Bringing Science into Maintenance Planning

Can we agree on one thing? When considering the tasks that we perform daily as a maintenance organization, there is a right way to do them. I am not saying that I know the answer, but I believe there is a right way to rebuild a Goulds HT3196 LTX pump. I believe there is a right way to calibrate a Campbell Scientific pH probe.

I would propose that the correct method to perform these maintenance tasks is a scientific fact. Now if you were to ask me who makes better music, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, well then, I would of course say The Beatles, but that would be an opinion; open to debate and discussion with no clear answer.

The reason I bring this up is that I believe that there is a lack of standardization, a lack of science if you will, in our maintenance planning efforts. I work with maintenance planners in the field nearly every week, and when we have this discussion, I generally get a response something like,

“I don’t really know how much detail to put into my job plans…..we have a bunch of guys working here who have been on the job 30 years plus…if I give them too much information, they will tell me of a special place that I can put my job plan.” Yes, I understand that airline pilots use checklists on every flight, but I know my job…. I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me what to do."

Let me be clear, I have the greatest respect for the skill and experience that our maintenance workers have gained over the years, I really do. I just don’t think that they are the problem. The scenario I like to describe to these maintenance planners that I work with goes something like this:

Give me five workers with 30 years plus experience, and we will give each of them a blank piece of paper. Let’s then ask them to jot down a few bullet points on how they would rebuild a Goulds HT3196 LTX pump. Do you think that these 5 pieces of paper will look anything alike?

If we believe that what we do for a living is based on science, then the only acceptable answer is that all five pieces of paper must look alike. Otherwise, at least four of them are making errors in their maintenance work, perhaps all five.

This is where the role of the maintenance planner really comes to light. It is our job to prioritize all the jobs that we plan in any given week, and that we pick some small amount, even if it is one job plan, and treat it like a science project; seeking out that right answer to the question “what is the correct way to perform this task?”

Here are a few tips to drive that scientific discovery by the maintenance planner:

  1. Keep it Small but at a Steady Pace: You cannot solve all the world’s problems at once. Pick just one work order and strive to improve that one. Then when you have made some significant improvement, move on to the next. Set a goal. One a week? One a month? Let the other jobs continue at their normal level of planning but create some wins.
  2. You are not an Expert but Rather an Expert Facilitator: As a maintenance planner you do not know everything. It is impossible. Make the time in your day to collaborate with the maintenance workforce on that one job plan you are trying to improve. Go to the worksite or find 30 minutes to sit down and discuss. Make the improvements their improvements, not yours. If you can develop ownership, the chances of real improvement increase astronomically. As humans we generally do not react to paper, we react to people.
  3. It’s Not About the Paper: When I asked you to improve a job plan, the first thought that likely came to your mind is “I wonder what template he wants us to use?” I think that this is less important than the idea that you collaborate with the workers who perform the task. Yes of course you write down what they told you, but you do it in a clear and concise manner. Do not fall into the trap of judging the quality of the job plan by counting pages. There is absolutely no correlation. More on what makes for a good job plan coming up.
  4. You are Never Done: This task of improving our key performance is a never-ending journey. Once we improve one job plan, another one will be in the wings waiting for our attention. And that first one we worked on? We may likely find it back at the top of our list one day. It’s all about prioritization.

The Perfect Job Plan?

So how does one define the perfect job plan? I guarantee it is not by page count or how colorful it is. I believe that the perfect job plan is one that provides:

Safe Execution

for our people and environment

Efficient Execution

minimal amount of downtime, labor cost, and materials cost

Error-Free Execution

once we walk away, we won’t be coming back anytime soon

Let’s stop putting so much focus on what template or software we use. Let’s stop placing value on page count. Sure, we need a template, and sure we need software, but these are only tools. Let’s take responsibility as maintenance planners to develop the perfect job plan that produces results. Let’s take some ownership of the execution of the work. Let’s not be the guy who says, "I filled out a worksheet and passed it along, my job is done."

Sometimes we forget that we can make a difference, and that difference comes when we drive the standardization of work in the right way. As a community, we have a real chance to facilitate the success of others.

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.

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