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What Percentage of Time Should Lean Leaders Spend on Maintenance Activity?

May 13, 2014
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QUESTION: What percentage of time should lean leaders spend on maintenance activity?

ANSWER: We have two questions this time from a reader who is rightfully concerned about the role of maintenance in any continuous improvement initiative that is expected to be sustained for the long-term.

Specifically, here are the questions: “What % of time should lean leaders spend on maintenance activity? Do you have any maintenance spend targets to build a robust maintenance excellence program?”

I’ll deal with the first of these today and will respond to the second question next time.

In response to the first question, the answer of how much time lean leaders should spend on maintenance activity is: “It depends.”

It depends on whether maintenance is already an important part of the solution or a major part of the problem. For example, what do the maintenance metrics tell you, e.g. what is the breakdown maintenance rate (BMR) on constrained work centers (total constraint machine hours actual vs. total hours scheduled)? What is the on-time performance to the preventive maintenance schedules? How accurate is the data being used to create the proper intervals for PM? How robust is the PM system for the management of spare parts?

These results will tell you a lot about what the mindset is of the maintenance leadership. (My experience is that maintenance is usually one of the top three priorities in a poorly performing plant along with safety and quality.)  

Whatever the situation, it’s important that the lean leader’s focus stay on whatever the operations’ three most important priorities are. Do not dilute scarce resources trying to tackle too many things at once.

Fight the 'Run Until It Breaks' Mentality

Is the prevailing attitude “run it until it breaks”? This mentality always results in more serious breakdowns and much higher costs of repairs.

This culture is easily exposed since the maintenance crew is constantly in a firefighting mode and rushes from one emergency to another to save the day, every day. In contrast, an orderly, in-control process finds the maintenance crew engaged and working in a culture of fire prevention.

Very simply, if maintenance is constantly fire-fighting that is confirmation of there not being a robust preventive and predictive maintenance process in place. Likely, if there is a CMMS (computerized maintenance management system) in place at all, it has been poorly implemented and is not a key resource to support maintenance excellence. This is basic formal infrastructure that must be in place to ever achieve and sustain excellence.

Assuming maintenance is one of the top priorities causing poor plant performance, there is surely the need to critically evaluate the maintenance manager, supervisors, group leaders and any maintenance engineers on the current staff. Clearly their expectations aren’t nearly high enough, and some simply aren’t technically competent leaders to be in their roles.

The reality is that the talent must be upgraded. The plant manager must start with the maintenance manager and go from there. Importantly, it is the plant manager’s responsibility to drive this and make the necessary changes, not the lean leader’s.

In the maintenance environment I’ve just described, the lean leader may need to assist in the collection of the necessary data, with the help of maintenance staff, supervisors, accounting staff, to quantify the negative impact that maintenance is having on the business, e.g. OEE performance on constraints, negative customer service and financial performance.

This is the first step in convincing those who control the purse strings that they’re going to have to spend some serious money to get maintenance moving on a path to excellence.

In a turnaround situation maintenance costs always go up before they start trending downward. This is one of those critical times when the lean leader must have the ear of the plant manager to get the necessary support to put the priority and the money behind a major maintenance improvement initiative once effective leadership is in place.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a business that has the correct mindset in the maintenance leadership; has robust metrics and systems in place; and competent technicians/mechanics; then maintenance isn’t one of the top three priorities and the lean leader should be focusing elsewhere.

Next time we’ll take on the second question with regard to maintenance spending.

                        “All things flourish where you turn your eyes.”

                                    --Alexander Pope, English poet (1688-1744)

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