Software

Using gap analysis to monitor and maintain your Work Management Process

This article explains how a gap analysis can be deployed to effectively assess how your Work Management Process is currently being used, as well as identify areas of improvement.

By Ed Espinosa, CAPM, CMRP, Puget Sound Energy

A great team effort was expended to implement your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). And probably just as much effort, if not more, was expended to implement the system that serves as the “practical user’s manual” on how to use your CMMS to manage your work. You and your team spent many hours interfacing with plant folks immersed in concentrated dialogue answering limitless questions regarding plant layout, function, equipment maintenance, staffing, spare parts, and their warehousing requirements, vendors, and manufacturers. This was followed by even more conversations defining the site-specific work processes that take place in order for work to be identified, planned, scheduled, executed, closed out and critiqued.

The Work Management Process (WMP) is the result of a painstaking effort to document this process and make “doing work” efficient, effective, and easier. Maintaining a healthy Work Management Process goes a long way to ensuring that your physical assets are receiving the proper care they need to continue performing at their expected level and delivering value to your stakeholders and process owners. However, with the passage of time, folks tend to become a bit too “comfortable” with how to do work and ultimately stray away from what has been decided and accepted as the best way to do work – all defined within the framework of the Work Management Process. Straying away from this standard hastens bad habits to develop. These bad habits quickly settle in and become part of the MRO culture.

In order to preserve the effort that went into the creation of the Work Management Process, a method must be developed to monitor and evaluate the process to uphold the way it was originally designed and implemented. One must expect to see a difference between the way the Work Management Process was rolled out and the way it is being executed currently. The difference is the “gap,” so it only goes to reason that the method developed to measure this difference would be known as a “gap analysis.” This article explains how a gap analysis can be deployed to effectively assess how your Work Management Process is currently being used, as well as identify areas of improvement.

Conducting the analysis

The Work Management Process Gap Analysis measures processes by comparing the current to the desired. How is the plant using the process, and is how they are using the process yielding the desired results that plant management wants to see that is in-line with corporate goals? Finding these answers triggers more questions being asked specifically on what contributes to a successful operation and proper and efficient use of corporate resources.

First, a note: It is preferable not to use the terminology “assessment” with your wider team when engaging in a Work Management Process evaluation, because the connotation of this word seems to place the plant on notice that they are being looked at under a microscope by senior management. “Assessment” is an uneasy and contentious word at the plant level, and the shorter term "Gap Analysis" tends to produce better results (as well as not ringing alarm bells with your team).

What triggers the performance of a gap analysis is typically a request by senior leadership to conduct such a study. Your first step in fulfilling this request is to contact plant management and inform them that they have been selected by senior management for a Work Management Process gap analysis. Request a site visit from plant management at their convenience and make the necessary arrangements to visit the plant for this purpose. Expect to spend between 2-3 days performing this analysis. Make sure to check on personnel availability prior to committing to a plant visit. Get a commitment ahead of time from plant management for personnel’s time who will assist you in collecting data that cannot be otherwise derived by remote database mining.

Prepare as much as possible ahead of time prior to the site visit by remotely performing the applicable database mining and populating those results in the proper areas of your analysis document along with supporting data. Doing this will save you a considerable amount of time before setting foot at the plant and will not waste anyone’s time. Be sure to enter comments and/or questions to ask plant personnel if questions still persist after the initial database inquiry. Reserve a conference room with audio-visual capabilities large enough to accommodate the staff that will participate in this exercise. If the conference room lacks this feature, bring your own overhead projector compatible with your laptop in order to present the result of the gap analysis.

What exactly should be measured? You should turn to the source of why you are performing this gap analysis for the answer – the process itself. Generally accepted work management process components consist of the following correlated to work: identification, prioritization, approval, planning, scheduling, execution, review, closure, continuous improvement, and possibly materials management. When developing your site-specific work management process, recall that these areas were the centerpieces of discussion that were used to create the Work Management Process Manual, a publication you will be invoking regularly as a source document.

Now that we know what needs to be measured, we have to decide how we will measure them. There are three ways to measure the work management process variables: (1) personal interview with those responsible for that portion of the process; (2) independent observation of an event such as a planning and scheduling meeting; and (3) CMMS database mining. Of the three methods mentioned, the most objective and unbiased method that produces best results is database mining. The one method that is subject to skewed and possibly doctored answers – in other words, answers that the interviewee anticipates you want to hear – is personal interviewing. For the sake of acquiring the most accurate information, database mining is the preferred method to employ. Unfortunately, not all questions can be answered by database mining. The nature of the question will determine the best method to go about finding an answer to it.

Start first by creating a document such as spreadsheet and entitle it “Work Management Process Gap Analysis.” Divide this spreadsheet up by tabs. Each tab will pertain to a particular portion of the Work Management Process.

Assume to start with the first element encountered which would be Work Identification, followed by the next tab of Work Prioritization, then Work Approval, and so on, as to capture all elements of a robust work management process. Or, if the sections do not have sufficient questions to ask that would populate one tab, then combine the first few. Now design what each tab will look like so that each tab has a common header on the top one-third of the page followed by subject specific question pertaining to that particular element of the Work Management Process on the bottom two-thirds of the page.

The header should contain the following sub-sections common to all subsequent tabs: Plant Name, Staff Present, Lead Technician, Supervisor, Engineer or Planner, Date, Requested By, Date Requested, Prepared by. Fill-out each of these sections prior to commencing your analysis and arriving on site. You should also have a section heading on the left side. In the middle section, add Conforms to WMP? And to the right, add Does gap exist?, degree of gap?, why does gap exists?, is gap justified? This section is to spur dialogue with plant personnel to discuss ongoing or newly discovered discrepancies to the process.

Now you want to populate the body of the analysis with questions pertaining to the particular section of the work management process. Anywhere between 7 to 9 questions per page is adequate. Ask questions that would have the best chance of being addressed by objective, analytical methods such as database mining. Know that there are grey areas of the analysis that require additional investigation and due diligence before an answer can be obtained. If the answer is “yes”, then the answer conforms entirely to the WMP in both the “letter” and “spirit” of the law. If the answer is not entirely “yes” or “no” but “partially”, then there are some aspects of the answer that weigh in opposite directions, either the “letter” or the “spirit” of the law but not both are met. If the answer is “no”, then neither the “letter” nor “spirit” of the law is met.

To assist you in reaching an answer, enter comments in the cell where the question resides which contain the reference to the Work Management Process manual, page number and section along with the specifics of the on-line query to the database, IF there is one, that provides raw data for processing that will allow you to come to a conclusion.

Enter the results of your findings in the last column entitled “Does gap exist?, degree of gap?, why does gap exists?, is gap justified?” with the conclusion of your findings such as "gap observed followed with an explanation and supported by a justification", "possible gap observed", or "no gap observed", again followed by an explanation of your findings supported by a justification. It would also be prudent to provide the raw data extracted from database mining to support your answer as an additional tab past the end of the last tab in the original analysis. Color-code your answers in the cells beneath “Conforms to WMP”. Fill the cell color green for a “yes” answer, yellow for a “partially” answer, and red for a “no” answer. These cells should standout during the presentation to site management once analysis has been completed.

Name this data tab based on the page number and the question number on that page of the analysis for easy reference.

Besides identifying if a gap exists for any question that has a “partially” or “no” answer, determine by how much of a gap exists or the degree of non-conformance to the standard. There may be a good reason as to why there is a gap that had previously been overlooked. Next, consider if valid justification exists for the gap? It may be that this question may not apply entirely to this particular facility. Having this data readily available will help you explain quantitatively why your results are what they are and not entirely based on subjective bias, and only strengthens you argument.

For the results which are not supported by data mining but instead derived from personal interviews or direct observation, provide quotes from those interviewed or observed, respectively. Review each page of your work. Check to see that each question is answered completely, fairly and is evaluated to align itself with either meeting, partially meeting, or not meeting the standard defined in the Work Management Process user’s manual. Provide proof of your conclusion, if not evidence to suggest what the answer should be. And be ready to be challenged after presenting your results. Why? Because you will likely be infringing on people’s comfort zones.

Assemble the plant folks involved in assisting you by providing answers and explanations. Include plant management in the conference room and begin reviewing each question in the order by which the gap analysis was conducted. Read each question followed by the color coded answer. Expect a discussion for each question that is rated “partially” or “no”. The plant personnel have an interest of scoring as high as possible and you, as an evaluator of their process, have an interest to report on the actual process health to highlight the successes, discover problems and offer solutions for improvement. When performing this analysis, you will likely discover shortcuts taken to arrive at the desired results, or no effort at all in attempting to meet expectations, and occasionally you will find a superior method of meeting or exceeding the requirement.

For the areas which are falling short of meeting Work Management Process requirements, the Supervisor may not be aware of the deficiency. Provide guidance and offer remedial training in this area. This serves as a means to improve and become compliant with the principles contributing to a solid Work Management Process. Provide positive feedback for green scores: everyone likes a pat on the back now and then.

If you discover a star performer that has developed a way that is superior to what originally was developed and trained to, spotlight this method, validate its merits with the steering committee, and recommend using this exemplary example to revise and replace what originally was developed. Share this across all facilities as a process improvement for the benefit of all. Performing a gap analysis is the great way to discover a “best practice” that would otherwise have been overlooked and never shared amongst facilities.

For those questions have resulted in too much objectionable controversy, consider revising questions by either rewording them or replacing them all together with new questions within that area but be cautious as to not to dilute the method for reaching your goal. Summarize your results by writing a high level narrative touching on both the strengths and weaknesses of the plant’s WMP. Make recommendations on how to improve the score of the week areas and how to execute those actions which would lead to improvement. Offer your time and expertise and be ready to train folks who are new to the process that may not have present during the initial rollout. Send a copy of the results to senior management and copy plant management concurrently. Save a copy for yourself in a root directory folder for future reference to compare how a plant performance has changed over time.

You may want to propose performing this analysis to senior management on a regular timetable depending on the overall maturity of the Work Management Process. For newly implemented programs, performing this analysis semi-annually would reinforce the learning process with expected plant visits. For the plants have a strong MRO culture and appreciation for performance improvement processes, I would recommend an annual Work Management Process gap analysis. When you do perform this, you will have one year’s worth of data to base your answers on from the last time it was done.