By David Berger, P.Eng.
When reviewing the user requirements that many companies rely on when seeking a new computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), it’s clear that human resource (HR) management issues aren’t the main driver behind the selection process. Instead, the emphasis generally favors software features that maximize equipment reliability, availability and performance, as well as optimize supply chain efficiency and effectiveness. These are important elements to get right. However, don’t underestimate the importance of the human element when trying to get the most out of your CMMS and, in turn, your maintenance department. Here are examples of typical HR issues and how a CMMS can assist in resolving them.
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Several issues relate specifically to the choice of maintenance department supervisors and managers. One key issue is the appropriate supervisor-to-worker ratio for each trade. Maintenance shops vary widely with respect to this benchmark. If forced to provide an industry average ratio for larger maintenance departments (defined as having more than 30 tradespeople), a ratio of about 15:1 would be reasonable. Smaller shops with a mix of trades tend to have lower ratios.
Another variable in determining the appropriate supervisor-to-worker ratio is shift coverage. If maintenance is required around the clock, seven days per week, then a medium-size maintenance department of, say, 30 workers, has four or more crews of less than 10 people each. If there’s at least one supervisor for each crew, then the supervisor-to-worker ratio will be low. Note that as a general rule, the ratio will be greater to the extent that the CMMS is used in a more sophisticated manner. For example, a supervisor who employs comprehensive mobile technology that can download an entire detailed schedule to each technician and receive detailed, real-time feedback as to what has been accomplished will be in a better position to supervise more people effectively.
Lead-hands are senior hourly employees who have been given the added responsibility of supervising a crew. Some plants assign a working lead-hand to supervise a smaller crew, such as an electrical lead-hand on nights, to help increase the ratio. Many companies have a problem attracting lead-hands because the perception is that a few cents more an hour is just not worth the additional aggravation and frustration. The frustration to which they refer is the increased paperwork, politics, administrative duties and responsibility to discipline fellow workers. This is especially difficult if the lead-hand hasn’t been trained to use the CMMS as an effective management tool.
A second issue is the matter of supervisory qualifications. As is the case in production and even office environments, the best workers tend to be given promotions to management positions. Sometimes this means converting a good worker into an untrained, inferior supervisor. Companies must spend thousands of dollars on supervisory training to help a worker make the transition. This must continue far beyond a supervisor's probationary period. The company is responsible for ensuring that expectations of the new supervisor are crystal clear from day one, and that deviations are discussed and corrected during the probationary period. Most CMMS packages can track the training that technicians and supervisors acquire. More sophisticated HR modules can assist in establishing and tracking training schedules to meet any identified competency gaps.
Another problem with worker promotion in companies suffering from chronic overtime is that workers will take a drop in income or will be required to work longer hours for no additional pay. This makes it difficult to attract and motivate new supervisors. The CMMS can track overtime hours and alert management when a chronic overtime trend is emerging.
Ensuring adequate redundancy by production department, function or trade, and shift, is essential for workers and management. For example, reliance on one electrician or a single resident mechanic in a given production department in a large facility can be fatal if a serious or large-scale emergency arises.
Redundancy implies appropriate backup is available in the same sense that NASA uses redundant computers for its space vehicles. The level of redundancy required depends on the criticality of the relevant processes and the type of maintenance required.
A CMMS can assist in tracking the skills acquired, competencies and formal training of each technician. When assigning work to employees during scheduling, a more sophisticated CMMS allows maintenance planners to search for workers with specific skills and certifications for a given job.
Should a key management or worker position be vacated, succession planning ensures that someone can fill the void. For example, good old Fred Jones, who has been running the maintenance storeroom for the past 25 years, has memorized every part number and the location of each part in his domain. Succession planning prevents a disaster should Fred leave unexpectedly. One approach to succession planning is to have a junior apprentice work under Fred for two or more years in an effort to absorb Fred's knowledge. Then again, a CMMS can store much of the knowledge Fred has amassed during the years for use by others. A CMMS can be a huge asset in providing a wealth of information to those involved with succession, such as where to find things, how to interpret data and so on.
One of the most controversial uses of the CMMS is for disciplinary purposes. The CMMS is quite capable of tracking detailed performance data for each technician. Examples include tracking standard or planned hours for a given preventive or corrective task versus actual hours logged. A good tracking system gives technicians no place to hide because hours must add to a full shift each day. This is especially true of mobile technology that can log start/stop times for each job automatically. Even if one tries to pad the numbers for a given job, eventually an aberration, such as long-term trend data or comparisons to other technicians, will appear.
In my view, it’s always a mistake to use CMMS-based data in building an argument for giving someone a poor performance review. It might work the first time, but you can be sure the majority of workers will feel betrayed and eventually seek retribution. For example, a backlash may consist of entering data inaccurately if at all, refusal to use the system, shifting focus away from using system-generated reports for making improvements and discrediting the reports.
Instead, the CMMS should be used for more constructive purposes, such as:
- Identifying training opportunities to address the most common performance gaps.
- Testing different processes to determine which is most efficient.
- Finding ways to reduce non-value-added activities, such as waiting for parts, that are annoying to technicians and degrade productivity.
Remuneration and promotion
Another controversial issue is basing remuneration on performance as opposed to basing it on seniority. As discussed above, although the CMMS can assist in tracking technician performance, it’s rarely used as the main criterion when determining remuneration. A less controversial use of the CMMS is simply to collect actual hours worked for payroll purposes.
When considering an individual’s eligibility for promotion, a sophisticated HR module can help incorporate technician job skills and knowledge, competencies, training, test results, performance appraisal results, discipline record and other useful inputs into promotion decisions.
Contributing Editor David Berger can be reached at email@example.com.
HR management issues aren’t the main driver behind the CMMS selection process. Supervisor-to-worker ratio and supervisory qualifications are two issues that affect the choice. A CMMS can assist in tracking the skills acquired, competencies and formal training of each technician. It can support succession planning to ensure there will be no competency voids. Using a CMMS for disciplinary purposes will induce some unwanted consequences. A sophisticated CMMS HR module can help establish promotions and pay raises.