Are Any of These Elements Holding Back Your Maintenance Improvement Strategy? A look at five common trouble areas that derail reliability
Over the last 15 plus years, I have watched many organizations both flounder and succeed at maintenance and reliability improvement. I have witnessed many spend considerable effort without creating the return on investment that they promised their stakeholders. In my opinion, there are 5 very common reasons that these experiences demonstrated success, or failure.
I am going to talk about those five, not as silver bullets or shortcuts to successes with your change initiative, but more so as requirements without which, you will be marginally successful at best. Out of the five, some are very obvious to many, but others may not be as apparent. While we do not have time to cover all the ins and outs of each, I will give a few reasons why each is important and how they help with your success. Please know these are not the answer to all your reliability and maintenance problems. You must implement many other foundational elements, but these are the ones that I have watched limit success the most over the years. So, without further ado here they are...
- Applying leadership and change management practices
- Executing from a project plan
- Creating success by using a pilot area implementation strategy
- Driving a problem-solving culture
- Building a real planning and scheduling organization
Leadership and change management are likely the most obvious in the group. We know we need to lead the organization through the change from reactive maintenance to proactive maintenance but either we are not comfortable with it, or we do not take the time to understand it.
Many organizations want to hurry up and get started. They don’t take the time to get a clear vision and mission for the maintenance improvement strategy or identify and prioritize the risk associated with a change of this magnitude. They don’t look at the root cause of their past implementation failures. They want to just get started on the technical part of the implementation as soon as they can.
Done right, the leadership team of your implementation should have worked multiple months or more depending on their focus and time availability to prepare before bringing the larger organization into the mix. They should be able to articulate the vision in their own words and know the early risks they will likely face so that they can have strategies identified for execution against those risks. They should model the behaviours they want from the organization (proactiveness) and not just be reacting to things as they happen within the implementation. They need to look like ducks: calm on the surface because they have prepared but under the water, they are kicking furiously to stay ahead of the teams and any issues they face.
The implementation teams will look to the leaders for this and if they don’t see it then they will start to wander in the wrong directions and possibly get lost on their journey. Think of it as a long hike; if I don’t trust that my leaders know where we are going and what we might face, then I think I would prefer to hike back to the base camp where it is safe, comfortable, and predictable and I will not likely be eaten by a bear. You don’t have to know everything about the subject or what we will encounter, but you should know enough to have a plan, ask the right questions, bring the bear spray, find the right people to be involved, and occasionally hold our hands during the tricky parts of the hike. There is so much more to leadership and change management, but these are some of the elements that I see trip up the leadership team and drive the hiker back to camp or off a cliff during the journey.
Executing from a project plan
The second element is to create a plan of execution. It starts with understanding where you are and then looking at that vision and mission and developing the plan to get to the new level of performance. Many sites over the years have not taken the time to really figure out what needs to happen in order to get to their vision or future state on time. What do they do? Without understanding where they truly are, they just do things.
They decide to tackle random improvement strategies. They get a list from a book or corporate that is not tied to the issues at the site or the goals and vision. I would compare this to trying to mop the floor dry when we have not identified where the leak is coming from. You can mop for days but the water just keeps coming. You need an order of execution or a master plan if you will. It should make it clear that first, we must find the source of the leak, then understand why the leak is happening, then fix the leak, then we can begin to mop up the water.
To provide a more maintenance-specific example you don’t need to implement operator care or autonomous maintenance to free up maintenance resources for firefighting or emergency reactive repairs. If that is the world you are living in, then in essence you are mopping the floor while the water floods in. Not only that, but you also look silly asking operations to be proactive when you and your maintenance organization are still fully in the reactive maintenance world.
There is an order in which you need to implement the elements of reliability and maintenance improvement. It is not the same for everyone or every site. You need to understand your specific issues and reasons for the change in your organization. Then, understand the vision for the future state and let that help you select both the order and the elements that become part of your plan.
The next area that trips many organizations up is that they spread themselves too thinly from an implementation resources perspective. They try to do everything everywhere in the organization. In most, if not all organizations we have limited people and financial resources and we have to build our implementation strategy with that in mind. You should not plan to paint an entire building with one three-inch brush and two painters painting a brick here and a brick there. You could, but most organizations do not have the patience to wait on the painted bricks to join up and generate the results they expect. If I have one brush and two painters then I am going to train those painters to be as effective as possible and then have them tackle one small section at a time, maybe a wall of 600 bricks, so that the organization can see the change in that area and imagine what the change will look like once we paint more. To put this into maintenance terms, you don’t want to try and do every facet of reliability improvement in every area of the plant all at once. It will not connect, the vision gets lost, and you likely just cannot support it. Pick a pilot area. An area where you can, without a doubt, be successful. If you are not successful in the pilot area, then your chances of being able to implement in other areas diminishes rapidly.
The second big mistake I see here is that the area that is selected is too risky. The high-risk selections come from leadership teams that are trying to solve an issue in a problem area that might be your problem area for another reason. For example, “Let’s improve maintenance in area X because we need more volume or throughput.” However, had they really looked to ensure success and understand the issues, they would have noticed that this area is running a product that the equipment was not designed to run and has a high operational turnover so the equipment is being told to do things that it just physically cannot do by unskilled operators, or maybe they would find that the leadership in that area is disengaged or unskilled. It would be hard to be successful with a maintenance improvement strategy if that is your pilot area.
So, to increase your chances of success, pick an area that you have the resources to manage and can guarantee success because you have the unwavering support of the area leadership, as an example. Think not about your bottlenecks or trouble spots alone, because that is how the trap is set and then we fall and fail.
Driving a problem-solving culture
The next area that trips up many is based on the thinking that problem-solving and root cause analysis is something you should start employing after you have data in your enterprise asset management system, and you have many of the tenets of reliability started. This could not be further from the truth. You have to understand what is at the root of your past failures during other implementations or simply why you never implement at all.
You need to know what has held you back. I also do not mean just a simple five whys or fishbone either. You need to understand what we call the systemic and latent roots. Some refer to these as organizational roots. What culturally has distracted or derailed us in the past or what in this area is the real issue holding back performance. Without understanding these root causes how will you know if reliability will succeed in the culture of this area?
If you don’t dive into these problem areas, like we mentioned in the planning section above, and understand the real reasons for underperformance then these very issues could be the reason your maintenance improvement initiative fails in the future. When I suggest starting early with root cause analysis, I am not suggesting you train everyone in the plant, but I do believe you need a few great facilitators to support you early on in your initiative. They will serve you well and lower your stress as you begin the change initiative.
Building a real planning and scheduling organization
And finally, without maintenance planning, your reliability improvement is doomed. That may seem like hyperbole maybe, but my observations suggest that it is not. I have seen some great maintenance improvement initiatives stall out because of this element. It is that important. It is the one point in the process where everything flows and if it is not effective, it reduces all the results associated with it. It is a challenging element that takes a lot of focus, desire, and grit to succeed. I equate it to a leg workout at the gym, everybody knows that they need to do it but very few people want to or enjoy doing it. Regardless, planning has to be done just like your leg day or you will be weak at your very foundation.
Good planning improves safety, efficiency, and effectiveness
So, what is good planning? It is identifying the work that needs to be done and building a job plan that improves safety, efficiency, and effectiveness for the executing party. It is building a job plan library where you can save, and reuse job plans so that more of the work that is executed is done with a plan and with precision. It is creating job kits that contain all the parts required to perform the repair.
Why should we plan? It reduces the introduction of defects during maintenance repairs, while also reducing the time required to complete the work. This affects the amount of downtime required and the amount of maintenance craft hours required for the job. Many companies are struggling to find skilled maintenance technicians to meet the needs of the site. Planning can reduce the number of technicians required and provide the precision maintenance in formation they need to excel beyond their skill level.
It is not as simple as just creating the job plan of course, you have to have the supervision and change management in place to require the use of the job plans as well. The supervisors must drive continuous improvement by getting feedback from the technicians to the planners to refine the job plans over time and of course the planners must be expected to edit the job plans and carefully store them in the job plan library until they can be used again.
If this element is done correctly though it will be a game changer for the organization. The use of these planned jobs can reduce your cost to execute the work by five to seven times. That will allow you to do more with the resources you have allowing for greater success for the maintenance improvement strategy.
So, has your organization embedded all five of these foundational pieces into your reliability improvement strategy? What are you missing? What issues can you see that could be connected to those missing elements? How can you incorporate them into your strategy moving forward? As you are thinking about making changes to your current strategy don’t forget element one: change management and the communication of the change to the strategy. If you would like to discuss your specific situation, do not hesitate to reach out and we can talk through your specific challenges and refine your master plan for your success with reliability and maintenance improvement and at the higher level the generation of a more profitable site and company.
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