By Ken Bannister, Contributing Editor
According to William Penn, Founding Fore-father of Pennsylvania, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” He could have been referring to us: Of all the resources available to the maintenance department, time is the most precious, yet often the most squandered and undervalued.
We have become a rather contradictory society—one that embraces time-saving devices and strategies, but rarely has time to reflect on their value and the results of our efforts. Most maintenance departments now utilize some form of computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) for directing and managing day-to-day work, yet few successfully use the reporting side of the management software to understand the value and effectiveness of the work performed so that maintenance practices can be validated or continuously improved.
Every maintenance department has a mandate to manage the availability and life cycle of a defined set of assets. In doing so, it must instruct and coordinate its own staff in conjunction with its many partners and clients to attain information (problems, drawings, photos, specifications, etc.), access, spare parts, permits, contractual assistance, budgets and payments. To be successful, the maintenance department must track and understand the difference between what it controls and what it manages.
Taking back time through control
Meditating Buddhist monks have long been associated with the concept of focus and control, given their ability to manage outside distractions—something they affectionately characterize as “monkey mind” (i.e., a mind that jumps from thought to thought like a monkey jumping from tree to tree). Because a distracted mind isn’t content to work or exist in the present, valuable time can be wasted.
Similarly, when there’s a “monkey-minded” lack of focus and control over the maintenance function, distractions will take priority over the intended work, causing us to leave a job half-completed in favor of another “more important” job. Or job-scope creep may take over, causing us
to perform repairs not contracted for in an original work order (including repairs requiring “ad-hoc” ordering and expediting of parts that may or may not already exist in inventory). Monkey mind may also cause us to “tune out” during a meeting, which, in turn, may require a subsequent “one on one” meeting to “clarify” what was said in the first one. You probably can document several of your own examples. While lack of focus and control is a serious time-bandit in a maintenance operation, with some innovative thought, it can be reversed to make the time we spend value-added.
Planning and scheduling control
The primary control function of the maintenance department is to qualify, plan and schedule work as proactively as possible to deliver asset reliability and availability. This is achieved through the planner/scheduler roles within the maintenance organization that are the resource timekeepers that focus the energy of the department on performing value-added, proactive maintenance work as much as possible. In a well-functioning planning and scheduling maintenance department, the organizational/value effect of a single planner can be comparable to freeing up and adding the equivalent of one to two tradesperson’s time to the roster—simply by scheduling and completing more value-added and effective work in a day! Planners focus the work requirement, and manage the distractions for the trades to complete their work.
I recently implemented a manual work-order/PM-based system for a client with a small maintenance crew that took care of a small pumping station. The crew had no work-order or maintenance-management system—and no budget to purchase and implement one soon. The two maintenance-team members who performed the work complained they were never able to complete their daily PM rounds, as they felt the best way to serve the operation was by responding immediately to any maintenance request. Ironically, most requests were caused by lack of PM completion!
The solution was to introduce a simple workflow arrangement, routing all work requests through the front desk to the supervisor, who then acts as a planner/scheduler to set up the tasks on a work order and expedite any needed parts. This would allow the maintainers to reverse their “monkey-mind” approach and complete only the jobs detailed on their work orders. Within three weeks of operating in this manner, the maintainers were thrilled at being able to actually finish their work—and had almost tripled the amount they performed! Operations was pleased with the quality of service and the apparent reduction in the number of nuisance problems.
With any planning and scheduling approach, you must find time to take an innovative look at your PM tasks—even if only one or two per week—and review their validity and value in your current working environment. Are they redundant? Use reports to determine if any failures have been averted, and if the current PM frequency is valid or if a weekly PM can be performed on a monthly or quarterly basis, or vice-versa. Can a maintenance PM be turned into an operator checklist using go/no-go visual check indicators? Can a manual lubrication event be turned into an automated lubrication approach? You’ll be surprised at how many PMs in your system have little or no value, and how much time they free up for more value-added work.
When clients complain of “not enough hours in a day” and lack of labor resources, I ask them to perform a “Time Value” study wherein daily activities are assessed and coded and then recorded each day over a two-week period. The results are tabulated, graphed and analyzed for value- and non-value-added activities. Most clients are amazed at where their time is actually spent, with one of the largest time bandits being the “meeting”—formal, as well as informal.
Once you’ve determined that a meeting is worth convening, the following suggestions can make the event more “time-effective” for everyone concerned:
- Make the meeting a “stand-up only” event. With nowhere to sit, participants are forced to stay on point (this strategy is ideal for meetings under 10 minutes in duration).
- Always develop an agenda (and follow it).
- Appoint a minute-taker to record meeting notes.
- With each minute item, detail the action required and who is to follow up on it.
- For longer meetings, use structured break times so people can check and respond to their phones and emails.
Making meetings more effective starts with you—even when they’re called by others. As an attendee/participant, one of the most innovative things you can do is LISTEN! Other things include learning to multitask on your own (NOT in the company of others), and learning to turn off your phone (DON’T look at it).
In summary, by understanding and reporting on where your time is spent, placing a value on it and eliminating non-value activities, your department will be much stronger. For now, thanks for taking time to read this column! Good luck! MT
Ken Bannister is author of Lubrication for Industry and the Lubrication section of the 28th edition Machinery’s Handbook. He’s also a Contributing Editor for Lubrication Management & Technology.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.