Building an effective maintenance organisation

October 14, 2015 12:01 pm
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In my previous article on maintenance, I talked about the simple model I developed with a colleague around delivering effective maintenance support to an organisation.

This was through growing capability across a number of key enablers:

  • Maintenance Organisation
  • Maintenance Workflow
  • Spares, lubricants and special tools
  • Contractor & service management
  • Budget Management and the Critical Back Log
  • Safety and Compliance

As capability in these six key areas grows, the organisation becomes more effective at keeping the operational assets fit for use in the hands of the user at best cost through increasing confidence over a number of maintenance deliverables:

  • Fix – Corrective work to restore a failed asset back into use. The area where far too many maintenance organisations focus all or most of their effort
  • Solve – The much harder piece of activity, identifying why an asset failed in the first place
  • Develop – Using the problem solving above to develop new maintenance tasks or operating methods that reduce the likelihood, or the impact of, future failure
  • Schedule – Ensuring that the right skills, tools, spares and resources are available at the same time as the asset is out of use, to complete any planned maintenance work
  • Execute – Perfect execution of all planned tasks to ensure right first time every time of the maintenance task. Underpinning this is constant shop floor coaching of the maintenance technicians
  • Review – Following up post the maintenance execution to understand if what was experienced on the asset was what was expected

In this article, I’d like to expand on the key components of an effective maintenance organisation. Whilst this article is aimed at production facilities with a reasonable degree of complexity, the underlying principles hold true for smaller organisations, though in these cases, individuals will perform activity defined over multiple roles.

Key throughout this is the fact that there is no such thing as the “right” maintenance organisation, it depends on too many factors that are unique to each organisation and production facility, not least the capability of the people in the organisation. This article sets out some underlying principles that should be applied when you design your maintenance structure.

Common Organisational Challenges

Some or all of these challenges will ring true with any maintenance professional, even if you are privileged to be a part of a high performing maintenance team. I have certainly experienced all of these first hand both as an engineering and as an operational manager.

  • Maintenance Execution
    • Execution discipline is low with poor plan achievement
    • History of failed attempts to integrate preventive maintenance in shifts with poor supervision and leadership of shift maintenance staff
    • Different maintenance activities not aligned with each other or the production schedule
  • Focus and skill
    • Excessive focus on breakdown maintenance, with preventive and planned activity dropped as people rush to the scene of the latest crisis
    • No equipment oriented “specialisation” and “ownership” of the maintenance staff
    • Lack of problem-solving capacity or understanding of the fundamental working principles of the assets
    • Poor understanding of the control environment leading to simple automation issues generating excessively long breakdowns
  • Priority and co-operation
    • Planned maintenance last priority
    • Lack of planning and maintenance engineering capability
    • Poor alignment between engineering and operational departments

In many cases, these issues can be traced to a lack of capability or resource in key maintenance roles.

Key Maintenance Role Deliverables

In order for a maintenance organisation to be effective, there needs to be clear capability over a number of specific areas. These are:

  • Asset owner – the Asset Owner needs to be at the heart of the maintenance function, as only he is using the asset to generate wealth. Too often you see operational managers with no interest in the maintenance of the asset and no understanding of the maintenance strategy in place. This is normally exacerbated by maintenance professionals failing to communicate the strategy effectively. We all intrinsically understand this for our homes and cars, then too many forget it in a work environment. The Asset Owner defines:
    • The requirements of the asset for wealth creation: what volume is required over what period of time
    • The resources available to care for the asset: financial and people
    • The acceptable risk profile for asset failure: it’s ok for a packaging line to stop, it’s not ok for an aeroplane to fall out of the sky
    • The availability of planned downtime for the asset
  • Autonomous maintenance – this is the simple operator executed activity that reduces asset deteriorations and acts as an early warning for unavoidable deterioration. Typically it consists of cleaning, lubrication, inspection and tightening activity on the asset and requires a good understanding of what the required standard should be. We are all able to put air in our car tyres, but we do need to know what the pressure should be. There are multiple benefits to getting to a stage where routine maintenance can be executed by the user:
    • Better understanding of the asset and a higher degree of ownership
    • Maintenance performed at a lower cost
    • Faster identification of deterioration from the standard
    • Frees the technicians from more routine activity, allowing them to focus on loss elimination
  • Corrective maintenance execution – Too many organisations revel in capability in this area, and extoll the hero culture of the person who got the asset running again, without asking themselves why it broke in the first place. However, for many assets there is a need to have on-call maintenance support, waiting like a coiled spring, for an asset to fail so they can leap into action and restore operation. However, all too often, the maintenance cycle stops at this point and they focus on fixing symptoms not solving root causes. The corrective maintenance technician needs to be a jack of all trades, master of none and, in the increasingly automated world of modern production assets, will need a good understanding of the control environment and the automation systems in place. Of course, this resource needs to be scheduled to attend work when the asset is in planned production.
  • Preventative maintenance execution – Once these resources are in place, assuming that the next two roles are able to support him, we now start to see the organisation moving from a reactive to a proactive culture. Technicians supporting in this area need to be subject matter experts in the assets they support, able to see beyond the immediate symptom of a failure, to the underlying issues that have caused an actual or potential failure. Unlike the corrective maintenance team, they need to be available when the asset is not scheduled to run. Where organisations attempt to deliver this activity with on-shift resource, this activity is either delivered badly or not at all, and the organisation never breaks out of the reactive cycle.
  • Maintenance Planning – A greatly undervalued role by people who don’t understand maintenance. This is the role that ensures all the resources are working to peak efficiency, and are not hampered by a lack of spares, tools, resources and the like. The Maintenance Planner doesn’t spend his time sitting in front of the CMMS, he ensures alignment with operations and makes sure all the required tasks and resources are available to minimise the time the asset is shut down for planned work, maximising it’s availability to generate wealth.
  • Maintenance Development – It is this role that defines the right maintenance strategy for the asset, taking into account its criticality, possible failure modes, resource availability and the asset owner’s attitude towards risk. This role defines the right balance of run to fail, scheduled replacement, scheduled inspection and condition based monitoring to ensure that the likelihood of a maintenance failure is reduced as close to zero as is economic, and that the impact of any maintenance related failure is minimised. This is the role that defines and develops the maintenance strategy.
  • Maintenance Support – There is a broad range of activity required to support the maintenance function, the size and scope of which is driven by the asset base and the type of organisation. In this area we see a number of functions delivered, typically including:
    • Engineering library and asset documentation
    • Control of change and minor modifications including software version control
    • Contractor management
    • Legislative control, inspection and documentation


As discussed at the beginning, there is no such thing as a perfect maintenance organisation or an ideal structure. However, what you do develop needs to have the activity above built into the responsibilities of specific roles within the team. The balance of technician resource between shifts and days. An organisation with all the resource on shift will never break out of a reactive culture. Likewise an organisation that is unable to effectively plan and schedule it’s maintenance resource will never deliver a cost-effective maintenance function. Most importantly, a maintenance team that does not put the asset owner at the heart of the maintenance strategy will never be truly aligned to the organisations strategy and will ultimately disappoint.


Written by Richard Jeffers, Business Unit Director

Maintenance – Building the Basic Capability

October 13, 2015 8:13 am
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We are all used to hearing about the Preventative Maintenance and Autonomous Maintenance pillars under TPM, but do they really help us identify what a maintenance organisation is here to deliver? Or, indeed, how to build a maintenance organisation from scratch?

Many TPM programmes assume a level of capability within the maintenance organisation that is not able to be released, despite the best intentions of the maintenance team.

What organisations need is to build basic maintenance capability first, so that future activity in the AM and PM arenas has a solid foundation to build upon.

Early last year, a colleague and I were stranded at an airport waiting for a delayed flight, and, given that we were both maintenance engineers, we started to give some thought about what a maintenance organisation was for, what it delivered, and what supporting infrastructure it needed to deliver. Fortunately, despite the fact that we were separated from our laptops, we did have the back of a placemat to work on, so we set ourselves the challenge of capturing this on a single page.

The first question we challenged ourselves on was “What is the maintenance organisation for?” We had asked this at a recent training course of the maintenance team at one of our sites – a team that was recognised as delivering a good service to the site. After an hour, they were still struggling to articulate for themselves what they did – so it was unsurprising that there was a high level of conflict with their operational colleagues over what could be expected from the maintenance team. After some discussion around the place mat, we defined the aim of the maintenance organisation as:

“Keeping operational assets fit for purpose in the hands of the user, at best cost”

Maybe not perfect, and I’m sure it can be improved upon, but we have tested this in a number of environments – and it’s holding up so far!

This simple sentence throws up a number of issues that maintenance professionals need to consider:

  • The user is at the heart of this aim, not the maintainer. It is only the user that can define what constitutes “fit for purpose” as only they generate wealth with the asset
  • The asset needs to be in the hands of the user. An asset taken down for maintenance is not delivering the task it was purchased to do
  • All decisions about maintenance need to consider “best”” cost – but what constitutes “best”? This has to be driven by the operating context. A new asset with 30 years of life left if likely to be maintained proactively for many years. For an asset due to be replaced in 6 months, run to fail could be the best solution. Best cost decisions are driven by the operating context of the asset – what the asset owner wants it to deliver

The next question we posed ourselves was “what does the maintenance organisation deliver?” In its simplest form, maintenance teams do reactive and planned maintenance, but we split this down a little further into:

  • Fix – Corrective work to restore a failed asset back into use. The area where far too many maintenance organisations focus all or most of their effort
  • Solve – The much harder piece of activity of identify why an asset failed in the first place
  • Develop – Using the problem solving above to develop new maintenance tasks, or operating methods, that reduce the likelihood, or the impact of, future failure
  • Schedule – Ensuring that the right skills, tools, spares and resources are available at the same time as the asset is out of use, to complete any planned maintenance work
  • Execute – Perfect execution of all planned tasks to ensure right first time every time of the maintenance task. Underpinning this is constant shop floor coaching of the maintenance technicians
  • Review – Following up post the maintenance execution to understand if what was experienced on the asset was what was expected

Considered next was what are the underpinning systems and processes that are required to ensure that you can deliver the activities above brilliantly? These key enablers we identified are:

  • Maintenance Organisation – You achieve the results your organisation is designed to deliver. If all your technician resource is on shift, you will never break out of a reactive culture. If you have no maintenance planners, you will never effectively schedule tasks. If you have no maintenance development engineers, you will never understand the reasons for component failure and the actions required to mitigate these failures. If the asset owner is not at the heart of the process, you will never meet his needs or fully understand the operating context.
  • Maintenance Workflow – How do you want to log, escalate, address and manage reactive and planned work? How do you manage this on a daily / weekly / periodic basis? Whilst a computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) will facilitate this, a good CMMS implemented at a site without a good workflow will fail
  • Spares, lubricants and special tools – What do you stock? How do you stock it? Financially, all stock is bad, as it ties up working capital but the engineers and operators will want 100% availability of spares. Without a clear view of your stocking strategy, combined with good warehouse discipline, you are destined never to have the right parts when you need them
  • Contractor & service management – In all maintenance organisations, much work is outsourced. A clear strategy on why to outsource is needed. I have always taken the view that you outsource activity that is genuinely cheaper, specialist or where there are large peaks in demand. If you don’t tick one of these boxes, consider doing it yourself. Of course, whilst you can outsource the task, you can never outsource the management – you need to put as much, if not more, effort into managing service providers as you do to managing your own resource
  • Budget Management and the Critical Back Log – All maintenance engineers ask for more money…. But few can back it up with a detailed risk analysis of the back log of maintenance activity, the cost of completing that work and the risk of doing or not doing the work. Maintenance is all about managing risk. This form off detailed risk analysis of the back log makes budget discussions easy, and fact based, and avoids the arbitrary cutting of maintenance budgets that many of will have seen
  • Safety and Compliance – Maintenance work, through its non-routine nature, is more inherently hazardous that operating assets in their standard way. Control of work, risk assessment, permits, machine isolations are all fundamental parts of the maintenance professional’s task. All maintenance professionals should be involved. It is not a management activity. It is everyone’s activity.

Organisations wanting to build their maintenance capability should address each of these enablers, ensuring strength in each area. Once this is in place, the activities the organisation delivers will become a lot easier – ultimately ensuring the maintenance organisation keeps the asset in the hands of the user at best cost!


Written by Richard Jeffers, Business Unit Director