4 steps to maintenance greatness

March 25, 2013
Stanton McGroarty says leaders need technology and statesmanship.

Great maintenance is more than the sum of its parts. Great maintenance reaches outside the maintenance organization and creates teamwork among all production support functions and production itself. Creating great maintenance takes more than technical skill, or even reliability knowledge. It takes the kind of statesmanship that leads people to work for improvements that may occur outside their personal work areas.

Are you ready to be one of the maintenance greats? If so, here are four steps that will help to take you there.

1. Be all you can be

Great leaders lead by example, from the front of the column. In order to be there, you need the ability to make a technical contribution. Nobody has all the pieces, but everybody needs some of them. Being there at the job site, ready to work before anyone else comes in also sets a great example.


Maintenance greatness is not just a matter of technical skill, but technical skill is a prerequisite. A maintenance great is a master/mistress of at least one skill area like reliability, electrical systems, mechanical engineering, robotics, or any of a couple of dozen more. Pay your dues; it’s the price of admission to the maintenance world. It’s also where you learn the mechanistic thinking that equips you to contribute to the mind-melding efforts that lead to breakthrough root cause analysis (RCA) and other solution-building teamwork. Drama majors need not apply.

2. Be all your team can make you

Leaders who have someone following them are much more convincing. Moreover, nobody knows everything it takes to run the maintenance and reliability operation for a plant of any size. You will need a team. Take careful stock of the group that you lead by virtue of your position on the organizational chart. Among them, do they understand everything that they need to know for the care and feeding of the equipment that is their responsibility? Beyond that, do they understand the production operations that run across that equipment? The answer to the second question is critically important, and it is almost always no. One of your tasks in building a great maintenance team is to see to it that the members understand production, as well as their maintenance responsibilities.

You’ll also sleep better if you have a backup person for each position on the team. That way vacation and off-shift coverage become a routine exercise, instead of a gut-wrenching test of your nerves.

Don’t forget to look outside your official team, too, especially for backup. There are people you can borrow and others you should be preparing to recruit for your official team. Show an interest in them early and build the relationships that will make support of your team natural.

While you’re building relationships, don’t forget to build personal relationships with the customers you serve, mostly production, and the internal and external vendors who often hold your success in their hands.

If this prescription for greatness is beginning to look more like statesmanship than wrench-bending, it’s no mistake. A truly effective maintenance leader doesn’t leap onto his white horse and force equipment to do his bidding against all odds. The effective leader stacks the odds so that when Murphy strikes, the entire organization will pitch in to see productivity and success restored. And they’ll have the knowledge and experience to make it happen.

I once asked a lady friend if she knew how to fix a flat tire. She said, “Of course, I do. I’d call you, and if you weren’t available I’d call ...” She continued with a list of half a dozen mutual friends. That wasn’t the two-fisted, take-charge answer I had been looking for, but I’ve never heard of her being stranded.

3. Help them to grow

The knowledge and training to be a great maintenance organization are not static. New equipment and techniques emerge so constantly that we at Plant Services find it necessary to send out weekly newsletters to tell about the items that come our way. The network that a great maintenance leader cultivates requires constant training and updating. This is true not only of the people who occupy the same organizational chart page with the leader, but also with vendors and customers. As new condition monitoring and maintenance tools become available, make it your business to point out the useful ones to the organization. Make training available to everyone you would like to see trained so that the new technology benefits the entire organization.

Greatness is a moving target, but it is well worth pursuing. If you are striving to maintain your greatness, then you will not be struggling to just keep your head above water.

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 [email protected] or check out his .
Subscribe to the Strategic Maintenance RSS feed

4. Use the annual budget cycle to drive continuous improvement

Every production operation has a few machines that consume more than their share of maintenance and cause more than their share of disruption to operations. These may or may not be statistically the worst equipment, but they will be the most bothersome to top management. If you have a great maintenance operation, your list will change every year because you will have fixed the items that were on last year’s list. This is continuous improvement, maintenance and reliability style. Every year make an agreement with your team, internal customers, and vendors to convert the organization’s problem assets to reliable production resources. Each year, lay out a plan to make it happen, perform the team RCAs, and then deliver the predicted results. When you have succeeded, write the improvements into the following year’s budget. That way there will be funding available for the next year’s raises.

The data-driven maintenance process that drives this cycle was laid out in a series of three columns from 2012 —,, and

If you build a great maintenance team, starting with yourself, the approach will work for you, and the problem machines will be smaller problems each succeeding year.

After that, your next development step might be grooming a successor. Great maintenance often leads to opportunities to achieve greatness in other leadership areas.

Check out Stanton's blog, Second Opinion, for weekly updates and insights into the world of maintenance and reliability.