Setting the standard for improved maintenance

David Berger says strike a balance between local standards and industry best practices.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

Many companies struggle with the advantages and disadvantages of setting standards for doing maintenance work. On the plus side, standards provide employees, and sometimes internal/external customers, with clear, quantitative expectations for quality and performance. On the negative side, if those expectations are unrealistic, standards tend to have the opposite effect. If standards are too high, maintainers and their supervisors will ignore them. If standards are too low, there is no incentive for maintainers to do anything but the bare minimum, nor for their supervisors to expect any better.

To make matters worse, terms such as “best practices” or “world class” imply that there is an indisputable, ideal standard somewhere out there that applies to anyone in the world doing similar work. In my view, these expressions can cause considerable grief for maintainers and those who supervise them, depending on what is done with the information. Even within a company, the head office may impose corporate standards for all plants and facilities doing similar work. Although these may be dangerous strategies, so is setting local standards for each operation without regard for corporate, industry or global standards. Thus, when it comes to setting standards, it is all about balance.

For example, how long should it take to change a tire? To answer this question, we need to understand the vehicle make and model, tire type, fasteners used, special tools available, facilities available, working conditions, and many other factors. Thus, one would expect that changing a tire on an old Ford minivan that is broken down on the road in a snow storm will have a significantly different standard than changing a tire on a race car during a Formula One event.

Global/industry standards and best practices

Can we look to global or industry standards and best practices for answers? External standards and practices provide useful input, to be sure, but rarely do they provide all the answers. That is because global or industry standards and best practices must be balanced with local applicability. In the example above, perhaps we can learn from, or even adopt a few techniques used by Formula One mechanics. One of the records held is 4.8 seconds to change all four tires, but this involved 13 mechanics. Presumably, this is not applicable to most commercial garages. However, what may be applicable is the design of some of the pneumatic tools, hoists, and fasteners that lend themselves to faster turnaround.

If your standards differ significantly from best practices, then find out why and adopt any ideas that are applicable to raise the bar on your standards.

So before creating job plans on your CMMS, complete with standards or entering standard estimates on work orders, consider how best to make them fair and attainable on the one hand and a constant driver to higher levels of quality and performance on the other hand. Looking elsewhere in your industry and globally can be fruitful for stealing ideas that make sense for your situation. Just be wary of adopting numeric standards set by your industry or globally, as these may be completely unattainable due to differences in processes, products, systems, facilities, equipment, and cost/benefit.

The numeric side of standards and best practices should primarily be used as a red flag. If your standards differ significantly from best practices, then find out why and adopt any ideas that are applicable to raise the bar on your standards. In rare circumstances where all of the best practices are applicable, then perhaps the numeric standard is, as well. Even then, try to make improvements that fit your unique environment instead of simply copying best practices.

One important source of standards is regulatory bodies such as governments or industry associations. Every industry has felt the increased pressure of regulatory compliance in terms of stricter penalties for deficiencies, the rising cost of litigation, escalating insurance rates, the growing public relations backlash, and other consequences of ignoring standards. Typically, regulatory standards are related to health, safety, and the environment, but sometimes they provide a minimum level of quality or service.

Although compliance is usually non-negotiable, companies can still opt to exceed imposed standards, for example, in order to gain competitive advantage. As well, companies are often allowed flexibility on how best to achieve the standards, such as through more efficient and effective processes and systems, if they so choose.

Corporate standards

The biggest difference between corporate and industry/global standards is the level of control over their creation and enforcement. For those companies that have two or more similar pieces of equipment, production lines, plants, or facilities, you may benefit by establishing corporate standards that are entered into the CMMS in the form of standard job plans. Corporate standards on the CMMS can be used to document the highest level of excellence expected for all processes, as well as key measures of success.

Whether you have 50 similar pumps in one facility or in multiple plants around the world, corporate standards force you to pool the knowledge gleaned from pump manufacturers around the world, your industry, all relevant CMMS-based work order history, and all the maintainers that have worked on the pumps over the years. Corporate standards should reflect fair and achievable targets, and the best processes possible for realizing them. Benefits of doing this right are enormous, including:

  • lower cost of implementation since processes are consistent and repeatable
  • lower cost of training, for new employees or transferees
  • ease of data collection on the same CMMS
  • more reliable, apples-to-apples reporting especially when comparing results across multiple assets and sites
  • increased friendly competition, which in turn results in higher levels of productivity as supervisors try to raise the bar on quality and performance
  • better buy-in from maintainers since performance expectations are shared equally across the corporation.

 In order to foster a spirit of continuous improvement and encourage sharing of ideas, some companies have implemented regular surveys, inspections, reviews, or audits. These can be conducted by peers, management, external experts, or even customers. No matter what technique is deployed, focusing on improving corporate standards will have far greater impact than the same effort spent on myriad local standards.

Local standards

David Berger, a Certified Management Consultant (C.M.C.) registered in Ontario, Canada, is a Principal of Western Management Consultants, based in the Toronto officeDavid Berger, a Certified Management Consultant (C.M.C.) registered in Ontario, Canada, is a Principal of Western Management Consultants, based in the Toronto office. David has written more than 200 articles on a variety of topics such as maintenance management, operations management, information technology, e-commerce, organizational design, and strategy. In Plant Services magazine, he has written a monthly column on maintenance management in the United States, as well as three very extensive reviews of maintenance management systems available in North America. David has done extensive work in the areas of strategy, information technology and business process re-engineering. He can be reached at
Subscribe to the Asset Manager RSS feed

Although corporate standards have many benefits as described above, sometimes they do not appear relevant to your situation. Perhaps your equipment is older, your workforce less skilled, or your work environment more problematic. In order for standards to be useful, they must be fair and achievable. So how do you strike a balance in order to get buy-in from all stakeholders?

Luckily, corporate and local standards are not mutually exclusive. If you set corporate standards such that they apply in about 80% of cases, then the 20% of cases that are the exceptions can be handled through local allowances. For example, if a given site experiences harsh weather conditions for its field technicians, it is understandable that the local standard on the CMMS will incorporate an appropriate allowance to the corporate standard. However, if factors are in any way controllable, then no allowance should be given in order to provide a strong incentive to bring your maintenance operations in line.

For example, suppose your maintainers are significantly older than at other sites. Adopting the corporate standard without any allowances is preferred as it will force management to do something about re-balancing the workforce, planning for succession (perhaps, offering early retirement packages), re-training or re-deploying maintainers that are falling behind, or outsourcing work where applicable. Similarly, if equipment is aging, perhaps there is justification for equipment replacement or upgrade.

Thus, avoid building in allowances at the local level wherever possible, as it removes any incentive to make improvements. This must be balanced with ensuring standards are fair and achievable for all.