Help your core team hit the maintenance bull's-eye

Stanton McGroarty says have a clear work description and a project operating plan for your problem assets.

By J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, senior technical editor

Maintenance is truly driven by data when the data are guiding us to the most significant maintenance work we could be doing in our plant and showing us how to solve it. This is the third in a three-installment series — Ready, Aim, and Fire.

We set out at the beginning of this series to use data to guide us to a couple of the biggest, most costly recurring maintenance headaches in the plant. Further, we said in the first installment that we’ll be ready to solve these problems when we have identified them and quantified what they are costing the organization. In the second part, we convened a core team to perform a batch RCA on the failures experienced with one or more of the problem systems, and we identified the maintenance and other problems that were driving the failures. We characterized this step as taking aim.

Most RCA efforts stop with the aim step because the problem is understood and maintenance work orders have been issued. What else could possibly be required? Solving big perennial problems may call for changes in production, PdM, engineering, training, inspection or shop-floor procedures. Change management, senior-level support, and communication are needed, and sometimes input from marketing or customer-contact people may be helpful. A cross-functional team is required to execute this type of problem solving, so it will be necessary to add some participants to the core team. In doing so, the core team will grow into the cross-functional project team that will convert the problem assets into reliable production systems.

The core team will begin the process by meeting and reviewing the aim-phase report. A template for this report is available as a sidebar in the online version of the Aim part of this series. Core team members have already reviewed the list of problems and written maintenance orders for those that could be solved by the maintenance department. The core team must now identify new participants from elsewhere in the organization who can develop and execute work plans to solve the remaining failure causes that cannot be solved with maintenance work orders.

In many cases, core team members will have the skill to write the additional work requests for correction of training, process, and other needs, but they should not do so. It is essential that the people who will own these repairs be a part of the process of designing them. Instead the core team should identify the additional team members who will be needed and convene a meeting to explain the work that has been done so far and follow up with a meeting to discuss the work that still lies ahead. At this meeting core team members should extend an invitation to the representatives of other groups to join in the adventure. After all, everyone should be excited at the prospect of solving one or two of the largest, most persistent equipment problems in the plant.

Maintenance is truly driven by data when the data are guiding us to the most significant maintenance work we could be doing in our plant and showing us how to solve it.

It may take another meeting or two, along with some off-line sessions with individuals, to arrive at a shared understanding of the work that needs to be done. Setting all the items on the core team report to rights will demand this kind of shared understanding. When this agreement is reached and the new team members have agreed to own their respective pieces of the effort, the project team is finally born, and the work of fixing a huge, perennial problem can begin in earnest.

Sometimes this kind of project has a hundred or more line items. In that case, the core team will have to divide up the list of repairs and perform the follow-up chores. If the list is smaller, the core team leader may be able to keep track of all the items. Whichever organizational approach is selected, the project team should present its findings to the project’s management sponsor in the form of a spreadsheet with one line per work item. As with any follow-up, project owner, current status, promise dates, and other tracking tools should be in place. Weekly internal reviews by the project team and monthly reports out to the management sponsor should be scheduled. Of course the schedule must be maintained.

J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, is senior technical editor of Plant Services. He was formerly consulting manager for Strategic Asset Management International (SAMI), where he focused on project management and training for manufacturing, maintenance and reliability engineering. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing and maintenance experience in the automotive, defense, consumer products and process manufacturing industries. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Detroit Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University. He can be reached at or check out his .

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More projects die at this stage than at any other. This is true for two reasons: First, most of the work is to be done by one group for the benefit of other groups. Most of the benefits will occur in production; most of the work will be scattered throughout the factory staff. Second, unless the project sponsor is one of the great cheerleaders of all time, progress will go unnoticed. This is one place where the sponsor can help bring the project to life and keep it that way. There should be a great celebration when the overall job is done, but team celebrations of important milestones are also important. They build morale and they create a helpful contrast to the discussions that will be necessary with team members who aren’t progressing.

Over a period of months or years, any organization can be brought to a level where improvement is expected and built into the culture. This won’t happen early in the first big improvement project, though. Project leaders and the whole core team must plan on making regular injections of energy into the process, or it will go flat.

The project spreadsheet should be posted on a wall in the area that is under repair. A constantly updated copy should also be available on a drive that is accessible to the whole team. This spreadsheet, projected on a large screen at each team meeting, should provide the focus of the group follow-up. If the core team and the project leaders are willing to put in the necessary effort and energy, progress should be rapid. After all, the right mix of talent has been brought to bear on a task list that has been agreed upon by the whole project team.

Up to this point you will have made your team ready by identifying the problem. You will have taken aim by studying the problem and developing a portfolio of corrections that will be needed to fix it. Now that you have a clear work description and a project operating plan, the time has come to fire!

And managers, don’t forget to let your elation show when your team hits the bull’s-eye. This kind of project goes straight to the bottom line.