4 steps to defining maintenance roles

David Berger explains how well-defined roles and responsibilities can help to get the most from your CMMS software.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

No matter how deeply we fall in love with sophisticated technology, such as modern CMMS software, we are still very much reliant on humans to ensure we get the most out of our technology investments. Many companies fail to properly implement their CMMS, even years after the official date of installation, because organizational roles and responsibilities are not clear.

For example, what value is purchasing a CMMS with comprehensive planning and scheduling functionality when there is no clarity around three key roles: maintenance planner, scheduler, and coordinator? What use are sophisticated data analysis tools if there is no one knowledgeable and with sufficient time to assume the role of reliability specialist or lifecycle analyst? Why bother with advanced spare parts inventory management features when there is no storeskeeper role to take advantage of them?

Parts I and II of this column will examine key maintenance roles and responsibilities that are instrumental in maximizing the value from your CMMS, in light of the guiding principles on how to make it all work.

Guiding principles

There are four basic rules presented below for ensuring that roles and responsibilities are taken seriously. Although the list is short and to the point, it is incredible how many companies struggle to achieve consistent enforcement of these rules. A common problem, for example, occurs when there is no full- or even part-time storeskeeper responsible for spare parts inventory control. There may be good reason for not having a storeskeeper, not the least of which is inability to justify the salary expense such as on a midnight or weekend shift where only a few maintainers are working.

However, whether or not there is a storeskeeper does not negate the need for proper inventory control processes, such as how stock is issued from stores. As well, the business rules that underline the processes are critical to follow, such as rules governing which information is required for data entry into the CMMS and by whom. Additionally, those people who go through the process and follow the business rules are de facto playing the role of a full-time storeskeeper and therefore have the equivalent responsibility. This includes being accountable for their actions or inactions. Thus, if spare parts are not properly signed out, what are the consequences? Why should a maintainer or supervisor playing the role of storeskeeper be treated any differently than someone in a full-time storeskeeper position?

There are four simple rules to follow.

  1. Stick to the process. Define the standard processes and responsibilities for each role. Ensure anyone taking on a given role has the prerequisite skills, and provide adequate training as you would for a full-time position. Can a full-time admin person take on the maintainer role? Perhaps, if that person has the skills and training and is involved in executing the work. But most do not, which is one reason why it makes little sense for admin people to enter work order data on behalf of maintainers.
  2. Stick to the business rules underlying the process. Define the business rules that support the standard processes.
  3. Stick to the roles. When someone is playing the part of a given role, that person must not deviate from the processes, business rules, and responsibilities that are defined for that role. In other words, maintainers or their supervisors must not skip a few steps in the established storeskeeper processes because their “prime responsibility” is to get the equipment up and running. Similarly, lead hands or working supervisors must be true to their roles as supervisors, even if they are also maintainers. They cannot pick and choose when and how to play their respective roles.
  4. Ensure accountability tied to KPIs. There should be rewards when KPIs relevant to a given role are exceeded, and consequences when there is a negative variance. Management must show that they are tracking appropriate measures for a role, and that they care about the results.

Of prime importance is that employees understand what’s in it for them if they adhere to the four rules above. Any of their legitimate complaints should result in perhaps a change to the processes or even reassignment of roles.

Key maintenance roles

Although there may be other roles to consider, listed below and in Part II are the key roles in maintenance shops big and small. Smaller shops may have fewer roles as full-time positions, but the roles never disappear regardless of the size of your maintenance operation. Only by properly defining roles and responsibilities, and by following the guidelines outlined above, will you be able to optimize the value derived from your CMMS. Part II will provide some practical examples of how to deal effectively with multiple roles, especially in smaller maintenance shops and across multiple shifts in larger companies.

Maintainer role: The maintainer role is responsible for executing the work as per instructions on the work order, as well as entering relevant data into the CMMS. Critical data to enter is time taken to complete the work, materials used, and problem/cause/action codes. In some maintenance shops, the maintainer is also responsible for estimating work, such as in a fleet maintenance environment or with third-party field service maintenance. Other important but softer responsibilities should be:

  • ensure a “fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”
  • maximize wrench time (for example, start and end the shift and breaks on time, and use CMMS as a troubleshooting guide)
  • ensure quality standards are met, balanced with meeting standard times
  • provide mentoring and knowledge transfer for more junior staff
  • share improvement ideas.
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 david@wmc.on.ca.
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The maintainer role does not include searching for parts, prioritizing jobs for the week, preparing a warranty claim, discussing a potential work assignment proposed by operations, disciplining a fellow maintainer, or speaking to equipment vendors about a major recurring problem. If maintainers do these things, they must take on the roles for which they belong, and follow the four basic rules for each role assumed. This includes having relevant skills and training to properly accomplish the tasks.

Supervisor role: The front-line supervisor role has three key responsibilities:

  • ensure maintainers have the right parts, tools, and information at the right time, in order to execute the work efficiently and effectively
  • support, coach, and mentor maintainers, including assisting with problem solving, removing bottlenecks, and on-the-job training
  • execute day-of scheduling, that is, setting priorities for work done by maintainers in a given day.

Other responsibilities include:

  • ensure data accuracy
  • ensure adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs)
  • ensure meet daily plan and KPIs, including quality and performance targets
  • manage by walking around for all shifts where responsible
  • reward good performance and take action when targets are not met.

Admin role: The admin or clerical role has slowly changed over time, in part due to advances in CMMS software and supporting hardware that facilitate data entry, analysis, and reporting. But more importantly, attitudes have shifted such that the reigning philosophy in management circles is “as close to source as possible.” This means maintainers should enter their own time data, supervisors should generate and approve their own end-of-shift variance reports, and planners should be proficient in using the CMMS analysis tools for generating and improving the maintenance program.

However, in some larger maintenance environments, there is still a need for the admin role with the following potential responsibilities:

  • act as coordinator to the scheduler and supervisor roles
  • assist other roles with admin duties, such as coordinating with corporate finance, HR, and IT
  • support all committees, including health and safety
  • perform typical clerical functions, such as filing or answering the phone, and other light duties depending on departmental needs.

Read David Berger's monthly column, Asset Manager.

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