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

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