10 ways to drive more-effective work execution

Oct. 31, 2017
To reduce the backlog, we must focus on driving improvements in work execution as a start.
Question: How do we get more planned work done in a week with a large backlog?

Pat, plant manager, Iowa

Answer: Pat, there are lots of moving parts involved in getting more done. As you know, the backlog is a measure of work yet to be accomplished. To reduce the backlog, we must focus on driving improvements in work execution as a start. Let’s break it down into some of the main components that are necessary.

  1. Validate the backlog, and remove the items that you have no intention of doing. I always say that backlogs should not have birthdays.
  2. Make sure you are doing the right work. PM and PdM activities must add value. PMs are often written as shutdown activities, but there should be a large component of "running" PMs that don’t require line downtime but do find things in the act of failing. In some organizations, I see way too many PM activities that consume resources but don’t address likely failure modes.
  3. Effectively plan the work to ensure we are eliminating avoidable delays. This includes kitting and staging materials for the job. Build reusable job plans that lessen planning time. Maintenance work is repetitive. We work on something today, and six months to two years from now, we’ll be back working on it again.
  4. Schedule for every hour available, not just weekend work. Having a schedule sets an expectation. Ensure the maintenance supervisors understand work priorities and have them manage the schedule by day. At the end of every day or shift, they should understand where they are with meeting the schedule. Measure PM compliance, schedule compliance, and schedule break-ins. Make sure there is an operations gatekeeper. The gatekeeper is the liaison from the production side to share operations priorities and make equipment available for maintenance activities. With this partnership, maintenance also must keep their end of the bargain from a service-level perspective. I often see perceived issues with production scheduling based on customer demands, yet many production scheduling managers will provide windows for maintenance if maintenance provides notice of planned work.
  5. Everyone gets assigned work – even reactive technicians who are covering the lines. Operators are crafts as well, and they provide the first line of defense. Proactive tasks should be assigned to operators on the maintenance schedule. Leverage concepts such as TPM to build that ownership on the operations side. 
  6. Make sure that our work is done with precision. Enforce the use of standardized procedures and build continuous improvement loops into the process. Make sure that maintenance and operations personnel know their opinion counts, and set the expectation for them to help drive improved reliability.
  7. Ensure that technicians properly document their activities on each work order with accurate parts used and work completed. Help them understand the value of this information for later use.
  8. Build in a continuous feedback loop to the planner-schedulers so job plans and schedules can be improved.
  9. Lastly, audit. Pull three work orders out of the completed work-order stack and walk them down as a group every week. Include the planner-schedulers, maintenance and production supervisors/managers, parts coordinators, and yes, even the plant manager.  Use this walk as an opportunity to educate the others about creating a culture of finding things in the act of failure. Look up and to the side; listen; touch (where safe); and smell.  Ensure that the business processes for work execution are effective. The audit is not a time to assign blame to workers. When you find people executing workarounds with the processes, there is usually a reason. Generally, people are simply trying to do their job and find it necessary to bypass the process. Fix the processes.
  10. When failures occur, implement a level of root-cause analysis to drive defect elimination. Use tools like the 5 whys and empower small groups to act. The reality that is our focus should not be on planning, scheduling, and executing work more effectively. It should be on eliminating the need to plan and schedule work using the concepts of defect elimination.

Holistically, these are my 10 points to consider for backlog improvement. What did I leave out?  Are there some tactics you must use to improve backlog management that I did not mention?  What is holding your organization back? Send me an email at the address below and I will respond back 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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