Standardization: Good for you but not for me!

How to drive the scientific discovery into maintenance planning.

By Mike Gehloff, Allied Reliability Group July 9, 2014

Can we agree on one thing? When considering the tasks that we perform on a daily basis as a maintenance organization, isthere a one-right way to do them? I am not saying that I know the answer, but I believe that there is one right way to rebuild a Goulds HT3196 LTX pump. I believe that there is one right way to calibrate a Campbell Scientific pH probe. I would propose that the correct method to perform these tasks is a scientific fact. Now, if you were to ask me who makes better music the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, well then I would of course say the Beatles, but that would be an opinion open to debate and discussion with no clear answer.

The reason I bring this up is that I believe that there is a lack of standardization, a lack of science if you will, in our maintenance planning efforts. I work with maintenance planners in the field nearly every week, and when we have this discussion, I generally get a response something like “I don’t really know how much detail to put into my job plans… We have a bunch of guys working here who have been on the job 30 years plus… If I give them too much information, they will tell me of a special place that I can put my job plan… Yes, I understand that airline pilots use checklists on every single flight, but I know my job… I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me what to do.”

Let me be clear, I have the greatest respect for the skill and experience that our maintenance workers have gained over the years, I really do. I just don’t think that they are the problem. The scenario I like to describe to these maintenance planners that I work with goes something like this:

Give me 5 workers with 30 years plus experience, and we will give each of them a blank piece of paper. Let’s then ask them to jot down a few bullet points on how they would rebuild a Goulds HT3196 LTX pump. Do you think that these 5 pieces of paper will look anything alike?

If we believe that what we do for a living is based on science, then the only acceptable answer is that all 5 pieces of paper must look more or less alike. Otherwise, at least 4 of them are making errors in their work or perhaps all 5 of them.

This is where the role of the maintenance planner really comes to light. It is our job to prioritize all of the jobs that we plan in any given week. What if we pick some small amount, even if it is one job plan, and treat it like a science project; seeking out that right answer to the question “what is the correct way to perform this task?”

Bringing science into maintenance planning
Here are a few tips to drive that scientific discovery by the maintenance planner:

1. Keep it small, but at a steady pace: You cannot solve all of the world’s problems at once. Pick just one work order and strive to improve that one. Then, when you have made some significant improvement, move onto the next one. Set a goal. One a week? One a month? Let the other jobs continue on at their normal level of planning, but create some wins.

2. You are not an expert, but rather an expert facilitator: As a maintenance planner, you do not know everything. It is impossible. Make the time in your day to collaborate with the maintenance workforce on that one job plan you are trying to improve. Go to the worksite or find 30 minutes to sit down and discuss. Make the improvements their improvements, not yours. If you can develop ownership, then the chances of real improvement increase astronomically. As humans, we generally do not react to paper, we react to people.

3. It’s not about the paper: When I asked you to improve a job plan, the first thought that likely came to your mind is “I wonder what template he wants us to use?” I think that this is less important than the idea that you collaborate with the workers who perform the task, yes of course you write down what they told you, but you do it in a clear and concise manner. Do not fall into the trap of judging the quality of the job plan by counting pages. There is absolutely no correlation. More on what makes for a good job plan coming up.

4. You are never done: This task of improving our performance is a never-ending journey. Once we improve one job plan another one will be in the wings waiting for our attention. And that first one we worked on? We may very likely find it back at the top of our list one day. It’s all about prioritization.

The perfect job plan?

So how does one define the perfect job plan? I guarantee it is not by page count or how colorful it is. I believe that the perfect job plan is one that provides:

– Safe execution: for our people and environment
– Efficient execution: minimal amount of downtime, labor cost, and material cost
– Error free: once we walk away, we won’t be coming back anytime soon

Let’s stop putting so much focus on what template or what software we use. Let’s stop placing value on page count. Sure we need a template, and sure we need software, but these are only tools. Let’s take the responsibility as maintenance planners to develop the perfect job plan that produces results. Let’s take some ownership on the execution of the work. Let’s not be the guy who says “I filled out a worksheet and passed it along, my job is done.”

Sometimes we forget that we can make a difference, and that difference comes when we drive standardization of work in the right way. As a community, we have a real chance to facilitate the success of others.

Mike Gehloff has worked in the maintenance and reliability discipline for more than 20 years with a wide range of experience both as a practitioner and a consultant. Mike is the Discipline Leader for both the Work Execution Management and the Operator Care practices. He currently works with the Allied Reliability Group. Edited by Brittany Merchut, Project Manager, CFE Media, bmerchut(at)