Plant maintenance teams need support to achieve desired results

April 18, 2011
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, contributing editor, says employees need support to meet expectations.

Many years ago, I worked at a marina in my home town. The boss and owner of the marina was a gruff fellow who was known to be a difficult person to work with. I happened to like the guy because you always knew what he was thinking — you always got an earful if your interpretation of what he was looking for didn’t match his. You get the picture.

One spring day, the boss’ son and I were repairing docks: installing new Styrofoam floatation, new boards and so forth. Well, we apparently weren’t working fast enough because the boss came down with arms waving and expletives flying. “You guys work like my Aunt Tilly. Why aren’t you further along?”

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With the courage of a young man who had nothing to lose, I looked at him with an expression of earnest helpfulness and said, “It’s because of my hammer.”

The boss cocked his head and said, “What do you mean it’s because of your hammer?”

“Well,” I said. “You know I’m left-handed, and all you have are right-handed hammers.” You could see the red color beginning to rise from his neckline along the bulging veins on its way to his forehead, until he realized I was making a joke.

The real reason we were not as fast as the boss wanted us to be was that the only tractor the marina owned was being used with a brush hog to mow the fields where boats were going to be dry-stored. This was a decision the boss had made. Not having the tractor meant we didn’t have the lifting capability to work dock sections as fast as the boss wanted. We did the best we could with the tools we had. We got done what we could.

The point is that we didn’t have the support, in the form of coordination or tools, we needed to do the job to the boss’ expectations. How often do your teams have everything they need to get their work done to your expectations?

Think about how different functions are coordinated in your organization. Do your operations and maintenance groups work well together? Is there a culture of coordination and teamwork? Is work identified, planned and scheduled to maximize operational performance and minimize wasted time and effort? In most organizations, this is the most significant improvement that can be made, often on the order of 20% to 30% labor efficiency improvement.

How about tools people need to do their jobs effectively? Are there enough computer resources for people to receive work instructions and to enter machinery history and other actions taken on work orders? Are technical manuals and drawings readily accessible to workers? Do you have calibrated torque wrenches and laser equipment for precision alignment of rotating equipment? How about good troubleshooting tools such as infrared imaging cameras, airborne ultrasound units, pipe inspection cameras needed to check for defects in operating equipment non-intrusively? Have you funded and provided training to ensure your folks know how to use these tools and can effectively use them?

Sometimes organizations have tons of special tools and equipment purchased at great expense, but the advocate or sponsor of the tools moves on and the program collapses. Likewise, sometimes craftsmen make unreasonable requests for tools that have more capability than what’s needed. For instance, a mid-level infrared camera at $25,000 does pretty much whatever is needed at an average plant; but the purchase request asks for the $60,000 camera. The high-end camera is above the organization’s capability and will likely be obsolete before that capability is attained.

The effectiveness of support an organization provides to its workforce is an indication of the real expectations the organization has for its performance. The problem with short-changing support is that the performance level that is achieved is most often disappointing.

Take a look at how your organization supports the objectives that have been laid out in its performance guidance and policies. Are your expectations reasonable, and are you providing the support needed for them to carry out your directives.

My marina boss recognized that his son and I were constrained by the lack of coordination and tools. On my last day of work for that fellow, I presented him with a T-shirt that read, “Aunt Tilly Fan Club.” He cracked a smile, and we remain friends to this day.

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

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