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Forward to the Basics, Using Education to Create Real Partnerships

Awash in a sea of global overcapacity, the focus will be on maximizing equipment reliability and system availability to be a least cost producer for those quick and short duration production runs, utilizing only a small portion of your true capacity. The term "Least Cost Producer" will mean no lost time, 100% first pass quality, and no excess or wasted labor and materials while running at rate with 100% reliability. While Maintenance groups are typically tagged with ownership of equipment reliability, reality is that Maintenance only influences about 17% of that metric. So, to be successful in the New Normal, real partnerships are needed with the site functions, i.e. Operations, Engineering, and Quality. Some organizations have already recognized this and elected to begin laying the foundation for partnerships with shared education.

Most corporate executives view Maintenance as a cost to be minimized. As such, Maintenance budgets continue to be slashed. Yet, every time there is an upset related to equipment reliability, it seems the blame gets laid squarely on the Maintenance group's shoulders. As previously stated, Maintenance only controls about 17% of the equipment reliability, while Operations owns roughly 21% and Engineering's share falls out at about 23%. It's always interesting when visiting a site and asking if partnerships between the various stakeholders exist. Much of the time, the response is "yes" but it only takes a few minutes to review the site metrics or attend the morning Production meeting to determine the reality is the illusion of partnerships exists, not true partnerships. In the meeting, downtime or other issues are reported, the Plant Manager rattles his or her saber, and everything rolls downhill from there. The finger is quickly aimed in the direction of Maintenance with an edict of you need to fix this, as opposed to we. Due to the saber rattling, the poor Production Operator who knows the issue is not a Maintenance issue, but a case of another Production operator not following the start-up checklist begins to shake at the knees and just keeps quiet. Perceptions are everything.

It's interesting when stopping to think about what Maintenance actually controls. It may surprise you but Maintenance actually only controls about 80% of the direct supervision of Maintenance workers, the work management process, and Maintenance Planning. Many of us in the Maintenance world are naïve for lack of a better word. We believe that everyone understands what reliability is all about and we all act in the same way to achieve it. Guess what? Not everyone is on the same page when it comes to the definition of reliability. You can test this yourself in your site. Ask an Operations Manager, Project Engineer, Purchasing Agent, or Quality Assurance Manager for their definition of reliability as it relates to them, not slanted to you as a Maintenance person since you asked the question. The results may surprise you.

It didn't take me long to figure out that my Operations partner had a different standard for Reliability than I did. Within my span of control as the Maintenance Manager, I believed reliability was guaranteeing the capacity of the equipment, meaning that when you pushed the start button, the equipment ran and met the functional requirements. My Operations counterpart viewed Reliability from much more encompassing entire supply chain management approach. Did the people show up for work today? Are the raw and packaging materials onsite such that we can run the operation without starting up and having to shut down for materials issues? Is the equipment available and properly running so that we can meet the production targets and not generate rework or scrap product? While ideally we would like to direct ship products in a just-in-time fashion, that's not always possible. So, if we are able to produce goods, do we have shipping trucks or warehouse space to put it? While we impact them dearly on the equipment availability front, our maintenance world is just a small segment of their world. We are providing a service to the organization with respect to availability and capacity. That said we are not in a supplier-customer or subservient relationship but should look at our relationship as a partnership. A clear differentiator between organizations with a proactive reliability-centered culture and those without is the existence of partnerships between the various functional departments into a single cohesive team with common goals. Sure, each group is compartmentalized, but they don't have competing objectives that prevent another department from reaching their goals. The goals are shared in a proactive organization. In poor performing organizations, these functional departments exist as silos with little cooperation inside or outside the silo. Realize that improved reliability is a culture, not a department.

The power of a partnership is the potential value-add, where the outcomes of the partnership as a whole are greater than the sum of what individual partners can do on their own. One of the points of the partnership should be to eliminate the "blame game" and come together with shared goals. Another point is to share the power and the successes. Recognize that power differentials create obstacles to any partnership. With respect to quickly establishing blame, we'll share this with you: One of the principles of partnership is that judgments should wait and be carefully considered. Typically, once a judgment is made, people tend to stop gathering new information or have a willingness to interpret a prior judgment in a new light. In hindsight which is always 20-20, we didn't take the partnership far enough into the trenches at the beginning. We broke down a lot of barriers and the various groups came together at the manager level. While we didn't fail, we could have been much more successful by getting more of the maintenance craftspeople and operators involved earlier in the partnership process. And recognize that it is a process. A partnership is like a marriage; you have to work at it to be successful. Mere acceptance of the partnership is not enough to sustain it.

Here's another approach as an example. When I was a Maintenance Manager, I quickly figured out that to survive, my operations partner and I were going to have to come together and figure out how to run the plant together. Run the plant together? Think about this. Between Maintenance and Operations together are roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of all the resources within the manufacturing plant site. We were both members of the site staff and in that context with other staff members, determined the overall direction of the site, how we would achieve the corporate directives, and handle strategic issues. But recognize those were not the day to day issues that we faced together as Maintenance and Operations in reaching the common goals. We created a team that was dedicated to understanding the interactions between Maintenance and Operations, and how we could help each other in a mutually beneficial relationship to achieve the common goals. Initially, the team consisted of the Maintenance and Operations Managers. For the team, we created a mission and vision to provide a guiding framework for our activities. We met every two weeks to talk and assign action on how we would collectively operate the plant since we really had all the resources. During those meetings, we had the opportunity to educate our Operations partners on how we were trying to work with respect to the Maintenance Best Practices. For example, we wanted to respond to events based on criticality and priority, not who yelled the loudest.

By the same token, Operations had the opportunity to educate us on their concerns. Together, we mapped out our business processes and procedures. We used the Deming Cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act to refine our processes and improve the approaches we took. We were all about continuous improvement and once we got our partnership off the ground, we started bringing in the other functional departments like project engineering and materials management/ purchasing. As issues came up that involved different departments outside of the core Maintenance and Operations groups, we would use that meeting as a starting point to work through the issues with those groups. Because we had a standing meeting time every two weeks, it also gave those departments an opportunity to come to us when they needed our collective help. For example, a project engineer may be planning a large project and needed input along with resourcing to help ensure success.

As a team, we accomplished some great objectives. As an example, we mapped out and implemented a critical event database that drove the root cause analysis process. When a process upset occurred and lasted for more than 2 hours, Operations initiated a simple 8 step RCA form and submitted it to the Reliability group. A Reliability Technician gathered a cross functional team that included Maintenance , Operations, Engineering, and Quality to determine the root cause(s) and come up with solutions which could be implemented. Those solutions weren't necessarily maintenance solutions, but might include an engineering fix, changes to an Operations checklist or startup procedure. The goal from the RCA process was problem elimination, to ensure that collectively we hopefully never faced that same issue again.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Recognize that no matter where you are in the food chain,- technician, planner, supervisor, or manager, - you have the capability to influence someone. This is a core principle of leadership. You will always be operating with constraints placed on you by others within the organization. Sure, your position on that hierarchy will affect the breadth of your influence but I don't know many organizations that discourage people at the lower levels from making improvements or taking action. As a manager, I was always relieved when someone took action, trying to do the right thing because it made my life easier. Realize that taking action is different from simply talking about taking action, or talking about how it's someone else's responsibility to take action.

You have to be persistent. Most likely, when you first push back against the status quo with production or engineering, you will meet some resistance. Do you encourage quick fixes and temporary repairs, or strive for quality workmanship and precision maintenance? Do you bend to the first attempt by production to defer routine maintenance, or do you educate, encourage and coerce production into greater adherence to the agreed schedule? Be prepared for rejection and setbacks, and have courage in your own convictions.

We are seeing a significant number of organizations use educational training courses in Maintenance and Reliability to help educate their site partners on the benefits of real partnership. It's great when you have an Operations Director, Technical Engineering Director, Plant Manager, Maintenance Manager, and Maintenance Engineer in a
class together. They tend to sit together as a group and as the class discussions progress; you see the lights go off in the group. You might see the Operations Director look at the Maintenance Manager and talk about how the shifting of changeover times impacts the Maintenance schedule. Another discussion may be how having Production Operators take ownership of Standard Operating Procedures along with proper training improves the equipment reliability and ultimately, the availability. In one recent course, over 50% of the class was made up of Operations personnel.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how you establish partnerships. What matters is that you have true partnerships with shared objectives and measures that are aligned. You can choose to create the team first, and then, introduce the education on the Best Practices, or go the educational route first. One of the important things to remember is that partnerships take constant work but the effort is worth it. Use every opportunity to communicate the initiation and effectiveness of the partnership, via site communication meetings, site Leadership Staff presentations, and other methods. When you establish a true partnership with the site stakeholders, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish together. So, what are you waiting for?

Article submitted by:
R. D. (Doc) Palmer PE, MBA, CMRP may be contacted at
Jeff Shiver, CMRP can be reached at

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