Assessment questionnaires.
• Interview with plant personnel
• Benchmark Metrics
• Plant and Equipment Observations
• Productivity studies
• Focus Groups interviews (multiple viewpoints provide a clearer picture of what’s really going on in the business)
• Documentation review (assessors will require up to 80 documents in advance for review and analysis)
Preparation for the MEA can begin as much as 6-8 weeks before the scheduled date of the assessment. The more information gathered upfront, the more time it gives the assessors to spend on analysis and less time searching for the data or documents. More time spent in analysis results in concise conclusions that meet minimal resistance and opposition from the organization being assessed. The end result should be better improvement recommendations for the maintenance organization going forward.
Conducting the MEA
The number of days required to perform an MEA may range from 3 to as many as 20 depending on the size and complexity of the business. Assessors will follow the schedule that the maintenance organization helps build. The assessors will analyse daily the results of the interviews, review the data compiled, and organize their notes. From the analysis of data, interviews, questionnaires, documents, and performance metrics the assessors will begin building a case for improvement.
MEA Report Out
Most organizations will require the assessor to provide a report out at the close of the assessment. The report out will highlight findings to include major strengths and opportunities for improvement. In some cases recommendations may be included in a PowerPoint presentation. For some organizations that may be all that’s required for the report out to the business. Some companies may require a comprehensive written report no later than two weeks after the assessment that can be distributed throughout the organization and even to outside stakeholders such as joint venture partners or even government agencies. The purpose is to share the findings and recommendations and gain consensus on the opportunities for improvement and the recommendations going forward. To be most effective the assessors should build and present a compelling case to the maintenance leadership team for adopting the recommendations. This could be based on cost savings, greater throughput or even improved asset integrity.
The MEA as a Catalyst for Change
The MEA should be viewed as a “Catalyst for Change” as opposed to some sort of painful examination that does nothing but frustrate the maintenance leadership team and organization. In order to translate the MEA into a compelling business case and ultimately a catalyst for change several things must happen.
1. Leadership must take time to explain to their maintenance team and even the operations team that their performance represents an opportunity for improvement based on preliminary data the leadership has compiled.
2. Leadership must communicate to the maintenance and operations team that, based on their assessment, they are engaging an outside party to assess their maintenance organization and business.
3. Leadership must support and encourage cooperation with the maintenance assessors to ensure they get all the data and information required to complete their assessment and build a business case.
4. If leadership believes the assessment findings were a fair and accurate representation of their maintenance practices and organization they must embrace the assessment conclusions and proposed way forward.
NOTE: many organizations go through what maintenance assessors term the 4 D’s after an assessment: “Deny, Defend, Decide, and Do”. This is normal but Leadership can minimize the “Deny” and “Defend” time by being openly supportive of the findings. This will help the maintenance team get to the “Decide” and “Do” phases quickly.
5. Once the maintenance team has consensus and alignment on the assessment findings and recommendations Leadership should sponsor the improvement team or steering committee assigned to build an improvement plan around the recommendations. If leadership sponsors the improvement plan it increases the probability of the recommendations being completed thoroughly and on time.
The challenge of maintenance organisations for today is to not only improve, but to improve at a rate faster than ever imagined. Taking years to develop the behaviours, culture, practices and processes necessary for a high performing maintenance organization will be intolerable, if not fatal. This is where the MEA can be a powerful tool for improvement and a catalyst for change if used by leadership properly.