Consider a makeover for maintenance

December 19, 2008   by Steve Gahbauer

Having a strategy is key to maintenance improvement, but you need management buy-in, which hinges on performance and results. Keep it simple and focus on what’s important to the company’s success.

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We have come a long way in revising how we approach maintenance, but there’s still room for improvement. The kind of effective maintenance that’s embedded in the company culture and adds to the bottom line encompasses several elements including strategies, performance measurement, managing, quality, skilled trades, teamwork, cost control and the use of information technology. Meeting these objectives is a constant challenge, but it’s also an opportunity for a maintenance makeover.

“When it comes to performance management, almost everyone thinks of measurements, balanced scorecards and KPIs (key performance indicators), but there’s much more to it,” says Michel Theriault, principal of Strategic Advisor, a facility asset and management consulting company in Guelph, Ont.


A specialist in strategic planning, performance management, policies, procedures, education and training, Theriault spoke about adding management to measurement at the 7th annual Reinventing Maintenance conference, convened by Federated Press this fall in Toronto.

He says effective performance management focuses on behaviour, practices and processes. Because measurement often focuses on the wrong things, it can drive wrong behaviour. Managing results means maintaining control, supporting corporate goals and objectives and providing the right information to management. Realize that measurements are more than just numbers; and they should be directly linked to organizational strategy.

Theriault suggests developing a strategy for the next year, or better yet, for the next few years. It doesn’t need to be a 100-page brick. Keep it simple and focus on what’s important to success. “Think into the corners to discover things you can do that will improve results; things that haven’t necessarily been done before.”

This includes using dashboards, analyzing trends, having formal performance review meetings and implementing performance management action plans. But proper risk management must be in place and you need to make better use of available information. In most plants there’s plenty of raw operational data. It needs to be turned into information that aids decision making, improves results and saves money.

In critical facilities, preventing failure means focusing on the most likely issues. He recommends developing processes and performance systems that include service level definitions for managing risk and maintain a strong link with the managers of critical systems.

Cliff Williams wonders what happens to all those measurement reports. Do they just gather dust? How much of a report is really relevant? Are we measuring to manage or are we just measuring?

Williams, a 30-year maintenance veteran who is the operation maintenance manager of Erco Worldwide, a Toronto-base engineering, research and optimization company, postulates that “the purpose of measuring is to gather relevant information to enable managers to make more informed decisions and drive continuous improvement in support of corporate goals.” The results should be change. The consequence of managing should be that change is channelled in the right direction.

Williams recommends measuring meantime between failure (MTBF) and meantime to repair (MTTR). But don’t measure in isolation, be aware of different interpretations.

Here’s an example: a quarry truck that’s supposed to run for an eight-hour shift averages 16 failures per shift. So the MTBF is 8÷16 = 1÷2 = 30 minutes. Based on this information, the scheduler believes he can rely on the truck for half an hour at a time and schedules other trucks accordingly.

But if you look at the distribution of the failures, there aren’t any in the first six hours, but eight each in hours seven and eight. This tells quite a different story! The truck overheats after six hours. When repairs were made to the cooling system, the truck delivered 100 per cent.
Don Barry, an associate partner of IBM Global Business Consulting Services and an asset management specialist who is also an instructor at the University of Toronto in physical asset management certification training, notes maintenance conditions are different today than they were a decade ago. Infrastructure is nearing the end of its life, the rate of return is at an all-time low, a decade of cost-cutting has hit the wall, IT advancements change almost daily, customer expectations are shifting and much of the knowledgeable workforce is retiring.

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