4 Ways to Deal with Vague Instructions and Problem Descriptions for Maintenance Work
Proper communication of instructions and problem descriptions are essential for the successful (and timely!) completion of any maintenance task.
However, it isn’t always easy to achieve a smooth flow of information between the members of your maintenance team and between maintenance and all other departments that can send in their work requests.
Unfortunately, it’s still common to see maintenance staff being expected to deliver quality jobs on time while grappling with vague instructions or problematic descriptions that are difficult to decipher.
This can happen because of several reasons.
The first reason are situations where the maintenance manager is too busy and can not focus enough to give the full detailed information required to complete a certain maintenance task or simply has too much confidence in the technician’s experience and abilities to understand the scanty details given.
The second common problem are work request submitted from other departments that leave a lot to be desired.
The result is a technician that is unsure about how to proceed and struggling to complete work assignment according to the set schedule because he is wasting time on unnecessary inspections or waiting for additional clarification.
This article looks at the effects of unclear instructions and recommends 4 different solutions you can implement.
Negative Effects of Vague Instructions and Problem Descriptions On Maintenance Work
Apart from machine error, it is a norm to attribute the root cause of poorly delivered maintenance work to human error or technical inability on the part of the technician. But the problem may very well be the result of poor communication from the party giving the instructions or reporting a problem.
Vague instructions can be compared to a defective or poor quality raw material in the production process. Poor input quality always equals poor output.
Let’s look at some common effects of vague instructions on maintenance work:
- Wasted time leading to lowered productivity
- Missed deadlines
- Frustrated staff
- High incidence of poorly finished tasks requiring corrective work
- Higher expenses incurred in refunds, replacement, rework, outright scrapping, etc.
- Undetected failures with the potential to cause problems in the future
- Frustrated customers, negative impact on brand name, possible loss of goodwill…
4 Tips for Dealing with Vague Instructions and Problem Descriptions
1) Defining the Problem Reporting Procedure
One way to reduce the probability of misinformation is by laying down guidelines for reporting problems. The problem reporting procedure is an important policy document that states how to report faults, hazards, incidents, and accidents within the organization.
For instance, the HVAC technician on night shift in Shopping Complex ABC records a “faulty air conditioning unit in Building A” before leaving work. However, Building A is a 4-story building with multiple air conditioning units. The technician taking over for the morning shift now has to figure out the where, what, and how of the faulty unit.
Another situation is when there is a problem with something like a production line. Just stating that there is a “problem with the production line in sector 2” is far from enough. What are the signs of the problem? When was the problem first noticed? Does the problem only appear under a certain set of circumstances?
Having all these information on hand will immensely speed up diagnostic and maintenance work.
That is why you need to have a clearly defined reporting procedure and why all workers designated to report a problem need to be aware of it.
2) Using Historical Data
In an ideal situation, the technician would always have the ability to contact the person issuing the work order or the person reporting to problem to ask for additional clarification.
Unfortunately, that is often not the case which forces technicians to look elsewhere for more information. And the first thing they should turn to is historical data.
Whatever maintenance work the technician has to do, chances are high that this is not the first time someone is executing such a task.
By taking the initiative and carrying out research on historical data, technicians can find out how their colleagues executed similar projects. They can look at the history of maintenance work for a particular asset which can help them pinpoint why it broke down in the past and shorten their diagnostics process.
Again, things like owner’s manuals, equipment technical documentation, and even online information coupled with past experiences in similar situations can all be valuable resources in situations where the technician got a superficial problem description.
The best way to ensure that your maintenance technicians have quick access to all of those data is to use a modern CMMS that can track asset and work history and store manuals and technical documentation.
3) Exploring Mobile Technology
Maintenance and asset managers don’t have to be tied down by paper documentation and handwritten reports like they were in past decades. Today, mobile technology is improving the way technicians capture and relay information through resources like handheld data collectors for inspections (PDAs), condition monitoring tools, and mobile CMMS solutions.
Let’s touch on the latter in more detail.
The ability to access your CMMS on mobile devices gives you several benefits that directly and indirectly help manage vague work orders and problem descriptions:
- Capture information and report issues more accurately
- Better coordinate maintenance work on bigger or multiple site projects with other team members
- Diagnose the cause of problems faster by quickly exchanging pictures and descriptions of the issue with other team members
- Immediately generate job orders and input relevant information including details of spare parts, manpower required, etc.
- Access equipment history and maintenance records to fill any information gaps
In essence, mobile CMMS allows for quick access to work and asset history on the go and for exponentially faster communication between team members which significantly lowers the time needed to finish even the maintenance work that that is based on initially poorly described task.
4) Adopt Proactive Maintenance Procedures
Another contributor to vague instructions and problem descriptions is excessive reliance on reactive maintenance. Instead of waiting for equipment to breakdown before attending to faults which have a wide range of possible fixes, businesses should have a clear preventive maintenance schedule, thereby giving staff easy to do, preset and detailed maintenance steps to perform.
In fact, an enterprise can greatly reduce the administrative burden and distraction on its maintenance team by adopting more proactive maintenance strategies.
That works in two-fold:
1) Having a Preventive Maintenance Plan : Periodic and preprogrammed inspection, servicing, and repair of assets.
2) Having a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP): Documented step-by-step guides that ensure consistency in different aspects of operations.
A well laid out preventive maintenance schedule backed by a detailed SOP will eliminate a lot of guesswork.
Everything Is Easier with Good Communication
The importance of proper communication and clarity in the maintenance process cannot be emphasized enough. When there are shortfalls in maintenance work quality, there will be questions about staff competence.
But without transparency and a clear understanding of the requirements for the task at hand, there is too much allowance for misinterpretation and no guarantee of achieving the desired results.
Writer of this blog post for Maintworld-magazine: Bryan Christiansen
Bryan Christian is founder and CEO at Limble CMMS . Limble is a mobile first, modern, and easy to use CMMS software. We help take the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate and streamline their maintenance operations.
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