Processes can be formal/informal, followed/ignored, audited/uncontrolled, and so on. The extent to which a standardized process is followed is typically a good indicator of how well an organization is doing. Hidden operational costs accumulate quickly with increasing process variation from such things as work management, document control, material management, and root-cause analysis. This is not true just for reliability and maintenance, but for any interaction of people, process, and technology. I’ll use my experience on a recent trip to explain.
It began with a decision to fly on a major airline that I had not used for some time. The troubling issues I experienced piled up fast, starting with check-in for my outbound flight. During the trip, I tried to document as many problems as I could recall, categorizing them into four areas: system malfunction, ineffective existing process, poor use of human resources (people issues), and redundant activity/time wasted. Here are several examples:
• At the airport, despite having checked in online and printed my boarding passes the day before, I was told to go to an automated kiosk where I had to enter the same information to start the baggage-tagging process. Other travelers received the same instructions. Unfortunately, nobody was informed we had to visit the kiosks until we reached the check-in counter. You can understand the frustration of individuals running out of time to catch their flights.
• As it turned out, the person at the understaffed check-in counter was sending customers to the kiosks to buffer her growing line. It wasn’t a good strategy. The kiosks weren’t properly performing all functions, so they were sending customers back to the harried counter employee. Soon, she was dealing with two lines—the original one and one returning from the kiosks. All the while she was complaining that her end-of-shift replacement hadn’t arrived and she wasn’t even supposed to be on duty.
• Luckily, there were three people on duty at the baggage X-ray area when I arrived, and they seemed to have plenty of time to chat among themselves. Once they realized I was waiting to drop off my bag, one of them strolled over and attempted to hoist it onto the conveyor belt. I use the word “attempted” because the gentleman seemed to have difficulty lifting the <40-lb. item. Instead, he had to slide the suitcase on the conveyor, where it barely stayed in place.
In total, I documented 15 improvement opportunities. Fortunately, airlines have better processes regarding aircraft maintenance. The Federal Aviation Administration has regulations and guidelines for standardized processes. They clearly don’t extend to check in.
So, how do my travel woes relate to your site’s reliability and maintenance efforts? When assessing and implementing a reliability and maintainability (R&M) process, the first step should be to create the culture, including, among other things, a reliability plan and goals/targets. (Best results come from implementing several foundational elements first.) The next step is to implement elements enabling standardized work processes. This leads into steps for optimizing and sustaining the effort. Then it’s on to application of R&M best practices and continual improvement. Plant personnel should all be tied to a RASIC (responsible, approve, support, inform, consult) “roles and responsibilities” chart and/or swim-lanes (diagrams of workflow).
In the end, stable R&M processes lead to multiple benefits, among them: increased throughput, reduced wastes and costs, improved safety, reduced process variation, error reduction, higher employee involvement, and easier training on and sustaining of processes. People associated with the process, though, must be capable and willing. You’re only as good as your processes allow. MT
Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at email@example.com.