Asset Management System / Operational Excellence

8 steps to improve asset reliability: Part 2

Establish a solid foundation for reliability by first focusing on the basics.

By Jeff Shiver, People and Processes

Many organizations struggle with a high level of uncertainty when it comes to asset reliability. Whether equipment will be available when it’s needed to meet customer demands may be anyone’s guess. Loss of availability results in increased human and monetary costs and often can jeopardize safety or environmental regulations compliance.

When digging deeper to determine the root causes of unreliability, you’ll often find the MRO storeroom not functioning well, the PM program poorly designed (at best) and without use of effective condition-based approaches, a lack of maintenance planning, and a minimal weekly maintenance schedule. Add to that limited partnerships with other stakeholders, such as production teams, which often don’t make the equipment available for maintenance. Production personnel often lack standardized work practices themselves and induce failures while operating the equipment.

To establish a solid foundation for reliability, the organization must first address the basics. There are eight steps to accomplish this, presented here in no particular order.

Click here to read "8 steps to improve asset reliability: Part 1"

5. Planning to ensure reliability in all your assets

Enforce the use of standardized work procedures. The intent is to eliminate poor work behaviors as well as human error. Variability creates uncertainty. If everyone performs a task their own way, who’s to say which way is the right way? When you have failures, how can you determine what specifically caused the failure?
Planned work avoids delays, ensures materials availability, and drives craftsperson efficiency. When I talk about craft efficiencies, I’m not asking people to work harder. I am simply trying to give them the tools, materials, and equipment access they need to do their job better. From a reliability perspective, job plans developed by the planner are written to a specification (i.e., torque values, gaps, fits, clearances, belt tension settings, alignment tolerances).

Unfortunately, even if organizations have a dedicated maintenance planner-scheduler, it’s unlikely that the person in that role is used correctly per organizational best practices. Often, planner-schedulers have received no formal planning and scheduling training or coaching in the position. I go to sites to find sometimes 10-12 planner-schedulers. These individuals have been in the role for years – sometimes eight years or longer – without having an understanding of their roles and responsibilities. Effective planning is a key component to ensuring asset reliability in the short and long term.

6. Proactive scheduling

Poor maintenance scheduling practices (or a lack of scheduling) indicates reactivity in the organization. In reactive organizations, partnerships between maintenance and production are limited, and many times the departments are siloed. As one example, a recent site where I taught a planning and scheduling course had no formal meeting for sharing production planning schedules, production requests, or maintenance requirements for building a maintenance schedule. The technicians were left to negotiate downtime across many different functions to perform maintenance. The organization was very reactive, and maintenance costs were higher than necessary.

As a minimum, there should be a weekly schedule completed in the current week for the following week. Ideally, we prefer a more forward-looking, two-week scheduling horizon. You already know up to a year or so in advance the PMs that will be triggered (these provide the base of the schedule), and you also know of engineering projects on the horizon. Add to that the delivery of specific long-lead items.

Think of it as a conveyor. At the head of the conveyor, items begin to drop on (PMs). As the conveyor advances to the current week, other items, such as material deliveries and engineering work, drop on the conveyor. The conveyor continues to move forward to the current week. It’s like time: it doesn’t stop coming forward. Shorter forecast items start dropping on the conveyor. Think of the conveyor discharge as the current week. These items build the schedule for next week.

An effective schedule ensures that we have the time to do the work right and reduce potential rework from rushed efforts. Coupling effective planning with scheduling is another driver toward increased asset reliability.

7. Continuous improvement loops to move forward

With respect to work completion, specifically for planned and scheduled work, we must have a continuous improvement loop to improve the processes. Many proactive organizations issue a feedback form with the work-order package. Using Deming’s concept of the “plan, do, check, act” cycle, this piece is the “check” portion. Here we address the following questions:

  • Where you able to complete the job?
  • Was the scope of the job correctly identified?
  • Was the time estimate appropriate for the work?
  • Did we have the right materials?
  • Where the listed tasks and specifications correct?
  • Is any follow-on work required?
  • Did we identify the correct crafts?

Ask other relevant questions. The point is to improve constantly. We want to improve items such as job plans while also improving the skill and knowledge of all involved. To me, there is no such thing as a perfect job plan. There is always room to get better.

8. Auditing and measuring for success

Much like the continuous improvement loop, auditing gives us a method to ensure our processes are working as intended. If not, we can adjust based on what we learn. To audit, randomly pull three or so completed work orders from the stack. Take the plant manager, the maintenance manager, the planner-scheduler, the storeroom coordinator, and the technician(s) who completed the work, and walk down the job by asking:

  • Was the work properly scoped?
  • Was the asset/component properly identified at the right (lowest) level in the asset hierarchy?
  • Was the work planned, and was the plan accurate and adequate with tasks, parts, and priority detailed?
  • Were the parts and materials correctly kitted and staged?
  • Was the work completed as scheduled?
  • Was the feedback form properly used, with adequate closure information entered?
  • Did work order completion and closure occur?

If you find issues from the audit, you’ll need to review the business processes, identifying what’s not working well and how the process can be improved. While poor efforts on the technician’s part may be evident on the walkdown, the point of the audit is to promote continuous improvement. You need to look at the entire process, not the work of one technician alone. There may be valid reasons for process exceptions, and we need to understand that to improve.

A plant manager at a brewery once told me, “We measure what we treasure.” In addition to the feedback loop and the audit process, we must measure to improve. There are lots of metrics that organizations can review. In the end, focus on what truly adds value and drives behaviors. From a work execution perspective, I would suggest four core metrics to start:

  • PM/PdM compliance
  • Schedule compliance
  • Schedule break-ins
  • Inventory turns by month

The first two of these are available on the SMRP website. Depending on the behaviors you’re trying to drive, you may measure these in terms of hours in addition to the number of work orders. The third metric is simply a listing and count of the items that took higher priority over items on the schedule. It is OK to break the schedule, provided you are breaking it for higher-priority work. The fourth metric gives an indication of storeroom performance.


Cherry-picking and implementing a few of these steps in isolation will result in an improvement in the short term. However, the efforts will not be sustained over time. Think and implement more holistically. When integrated together, the eight steps outlined form a structurally sound foundation for success. They combine to address the elements of people, processes, and profit that are fundamental to any business transformation. If you don’t know where to begin, seek help from either internal or external resources. Focus on behaviors first, remembering that change begins with one.