Changing Workforce / Career Development

More effective work management

Tom Moriarty says invest labor resources in maintenance, reliability and optimized production.

By Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, contributing editor

People need to know what’s in it for them. Part of your job as a leader is to get people to look at their situation and to get them excited, or at least accepting of what is being asked of them. If a person perceives there’s no net benefit, they’ll be more resistant to change.

Let’s say you’re a maintenance manager and you’ve decided to get more from your work management system. You know from reading case studies that there’s a 15% to 30% potential labor efficiency improvement. In addition, you believe that by having a disciplined approach you’ll finally be able to link resources expended to specific assets so you can analyze system performance. This will provide the data you need to show where system maintenance, equipment upgrades or redesigns would be beneficial; maybe that would get more of your initiatives approved by the finance department. That all sounds great.

But before you start buying software or investing in training or professional services to support the effort, put yourself in the shoes of the people who will be experiencing the change first hand — the workforce and your customers. Ask yourself, “If I were in their shoes, what would I think and feel about the changes that are coming?”

Having been a maintenance technician for nine years, I understand the viewpoint from that side. Having worked with a number of organizations going through similar changes, I can tell you that the workforce will almost universally believe this is yet another move to reduce headcount. If reducing headcount is the only reason for the change, you’ll have more difficulty getting the change done, and even more trouble sustaining it.

When you look at an initiative to improve efficiency, think about things from the outside inward. That means looking at the situation from your customer’s perspective. It’s the best way to get people to begin understanding the vision behind why you’re going after the improvement.

Who are your customers? If you’re the maintenance manager, your customers are the plant manager, operations manager and the people who use your products or services.

What do your customers want from a maintenance and reliability perspective? Do they want maintenance craftsmen who are good at fixing things that have been broken? Or would they prefer a maintenance organization that’s highly responsive to equipment failures but continuously reduces the occurrence of upsets and equipment failures?

Suppose your efficiency initiative results in 20% “found labor.” That gives you a choice:

  • Cut headcount by 20%, or less, resulting in year-over-year operating cost reductions.
  • Reinvest all or a portion of the 20% found labor in proactive reliability and predictive maintenance (PdM) activities.

When you look at an initiative to improve efficiency, think about things from the outside inward.

If you cut headcount, you risk reducing your capacity to deploy skilled craftsmen. It also will mean that sustaining the improved productivity will have no room for backsliding; if efficiency starts trending downward, it will degrade reliability. The remaining craftsmen will be anxious, waiting for the other shoe to drop. They’ll be more likely to drag their feet instead of getting behind improvement initiatives. Job security becomes paramount, and job security increases if you have more equipment that needs to be fixed. Not a recipe for improving reliability.

When you look from the outside inward, you recognize that customers want reliable production systems, producing high-quality products on time and every time at the lowest cost of production.

If instead of cutting headcount, you invest all or part of the 20% found labor in proactive reliability activities, you retain capacity in the form of skilled labor. Invest approximately 5% to 10% of labor resources in failure modes, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA), preventive maintenance rationalization (PMR), proactive maintenance optimization (PMO), root cause analysis (RCA), lean principles and Six Sigma activities.

Use another fraction of the found labor to educate and train your workforce in PdM techniques. Intuitive technologies, such as airborne and structure-borne ultrasound and infrared thermography, can be implemented with a modest amount of training and some hardware. Outsource the more complex technologies until you develop sufficient internal capacity to bring it all in house.

Proactive reliability and PdM programs represent a growth opportunity for the workforce; that’s what’s in it for them. Before engaging in any major project, look from the outside inward to develop the vision and communicate what will be done with the efficiencies gained. When you have a good plan for found labor, it’s easier to get buy-in.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER. Contact him at and (321) 773-3356.