Barriers and Solutions to Implementing Proactive Maintenance Strategies


Often, when we work to implement proactive maintenance strategies, it comes with many challenges and pitfalls. For the sake of this blog, when we refer to proactive maintenance, we are considering both preventive maintenance (PM) and predictive maintenance (PdM).

Both activities are proactive in that they are performed before the asset failure occurs. The difference is that preventive maintenance is generally intrusive (requiring equipment downtime). In contrast, predictive maintenance is non-intrusive until an abnormality is actually found that must be addressed.

Many organizations will find themselves falling into some of these common traps.

maintenance strategies

Barrier 1: Let’s Just Copy the Owner’s Manual

Equipment manufacturers (OEMs) provide a one-size-fits-all manual when delivering their products. Whether you're working on an oil platform, a steel mill, or an ice cream factory, this manual is the same. This approach is flawed because different environments and production expectations require tailored maintenance strategies.

For instance, the maintenance plan for equipment in an oil platform should not be the same as that for the same equipment in an ice cream factory. Even within a single facility, different assets might require unique strategies based on their function and impact on operations.

Additional conflict arises as OEMs are focused on manufacturing and selling equipment. They lack insights into your specific operations and needs. Consequently, they can't predict how you'll use the equipment and the results of failures.

Attempting to copy maintenance strategies from other facilities or departments without analysis and adaptation falls into the same trap. Each context is unique, and maintenance plans should be based on factors, like criticality, resource availability, and regulatory requirements. Customizing strategies is essential to prevent unexpected downtime and optimize performance.

The Solution:

Use OEM information as a reference point for designing your maintenance strategy, but make it your own. Look carefully at each asset, ask yourself how it is likely to fail given what you expect of it (failure mode), and if it did fail, how much you would be willing to invest to avoid that situation.

Barrier 2: More is Better

The misconception lies in the assumption that more proactive maintenance tasks are always better. However, the ideal approach is to perform just enough proactive maintenance to achieve the desired outcome without excess. This balance minimizes three costs:

  • Cost of Performing Proactive Maintenance
  • Cost of Repairs Resulting from Maintenance
  • Cost of Equipment Downtime

In the middle ground, the optimal point minimizes total costs.

Look at the results from a recent PM evaluation involving 20,000 PMs at a steel mill. Now you can see the opportunities to save time and money – in real dollars:

PM Task Action Recommendation

The Solution:

Evaluate each maintenance task individually, ensuring its value. For inspections, a rule of thumb is that if we perform an inspection six times in a row and do not find an abnormality that requires a repair, then something is wrong. This assessment should be integrated into the overall process for continuous improvement. This mindset avoids random questioning and becomes a systematic part of operations. See Barriers 3 and 4 for additional insights.

Barrier 3: Lack of Ownership

Lack of ownership over inspection tasks in the maintenance system can lead to issues, as it's unclear who's responsible for modifying or removing them for improvement. Relying on these tasks solely because the system dictates so is inadequate.

Without a designated owner, the implication is that the initial setup was perfect, an assertion unlikely to be true.

The Solution:

Appoint a process owner or team responsible for regularly reviewing and enhancing proactive maintenance strategies. This role involves collaboration with those executing tasks to refine strategies and ensure continuous improvement. It's a collective effort to create the most effective maintenance plan.

Barrier 4: Proactive Maintenance Strategy Design as a One-Time Task

This is a misconception. Strategy creation is an ongoing process that demands continuous study, review, and enhancement. Success is gauged by reduced maintenance downtime and costs, with results being the ultimate measure, not opinions.

I often tell my colleagues, “Every day I come to work, I reserve the right to get a little smarter…”. We should integrate this thinking into our strategy design….what have we learned? What can we do with this knowledge?

The Solution:

Establish a systematic review of maintenance strategies, focusing on high-criticality assets. Implement a structured plan, whether quarterly assessments for top assets or an ongoing task for reliability engineers. Effectiveness is determined by the outcomes achieved, guiding the necessary level of effort.

Every moment of unplanned downtime hurts a little, but it also provides insight into what we might be doing differently.

The truth of the matter is that this is something that we must continually study, review, and improve. The only true indication of success is a decrease in maintenance-related downtime with an associated reduction in maintenance costs. That's it! No opinions, just results.

Barrier 5: It Looks Good on Paper

Barrier 5 involves placing excessive value on visually appealing and lengthy maintenance procedures. Often, the value of a procedure is wrongly measured in page count rather than the quality of work that is performed as a result of the words on the paper. This perception can be misleading, as the documentation's appearance doesn't necessarily correlate with results.

Maintenance planners are advised to focus on simplification. Procedures should contain only the essential details for optimal task execution—safety, efficiency, and quality—without unnecessary fluff.

The Solution:

Take practical action. Relying solely on documentation is inadequate. Successful organizations prioritize task execution monitoring, similar to safety observations. Maintenance supervisors should formally audit tasks, engage with workers, and align efforts with outcomes. Regularly observing a minimal number of tasks per month and incorporating observations into continuous improvement initiatives can yield impressive results.

Barrier 6: Regulatory Requirements

This one is a bit tricky but solvable. Often, maintenance teams perform inspection and intrusive preventive maintenance tasks, citing regulatory requirements as the justification, even if they acknowledge these tasks have limited value. Regulatory agencies typically outline potential issues rather than specific solutions, aiming to prevent "malicious compliance" where tasks are performed to meet requirements but lack real value.

The Solution:

I recommend that you choose your battles carefully on this one. For tasks that drain resources or have high risks, research and inquire politely to understand the actual requirements. Return to the source and clarify what's truly needed. We often exceed compliance expectations in anticipation of future audits, leading to excessive efforts.

The approach isn't about cutting corners or recklessness. Instead, it's about calmly addressing the core issue, formulating a well-considered strategy, and focusing on true risk mitigation rather than blindly following outdated plans. The goal is to strike a balance that meets regulatory demands while optimizing resource utilization and minimizing unnecessary efforts.


Managing a proactive maintenance strategy requires dedication, ownership, and a realistic perspective on attaining perfection. Success hinges on consistent effort, nurturing the program, and prioritizing tangible results as the ultimate value.

For more information on how Allied Reliability Solutions can help you with your proactive maintenance strategy, visit our asset reliability solutions page; here you will find information on our reliability consulting, training, and so much more.

About the Author

Mike Gehloff

Mike Gehloff

Mike Gehloff has worked in the maintenance and reliability discipline for over 30 years with a wide range of experience both as a practitioner and a consultant. His area of expertise lies within the social sciences related to the discipline, particularly in the work control (maintenance planning and scheduling), operator care, and management systems areas.

Mike has worked extensively in the steel industry and held several corporate and division-level reliability positions. He also has experience in the mining, food and beverage, oil and gas, and power generation industries with a proven track record of delivering results. Mike is particularly effective in team-based environments where frontline associates are empowered to make a change in their organization. Breaking down barriers to communication, motivation, and a set of common goals for the organization are all areas that represent a professional passion for Mike.

Mike graduated from Eckerd College. He is a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP), as well as a Certified Plant Maintenance Manager (CPMM). Mike is also a Six Sigma Black Belt and has earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Florida. Mike is always open to adventure and has an extensive international travel resume.

Connect with Mike on LinkedIn.


Allied Reliability provides asset management consulting and predictive maintenance solutions across the lifecycle of your production assets to deliver required throughput at lowest operating cost while managing asset risk. We do this by partnering with our clients, applying our proven asset management methodology, and leveraging decades of practitioner experience across more verticals than any other provider. Our asset management solutions include Consulting & Training, Condition-based Maintenance, Industrial Staffing, Electrical Services, and Machine Reliability.

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