The best practices project

Here’s an opportunity to benchmark using real-world data

By David Berger, P. Eng., Contributing Editor

Response to my column titled “Use sound reasoning to determine maintenance best practices” (Plant Services, October 2005) was substantial. Clearly, this is a topic near and dear to many readers. That’s why we’d like to revisit the topic, but this time, formally invite you to participate in the project. This month, I’ll provide a list of questions from various areas within maintenance management to elicit your thoughts on best practices.

These questions were extracted from a maintenance audit checklist I use for identifying improvement opportunities. As you read them, think of what you consider to be best practices regarding each topic. Send me your ideas ( and we’ll turn them into a future column. But, before you do anything else, be sure to read the sidebar, “Send a best practice (or two)."

Tell us your best practices for motivating workers and management, which lead to a more positive working environment, higher employee satisfaction and, ultimately, greater productivity. Describe your best practices that better align the operations, engineering and maintenance departments.

How do you build a high level of trust between the many silos of your organization? What do operations workers and their management say about the ability and attitude of maintenance workers and their managers? What is top management’s attitude towards maintenance? Are there signs that attitude is deteriorating such as:
  • Poor workmanship
  • Poor housekeeping
  • Refusal to work overtime
  • Increasing tardiness, absenteeism and turnover
  • Increasing number of grievances
  • Constant bickering and verbal abuse
  • Decreasing amount of worker/supervisor interaction
  • Increasing downtime
  • Decreasing utilization and pace of work
  • Less initiative and creativity shown by workers
Send us your ideas about best practices concerning strategy issues such as how to do strategic planning, what performance targets you’ve achieved, what incentives you use to ensure your plan is met or exceeded, etc.
  • How do you determine which projects to embrace for best results (eg, Total Productive Maintenance, Lean, Six Sigma, Reliability-Centered Maintenance)?
  • What is the budgeted versus actual cost of internal and contract labor, spare parts and overtime for the past month?
  • What are the maintenance department’s goals and objectives according to maintenance management? Maintenance workers? Operations? Top management?
  • What targets have been established for meeting stated goals and objectives (eg. expected level of downtime, labor utilization, overtime, response time, mean time between failures, inventory level and turns)?
  • Are there targets for the short- and long-term?
  • What measures and incentives are in place to ensure that targets are met?
  • Are there recognized drivers for the measures such as customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, risk management and operational excellence?
  • Are expectations well understood (for example, operations expects a five-minute response time for any major downtime incident)?
  • Have the measures been baselined (current downtime level is below four percent?
  • Have the measures been benchmarked to determine reasonableness of those expectations?
  • Have action items and projects been identified to ensure targets are met?
  • Is it clear what the expected contribution is to be for each project in meeting performance targets?
  • Are there formal project plans for each project?
Organizational structure
E-mail your thoughts on best practices regarding organizational issues such as multi-skilling, shift coverage, specialized crews and the role of supervision.
  • How do you decide whether to create a centralized, decentralized or distributed maintenance environment?
  • Which is best, and why?
  • Does the current organizational structure adequately support the strategy?
  • Are jobs performed sub-standard as a result of missing skills in the trades or engineering?
  • What’s the role of the supervisor, as perceived by the technicians and supervisors?
  • Is there an established succession plan?
  • Are shifts resourced with the appropriate level of experience and skill?
  • Is there redundancy for critical processes?
  • Are there staggered shifts to ensure minimum overtime?
  • Is seniority an issue (for example, the most junior mechanics are on the off-shift with little supervision)?
  • Is there a separate shift crew for PM? If possible, is PM done on off shifts? Do operators assist with PM in any way to ensure they have a sense of ownership of the equipment?
  • Are resident mechanics desirable in certain operations departments?
Share your views on best practices for facilities such as centralized versus decentralized warehousing of spare parts and consumables, large centralized maintenance shops versus smaller distributed maintenance cribs, how to keep the facilities clean, etc.
  • Are maintenance storage and work areas kept clean and tidy?
  • Is there adequate space to service equipment efficiently and effectively?
  • Are there adequate machines and hand tools available?
  • Does the maintenance area layout reflect proper attention to safety, material flow, accessibility and comfort?
Human resources management
Give us your views on how best to establish and match job positions with the skills and competencies of the workforce.
  • How do you determine what training is required and whether it is effective?
  • What are your best practices regarding hiring, retention and promotion, including how you ensure you don’t lose best workers because you’ve made them more marketable or promoted them beyond their capabilities?
  • How much is spent on training maintenance workers versus management?
  • Do you track training retention and effectiveness?
  • Is there adequate opportunity and incentive to upgrade to higher skill levels? To cross-train?
  • Are there clearly-defined hiring and promotion criteria?
  • Is testing used to verify practical and theoretical knowledge before hiring or promoting employees?
  • Are there job descriptions for each maintenance position that reflect accurately the responsibility, quality and performance standards, as well as skills required to do the job?
  • Is remuneration tied to personal, team and enterprise-wide performance targets?
  • Are there clearly defined career paths?
  • Are absenteeism, tardiness and discipline records tracked and analyzed for appropriate follow-up?
State your best practices around getting the most out of your CMMS as a planning, tracking, diagnostic, analysis and reporting tool. Describe how best to use your CMMS to optimize inventory measures, preventive maintenance processes, asset lifecycle costs, resource management and so on.
  • What’s the current level of work backlog? What should it be?
  • Are maintenance jobs planned properly?
  • Are planned hours and material usage compared to actual values? How does management react to unfavorable variances?
  • What’s the ratio of PM work to breakdown maintenance?
  • Are PM routines executed properly by the right people, at the appropriate time?
  • Are high-cost and high-volume inventory items controlled by a min/max and economic order quantity) approach?
  • What is the spare parts stockout frequency?
  • How many rush orders are there every week?
  • What’s the dollar value of obsolete inventory?
  • What is the level of downtime?
  • What reports does management actually use? Workers?
  • What information is missing? Why?
  • Are there good analysis tools available on the CMMS? Are they used?
  • Is the CMMS adequately integrated with other software packages?
Predictive maintenance
Let us know your best practices for predictive techniques such as those listed above.
  • How do you determine for a given asset whether it’s optimal to use predictive, preventive or failure-based maintenance?
  • Have any opportunities for using predictive maintenance and knowledge-based systems been identified for conducting vibration analysis, lubrication analysis (tribology) and infrared analysis (thermography)?
  • Is it clear where predictive maintenance is cost-justified over preventive maintenance, and in turn, over reactive maintenance?
E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger at

Send a best practice (or two)

Let us know of an action, system or organizational structure you consider to represent a true best practice. In return, the company submitting the most interesting best practice will receive a free consultation with David himself.

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