I wear too many hats – where should I focus?

ask jeff shiver too many hats where to focusQuestion: In my organization, I am the maintenance engineer, the supervisor, the planner, the scheduler, and the parts kit builder, too. I have four craftspeople on each of three shifts for a total of 12 technicians. I have Saturday for maintenance per week to schedule PMs and corrective work plus the normal weekly work. During your conference presentation, you talked about a lot of components and processes for establishing reliability. Given all of the hats that I wear, what would you consider most important? Should I drop kitting parts and materials? Should I drop two items plus weekly planning? Should I drop PM optimization?

Joey, maintenance engineer, Missouri

Answer:  Joey, you are one busy person. In smaller organizations, we often wear multiple hats. Let’s back up and look at some overall objectives. I’m going to list them in order of priority from my perspective. I’m also going to assume that you don’t have the support to add additional resources internally, so the staffing levels are fixed.

1.  John Moubray taught us that maintenance is about managing risk by avoiding, reducing, or eliminating the consequences of failure.  An accepted definition of reliability is the probability that an asset will perform satisfactorily for a specified period under stated use conditions.

  • So, how do we ensure reduce risk and ensure reliability? Through the use of precise standardized work in the form of operations procedures, value-adding PM tasks split into running and machine shutdown activities, and corrective procedures. The standardized work helps break the cycle of reactivity and is related to the maintenance engineering role. We often consume resources doing PMs that are not value-added and that fail to address likely failure modes. PM optimization is important.
  • Reliability is not solely a maintenance thing: engineering and operations share asset reliability responsibility. You don't mention whether a partnership exists between maintenance and operations. Partnerships are necessary, especially for smaller organizations. Proactive TPM practices such as basic operator care and operator-driven-reliability are key components, as they help reduce the resource burdens and ensure asset availability. Equipment ownership starts with the operations group. Maintenance owns the capacity.
  • If funding is available, selectively utilizing an outside condition monitoring vendor can help you identify potential failures while your machines are running without tying up your staffing.
  • Look for opportunities to conduct simple levels of root-cause analysis. Empower the maintainers and operators to address defect elimination to reduce the amount of work requiring downtime.

2.  Scheduling sets an expectation of the work to be accomplished not just for the one down day per week but for the whole week. I don’t know at what level you're scheduling, i.e., are you scheduling and assigning work on days other than the scheduled down days? Are the technicians scheduled at 100% of their available hours – even those covering the lines during the week? Insights into their schedules will tell us if they can help you with tasks such as kitting parts and materials for future work.

3.  Planning eliminates avoidable delays such as looking for information and hunting for parts and materials. The goal of planning is to give workers a head start on jobs. From a planning perspective, consider basic job requirements, such as the number of technicians required, the estimated job duration, and the materials required. Leverage workers to provide feedback on precision steps and other requirements such as materials so we can document the corrective job plans to improve continually. There's no point in reinventing the list every time you have to work on the same asset.

4.  The objectives of supervision are to accomplish the current week’s schedule, develop the workforce, and help remove obstacles that impede craft efficiency. You can’t spend two-thirds of the day in the field supervising given the other tasks you have to do. That said, you can hand out work daily, monitoring progress each day to know where you are on the schedule. Work to develop technicians so that they are "personally accountable."  Ensure that everyone understands the outcomes that both you and the business expect.

5.  As mentioned, kitting helps eliminate lost time looking for parts and materials. How can some of that regained time be shifted to a technician during the week?

Obviously, you can’t drop all of your activities to focus on one, but you can prioritize based on the order above. It’s about striking a balance with these priorities and meeting the organization’s needs. You have only so many hours in the day, and there must be work/life balance. I also suggest that you consider ways to measure performance, especially labor use, along with PM and schedule compliance. Trend your backlog in manhours. You are looking for opportunities to accomplish more with your available resources, especially in windows of planned downtime (e.g.. for product changes) or in unplanned downtime where more work can be accomplished outside of the day down per week.

What are your thoughts?  If resources are fixed, on what priorities would you focus? Please post your comments so everyone can learn. Email me at the address below and I will respond back to you or place your questions with my answers here.

Talk soon,
Jeff Shiver, CMRP

If you have problems in the fields of maintenance, reliability, planning and scheduling, MRO storerooms, or leadership as examples, please contact Jeff Shiver with your question(s) here.

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  • Jeff, you forgot operations, as well. I was a Staff Chief Engineer, so this is a normal work day. I set up the work, order the parts or assign that task, plan for the week and for my off week. Make sure all USCG inspections are set and manned. Plan for that work, month, year, lay up and dry-dock/shipyard work. Along with a watch standing so the tasks you talk about are normal and with all of this I supervise and train over 30 crew members. I thank you for your services but don't let the things you speak of side track you of the tasks at hand. To me Maintenance is the most important job to just about any operation, ship, plant hotel and so on. Passing the buck here or skipping little things because some upper manager will always come back to bit you. Always stay on top of things and don't be afraid to delegate jobs and tasks, or you will find your self making excuses for failures.

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