Are You Managing by Leadership or Chaos?

If priorities at a plant aren’t managed effectively, then chaos is in charge. Here are three questions to ask yourself about priorities at your plant:


  1. How well is your reliability and maintenance improvement effort going?
  2. Are you caught up in day-to-day activities and the long-term improvements are suffering?
  3. Do you have clearly defined business priorities?

It is common to see craftspeople, supervisors, engineers, and managers being overwhelmed with too many targets, tasks, projects, and emergencies. This stems from lack of clear business priorities, lack of clear roles and responsibilities, and a consistent work process across the organization.

Recently, I met an overwhelmed Maintenance Manager. During our meeting he showed me 25 goals he was supposed to meet by end of the year. There was no way that he would meet more than 1/3 of those goals within that time frame…he was set up to fail. And not only was he set up to fail but I’d say the entire team was set up to fail.

Setting the right business priorities and targets are vital to success in an environment where most employees get overwhelmed, it is a leadership responsibility to set clear priorities.

Priority Setting

Setting priorities is an important step to approve a work order in your work management, planning and scheduling process.  A best practice work flow follows these steps:

  1. Work request screened
  2. Work request prioritized based on a business need
  3. Work request approved to become a work order

As a reminder, an approved work order is a go ahead to spend company resources.

Seems simple right? Wrong!  It is very common to find a failure in the second step of the process where work order priorities have not been defined, communicated and understood by an organization.  Another issue that may arise is that all work will be given a high work prioritization when the organization (operations in most cases) does not trust the process.

Here is a classic example from a plant:

An Operations manager for an area puts priority 1 on all work orders (1=emergency).  When asked “Why?” the answer was, “Otherwise the work will not be done”.

The maintenance manager from the same area says he picks the work orders he feels are important to him since all have an emergency rating anyway.

I have also heard this expression many times “we put in work orders and they disappear in the black box ”.

Is it a real or emotional priority?

Let’s take a moment to define these two terms:

Real = based on importance to the work and the benefit to the whole company.

Emotional = based on feelings instead of objective judgement of importance.

When someone pushes a job that could wait until tomorrow or next week, onto the schedule, that’s an emotional priority.  By adding an emotional priority to the schedule, you are eliminating the time needed for proper planning and scheduling of the job. When emotional priorities take over, we cause large waves of wasted time and effort, and potentially create dangerous situations for your team.   

Below is an example of a simple and priority chart for work orders, feel free to use this in your plant.  Most importantly, when setting the priorities, a consensus is needed from both operations and maintenance AND must be stringently followed.

Click Image to Enlarge
example 1 - 4 priorities with criteria and timelimit

Picture Reference: Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Book, pg. 35 ©IDCON INC

Setting reasonable priorities are based on how long we can wait without shutting down the process and how critical is the impact if the equipment break-downs (i.e. stops production). Processes with higher impact on safety and regulatory consequence may need priorities defined in more details. Example of process requirements could be due to safety, dangerous chemicals, MOC, GMP, PSM, RPM etc. See example below for more detailed priority setting.

Click Image to Enlarge

Picture Reference: Maintenance Planning and Scheduling book, pg. 34 ©IDCON INC

Prioritizing and getting focused is a leadership quality and will reduce the chaos. If you or your organization is overwhelmed with too many priorities do this:

1) Prioritize things you have to do.

2) Stop taking on new tasks

3) Cut back on things you are already involved in.

Owe Forsberg is a Senior Management Consultant with IDCON INC in the US.


Asset Management | 27.2.2019

Latest articles

Wärtsilä software will enable a new Simulation Centre to meet needs of cruise, ferry and superyacht clients

The technology group Wärtsilä is to supply and configure the software solutions for a new, state-of-the-art, purpose built simulation centre.

R&D | 20.5.2019

Safe chemical storage is essential for safety, health and business prosperity

Many industries use and store dangerous chemicals, and the chemical waste produced. Storing these substances safely is essential to protect workers’ health, the environment, and the public from the effects of potential chemical spills and gas emissions. In this article the European Union information agency for occupational safety and health, EU-OSHA, gives tips on how to keep workers safe and healthy.

HSE | 16.5.2019

Safe and sustainable airport maintenance with tractors

Robotic vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers are already a reality, but can the same idea be applied to a 7-ton machine clearing an airstrip from snow? Valtra and Nokian Tyres partnered up with three other Finnish companies for a joint proof-of-concept project at the European Union’s northernmost airport. 

Applications | 15.5.2019

Maintenance Performance and its Measurements

Maintenance performance can be difficult to measure.  But, measurements drive behavior and it is therefore important to think through what to measure.  The measurement should be designed in order to achieve the following:

Asset Management | 25.4.2019

Implementing RCM? 5 Mistakes You Need to Avoid

If you are considering to employ  RCM analysis  at your facility, it means you have recognized the need for a change in your maintenance strategies. Reliability-centered maintenance is an excellent way to keep your plant or machinery up and running by helping you choose the optimal maintenance strategy for all of your important assets. 

Cmms | 19.3.2019

Save Energy in Steam and Condensate Systems

The oldest paper mill still operating in Germany detects defective steam traps with digital ultrasonic testing technology

Partner Articles | 15.3.2019

Time to Invest in Europe’s Water Infrastructure

THE WATER AND SANITATION sector is an important part of the European economy. It represents more than 500,000 people directly employed in water and sewerage companies, operating thousands of facilities and several million kilometres of networks.

Editorial | 14.3.2019

Maintenance: A Necessary and Important Function in the Future

Euromaintenance 2016 will take place in Athens at the end of May. It is the ideal moment to reflect on maintenance in a European context. Euromaintenance is known as the summit for all involved in maintenance across Europe, it’s the place to be. The conference, with the support of the EFNMS, is the only commercially independent conference covering the topics we deal with in the maintenance world.

EFNMS | 20.5.2016