Put a spotlight on reducing wasted effort

Oct. 9, 2009
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, contributing editor, says put a focused spotlight on reducing wasted effort.

Many organizations have reduced headcount and cut back on capital expenditures and support services. Those on the front lines are struggling to keep their plants and facilities safe, while delivering products or services at lowest cost.

In alignment with Lean concepts, a great way to deal with this is to eliminate waste. Much waste can be found in how we define what needs to be done, how we explain what needs to be done and how we carry out what needs to be done. Think about procedures or tasks in terms of:

  • The requirement
  • Communicating the requirement
  • Executing the requirement

We often find waste in the basic requirements, an example being having PM tasks that add little or no value. A PM task might have no value if its cost is greater than the benefit gained from performing it.

There are, of course, situations in which regulatory requirements dictate that you must perform a task. You have no choice by to follow the regulation. You can assess requirements by matching maintenance tasks to failure causes by means of failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) or reliability-centered maintenance (RCM). Then, select the most appropriate tasks at optimized frequency. You’ll free up labor and reduce downtime, typically getting 10% to 15% labor availability gains.


One client had more than 30 gearboxes and replaced the oil semiannually whether the oil was bad or not. They used quarterly oil analysis sampling. We reduced waste by changing oil conditionally based on the oil analysis. This change produces “green” savings (reduced oil consumption) and saves an average of 70% of labor hours for gearbox oil management.

If the requirement adds value, we must communicate that requirement to those who will execute (and those who will be supporting) the tasks. We can communicate in many ways — orally, through written policies and procedures, job task descriptions, visual and memory aids, etc.

When communication fails, we generate waste. People do the wrong thing, or they do the right thing in the wrong manner, thus making rework. Improve your own communication by documenting what needs to be done. Develop flowcharts, process guides and visual management aids. Effective communication keeps people from making assumptions and deviating from best practices.

Don’t forget about visual management as a form or communication. Years ago, when I was assigned to duty aboard a ship, we had bilge eductors for emergency dewatering in case of flooding. Three remotely operated valves needed to be opened in a specific sequence. The valve actuators were color-coded red, white and blue. Any crew member in a stressful situation could easily remember “red, white and blue,” which was the proper valve sequence. This made it easy to perform the task correctly.

Awareness of effective communication dramatically increases productivity and minimizes misunderstandings and wasted effort or rework. Consider effective communication refresher training for your staff and workforce.

Work execution can be a source of waste. I’ve been in a number of plants and facilities, including oil refineries, chemical plants, mining operations, military vessels, R&D facilities, pharmaceutical plants, aerospace, power generation and many others. A near universal area of waste is ineffective work planning and scheduling.

People do the best they can with what they have. When we don’t plan and coordinate tasks, it results in wasted effort in the form of multiple trips to the tool room, waiting for operations to make equipment available, etc. Part of planning is arranging to have the right tools, materials and skilled labor available to do the job correctly when it starts.

Consider planning and scheduling improvements to take control of work execution. The average labor availability improvement gained from moving from reactive mode to planned mode is 30%. People make things happen. Give them clear requirements, communicate the requirements and give them what they need to perform efficiently. When you do, you’ll reduce stress, reduce waste and make your life, and your team’s lives, a heck of a lot better.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER Inc. Contact him at [email protected] and (321) 773-3356.

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