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The Role of Work Management in a Maintenance Organization

Brian Marczak, Former Maintenance Director, Stillwater Mining Company

The Role of Work Management in a Maintenance OrganizationBrian Marczak, Former Maintenance Director, Stillwater Mining Company

Evolving from a reactive maintenance culture to a planned and scheduled environment can be an evasive concept for those that have been stuck in the reactive domain for some time. There are often many reasons why organizations become centered in the area of reactivity of which they hope to avoid, but it is generally driven out of necessity to function and lack of understanding of the drivers. In a mobile mining equipment arena, several factors contribute to this necessity. The cycle generally follows: operating a machine, possibly damaging or abusing the machine, and suffering a breakdown event. A technician is then sent to diagnose and repair the machine, and is praised for getting it back to an operational status. We overlook the root causes, secondary damage, or poor practices that led to the original failure. It is difficult to predict these failures, even more difficult to prepare a meaningful budget that will cover the organization with any certainty. Because of this, maintenance is viewed as a “cost of doing business” and decisions to “fix it and forget it” become the norm. These are often run-to-failure strategies that can function, but at higher cost, lower reliability, and perpetually lower condition of equipment and availability. 

To move out of a reactive culture and into a planned domain, a regimented work management process must be implemented and role expectations demanded. A high level map of this includes work identification, planning, scheduling, executing, reviewing, and improving.

A detailed process map can be developed following these principles, and specific activities spelled out with assigned responsibilities for each action and surrounding traits such as who holds this area accountable and with whom should the responsible party be consulting with or informing.

A high performing team following a tactical work management process can impart great dividends

A set of rules needs to be created around the specific tasks within the work flow process. Looking into work identification, the rules would spell out who is able to identify work, what tools they will use, and how the information is shared. Generally, this is within a CMMS and there are some specific requirements as to how the system works.

In the planning phase, there is specific criteria as to what constitutes a plan. A work package will need all included parts, tools, instructions, permits, and other pertinent information, and a job is not considered planned until all the criteria are met.

The scheduling phase will include appropriate time slots for the machine to be taken out of service, keeping in mind to coordinate between operational needs, available shop space, technician time, and any auxiliary equipment or tooling availability. The schedule will be finalized at least one week prior to the job, and distributed to all affected stakeholders.

The execution phase is guided by the expectations of what is needed to actually complete the work. Technicians are expected to complete work place safety inspections, analyze for risks, and gather necessary tools, parts, and instructions. Supervisors are expected to verify the work is being completed correctly and that the instructions and parts are being utilized effectively. 

The closure of the work with feedback from both the supervisor and technician is critical to help the organization learn from the process, as well as provide a maintenance record of what happened.

The review phase is often overlooked. We, as maintainers, like to fix problems and move on to the next problem. This step is called out specifically to ensure that the information from the completed work is examined for defects or improvements. Were the correct parts used? Was the time allotment adequate? Did we have the necessary and appropriate tools? What other steps in the job sequence could have made this job run more smoothly? Are there unnecessary actions included that need to be omitted? A basic set of rules or common set of questions that captures the basic principles of the program should be applied to all completed work.

Finally, the improvement phase is a guiding process to facilitate Continuous Improvement. A matrix to rationalize which level an improvement project should be developed, and any processes to follow should again be sub-mapped with responsibilities clearly defined. This can range from creating a simple work order to fix a problem, assigning a cross functional team to resolve an issue and drive the implementation, or a charter driven major project with complete change management facilities.

Additionally, specific strategies will need to be developed as individual equipment cases warrant. These can be continually evolving through the improvement phase of the work management process. Also key is to ensure the organization is populated with capable and competent individuals that can carry out the expected activities. A high performing team following a tactical work management process can impart great dividends. The advancement of culture change can be difficult, but following a determined process and clearly defining the strategic tasks and responsibilities can greatly aid in transforming into a planned work environment.

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