Shaft Alignment

3-step strategic analysis

Stanton McGroarty says set the course for reliability and maintenance.

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

Reliability and maintenance departments exist as businesses within businesses. In large plants especially, they have customers, vendors, competitors, workers, managers, utilities, and inventories that are all their own. Typically these elements are much different from those that make up the host company’s business environment. The reliability and maintenance operations has a very close relationship with the host. Neither of them is likely to succeed if the other fails. In fact the central aim of the department is to enhance the performance of the host, but still they are in very different businesses.

Given the differences, it is natural that the two will need to develop and pursue individual business strategies. A reliability and maintenance strategy review should probably be an annual exercise, and progress against the strategy should be reviewed and discussed at least monthly.

The strategic planning process for a small to medium-sized business with one primary customer need not be a huge, complex effort, but it will be worth holding a few team meetings. The goal alignment and measurability that results can pay big dividends in predictability and efficiency of departmental performance. Three steps should do the job:

  1. Define success for the department.
  2. Measure the fit of the department with the environment and the definition of success.
  3. Make a detailed plan to fit the department to its objectives and measure its progress toward them.

Defining success

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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February is a good month for departmental strategic planning if the host company has completed its strategic plan at the end of last year. The key to defining success for a department with one customer is to understand the customer’s own definition of success. The company’s production objectives for the new year, along with other measurements they will use to gauge their success, will provide the core of the department’s strategic objectives.

If the host/customer organization has not been thinking strategically, it may be necessary to infer a departmental definition of success from the company’s business plan. But, if the company has done a strategic plan, it will be worthwhile to make the department’s priorities, terminology, and measurements match it.

The heads of the reliability and maintenance operations should gather the documentation that resulted from whatever strategic or business planning was done by the host/customer company and, if necessary, boil it down to its measurable elements. These elements will typically include safety and environmental goals, financial objectives, production goals, quality measures and perhaps a few other workforce development, branding, or other objectives. If corporate planning was done well, the boiling-down process will be complete. If not, reliability and maintenance leaders must answer the question, “What must the company accomplish this year in order to regard itself as successful?” Once the corporate definition of success is developed, it should be confirmed with top management. Then it will be ready to guide the departmental discussion of success.

The reliability and maintenance department heads should convene a meeting of their lead people and review each of the elements in the corporate definition of success. The group must determine exactly what reliability and maintenance have to achieve to support the corporate objectives for the year. Many of the answers will be no-brainers, but some will require technical work. For instance, what OEE is necessary from key equipment in order to meet production and quality objectives? If 100% equipment availability is required, there may be a need for some backup equipment or very sophisticated reliability work right away. Whatever the need, identify it as a team and make it the departmental definition of success for the year. This can probably be accomplished in two meetings, if the right people attend. There will probably be a period of technical work in between meetings to develop the departmental measurements.

Checking departmental fit with objectives

A good management tool for comparing a resource to its objectives is the SWOT analysis. The name is short for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.” A more detailed discussion of SWOT is available at For departmental goal setting, the object of the analysis will be to review each of the departmental objectives and compare it with the department’s internal factors (strengths and weaknesses) and external factors (opportunities and threats) to see what the department has going for it and against it. The result will be a list of things that will help and hinder the department in the accomplishment of each of its goals. Another way of characterizing the discussion might be, “What could go wrong, and how can we make it go right?” As this is a strategic discussion, it will not be necessary to develop every detail of every solution. It will be necessary to identify which parties will be responsible for putting the needed improvements in place and how the results must be measured.

SWOT analysis output often takes the form of a four-paned window for each objective (Figure 1). Actual strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats would replace the contents of the boxes. PowerPoint includes some good templates to support a SWOT discussion.

Figure 1. It will be necessary to identify which parties will be responsible for putting the needed improvements in place and how the results must be measured.

Fitting the department to the solution

Once the objectives have been discussed and the threats to be conquered and the strengths upon which to build are identified, the individual strategies can be referred to the groups responsible for delivering them. Department managers should meet with the responsible parties and solicit plans for delivering the needed performance. In a healthy organization, these discussions will yield agreements that empower departmental people to accomplish their assignments. The elements of empowerment are:

  • clear, general instructions
  • tools and training to do the job
  • appropriate decision-making authority
  • systems to measure and reward success.

Once the individual planning is complete, the original team should be reconvened to put the department’s operating plan together. It is likely that one or two objectives will need to be addressed outside the department’s area of control or resources. This discussion should occur as soon as possible with the right managers. After all, it identifies roadblocks to the successful completion of company objectives. The good news is that these roadblocks will have been identified early enough that proper steps can be taken to address them. With the proper lead time, new capacity, emergency subcontractors, training, tools, or most other fixes can be arranged.

The strategies that result from the last round of discussions should be compiled into the departmental strategy for the year. The measurements should be rendered as a departmental dashboard that is updated at least monthly. The package should be supported with business cases, if necessary, and reviewed with top management. The strategy will have become reliability and maintenance’s contract with the company. Management will understand when the improvements promised make completion of the company’s mission possible. Riches and fame will follow, or not. But reliability and maintenance management will be empowered to do their jobs.

Read Stanton McGroarty's monthly column, Strategic Maintenance.