Podcast: How maintenance managers fail

Podcast: How maintenance managers fail

April 6, 2024
In this episode of Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast, author and YouTuber Joe Kuhn examines the failure points for maintenance managers and how to avoid them.

Joe Kuhn, CMRP, former plant manager, engineer, and global reliability consultant, is now president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC. He is the author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges” and the creator of the Joe Kuhn YouTube Channel, which offers content on starting your reliability journey and achieving financial independence. In our monthly podcast miniseries, Ask a Plant Manager, Joe considers a commonplace scenario facing the industry and offers his advice, as well as actions that you can take to get on track tomorrow. This episode offers insight into how maintenance managers are failing their businesses and their direct reports.

Below is the transcript of the podcast:

PS: We try to make this podcast series very actionable. You're really great at giving our listeners  specific actions they can take, or small ideas that they can grow big slowly. We've talked about how to start a reliability program, or how to start doing planned maintenance, how to incorporate data-driven decision making, or how to improve wrenchtime, just to name a few. By the way, if those are topics that you're interested in, be sure to go back and check out those episodes, if you've missed them. Joe's advice is classic, it never goes out of style. 

So today, we're going to flip the script just a little bit and focus specifically on some of the failure points for maintenance managers. So we talk a lot in this podcast about what they should be doing. But what are some of the things that they shouldn't be doing? And it's probably still important to talk about some of the practices that if maintenance managers aren't doing them, they're sure to fail. I'm also thinking about this question up and down the corporate ladder. Maintenance managers are in that middle management. So how might they be failing their workers and direct reports? And what can maintenance managers be doing that's failing upper management or that upper management would see as a failure? I think those are probably two different things. But Joe, what do you think?

JK: Well, I'll tackle the second one first. It's how are maintenance managers failing when you look toward their business or their plant manager. This may be a new term for folks. I will explain it ,and it's called time span of control. Time span of control. When you're a maintenance manager, a lot of times you used to be a very good maintenance engineer, or you used to be a very good supervisor. And you're working in today. You're working on today's outage, today's problems, today's emergency. When you become a manager, you have to spend a certain amount of time on today, and that could be in a really bad day, that could be 100%. But you need to be spending something like 20% of your time on today, maybe another 20% on this month. And then the remaining 60% on how you are going to be better three months from now, six months from now, a year from now. Most maintenance managers that fail get sucked into today. And so they spent 100% of their time on what they were good at, why they got promoted. They spent 100% of the time in today, trying to make it better. And then they wipe the sweat off their brow and say we'll try it again tomorrow. And so you never implement solutions that are strategic. You're always doing tactical ones. 

By far the most common problem I see with maintenance managers, because they were good at it, maybe they know the solution. So they get sucked into that versus working in their proper time span of control. And you could argue what that is. I just described a 40/ 60. 40 is more today, here and now, this week. And then 60 may be longer term, but the maintenance managers job is usually to move the organization strategically to lower cost, better reliability, better safety, performance, better environmental performance. And you work on that, and one way to measure this is for a week monitor where you spend your time, what time span are you in? You in to today, you in to this month, three months or a year, just put a little checkmark on where you're spending your time, and most people are shocked. So that's number one. 

The second thing I'll say that causes maintenance managers to fail, is they focus on everything. And actually I'm looking upward in the organization. There may be 50 things that you're supposed to perform on. But if you focus on 50 things, you're actually focusing on nothing. I've actually gone to a lot of sites when I was operating as a coach inside my company, and they would show me 60 slides on improvements that they're making. Sixty. Focus on a few. But that's the message, so maintenance managers fail by trying to please everyone, trying to look good on every metric, every KPI, instead of saying, we're going to be great on these two or these three. So if you could pick three things that you want to do substantially better, make a step change in, that would be strategic for you. That's far better than working on 40 things and making glacial progress. 

Now, you may be saying, hey, Joe, that's easy to say, I get asked to do stuff every day for my boss, how do I do that? Well, I'll introduce another concept called getting a C, instead of doing getting an A plus, on every task you're asked to do, why not try to get an A plus on those three things I talked about, and try to get a C on everything else, just a passing grade, just a passing grade. So those are really the ways that I see maintenance managers fail that time span of control, and they focus on too many things.

PS: Yeah, I'm thinking about how time span of control can apply to my own job and my life. I think outside of a maintenance manager, a lot of people could probably relate to that. And try not to get sucked into today, as you said. I also like the idea of trying to be more strategic and not tactical and everything that you do every day. You can't do it all. You’ve got to focus on a few.

 So yeah, it's not always easy, I think, to focus on the negative or maybe easier to point out all the problems and harder to talk about solutions. But I think you do that very well. And you gave people some good ideas to think about and again, things that can they turn around and start tomorrow.

JK: I'll be brief here, the second part of your question was how do maintenance managers fail down? And that's very simple—not knowing reality, managing from the office, managing your KPIs from the conference room, looking at charts. That's not an image of reality on the floor, and does not reflect what the technician goes through on a daily basis. What frustrations do they have? Do they not have a fork truck? Do they not have proper tools? Is production not giving them the equipment at the proper time and in the proper condition? Is it loaded with material? So not knowing reality, and I've said this in every video I'm sure, you’ve got to dedicate a portion of your day, to observation, knowing reality.

About the Podcast
Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast offers news and information for the people who make, store and move things and those who manage and maintain the facilities where that work gets done. Manufacturers from chemical producers to automakers to machine shops can listen for critical insights into the technologies, economic conditions and best practices that can influence how to best run facilities to reach operational excellence.

Listen to another episode and subscribe on your favorite podcast app

About the Author

Joe Kuhn | CMRP

Joe Kuhn, CMRP, former plant manager, engineer, and global reliability consultant, is now president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC. He is the author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges” and the creator of the Joe Kuhn YouTube Channel, which offers content on creating a reliability culture as well as financial independence to help you retire early. Contact Joe Kuhn at [email protected].

About the Author

Anna Townshend | managing editor

Anna Townshend has been a journalist and editor for almost 20 years. She joined Control Design and Plant Services as managing editor in June 2020. Previously, for more than 10 years, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review. In addition to writing and editing thousands of articles in her career, she has been an active speaker on industry panels and presentations, as well as host for the Tool Belt and Control Intelligence podcasts. Email her at [email protected].

Sponsored Recommendations

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...

The Importance of Air-To-Cloth Ratio when Selecting Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
Selecting the right filter cartridges for your application can be complicated. There are a lot of things to evaluate and consider...like air-to-cloth ratio. When your filters ...