What structure works best when it comes to work management?

Dec. 13, 2017
Dedicating a portion of your crew to preventive maintenance and condition monitoring puts a clear focus on planned, proactive activities over reactive work.
Question: What's your ideal work management structure?

Pam, maintenance manager, MI

Answer: Pam, there are many variations to organizational structures depending on business objectives and challenges, e.g. the type of business involved, labor availability, staffing size, capacity constraints, and work execution maturity.

Because you asked for my ideal work management structure, let me start with the why behind my answer. I like the ability to dedicate a portion of the crew to proactive work such as preventive maintenance, condition monitoring, and planned corrective work. Doing so puts a clear focus on planned activities over reactive work using the schedule to set an expectation. A smaller portion of the crew or team addresses the emergency or urgent work that occurs on the shift. These individuals are also known as the "troubleshooters." They are assigned scheduled work as well, but it is lower-priority planned work that they can break away from to address trouble calls.

I have experienced several variations on this fixed-focus theme. With one variation, individual "system owners" were dedicated to specific areas of the facility. The system owner performed the PM activities and corrective work. There were two shift technicians on each of four shifts who addressed the reactive emergency and urgent work. A separate controls technician resided on day shift to address control and instrumentation PMs and corrective work.The organization had a total of about 15 technicians. Every approach has pros and cons, too.

While this approach worked well, there were opportunities for improvement. For example, without an effective priority management system, every system owner felt his or her individual work in the system was the most important. As such, work in one area that had a greater business priority overall could be delayed because it didn't get necessary assistance from other system owners. Without the help to get the work done, the system owners would be forced to use contract labor to a greater extent. Also, having only one system owner meant that there was only one individual who worked on specific assets other than in emergency repair situations.

In a much larger organization, the workforce was divided into six teams that rotated shifts each week. Each team had a team leader and nine technicians. With the schedule rotation, three teams were always on day shift (two doing planned work and PMs while one team addressed reactive issues). There was a reactive team on both the midnight and afternoon shifts. One team was off, as is typical with a four-shift rotation. All of the teams rotated shifts and through the planned work crews as well. Priorities were addressed based on business need as opposed to having system ownership. Sure, some of the technicians were more experienced in other areas. A downside was that there was little system ownership.

In these examples, there were first-level supervision and planner-scheduler functions. I look for ratios of eight to 15 technicians per first-level supervisor and 15–30 technicians per planner-scheduler. As the organization matures in its work management practices proactively, you shift toward the higher numbers, i.e., for first-level supervision, there would be 15 technicians.

What other insights might you have on this topic? Send me an email at the address below and I will respond or place your questions with my answers here.

Please post your comments so everyone can learn.

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.

About the Author

Jeff Shiver | Founder and managing principal at People and Processes, Inc.

Jeff Shiver CMRP is a founder and managing principal at People and Processes, Inc. Jeff guides people to achieve success in maintenance and reliability practices using common sense approaches. Visit or email [email protected].

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