Fixing Just One Link Doesn’t Strengthen a Chain

Being a planner requires proficiency in most of what goes into a maintenance job. Planners need to know about spare parts, coordinating with tradespeople, computer skills, being organized, and a lot more. That’s why many companies like to hold specific training for planners. Unfortunately, nine times out of 10, that type of training is a waste of time, especially if it only takes place in a classroom.

Planning is an extremely important link in the maintenance chain: “Inspect—prioritize—plan—schedule—execute.” However, it is just one link. If we don’t do inspections there is nothing to plan. If priorities are changed from day to day, there won’t be sufficient time to plan the jobs. If the jobs aren’t scheduled and then executed, planning is useless.

Let’s compare this concept with sports. Ice hockey coaches know how important good forwards are. They move the game forward, just like the name suggests; they set the tempo and they usually score the most goals. But just because forwards are important, they aren’t the only ones who are practicing between games. We train the whole team. If we didn’t, there would be no telling how our team would perform. It’s the same with planners.

The chain, which we have discussed in many articles, is often difficult to improve by very definition. All links in a chain need to be intact for a chain to be complete, and it involves different roles and many personnel: everyone who writes work orders, those who schedule the equipment, planners, supervisors, repair and store personnel, the financial department, and sales and purchasing. All these roles are important, just like an ice hockey team, which is made up of forwards, defense, a goalie, and the coach.

Another important aspect of training is what type of training we are talking about. In maintenance, just as in ice hockey (or any other sport for that matter), not everything can be taught in a classroom. Sure, it’s important to talk strategy or principals and how it all works in theory, but if your factory is going to excel in the work processes, the educators need to get out on the floor, coach, correct, and help with the daily work. The ratio for hands-on versus classroom training should be 95 percent to 5 percent.

To train those who only make up one link in the chain—or just to teach them theory—is often completely useless because:

  1. One isolated improvement of a link in a chain becomes marginal and doesn’t help the big picture.
  2. To teach the maintenance chain only in the classroom doesn’t yield results since it doesn’t lead to changes in practice.

A top forward that scores a bunch of goals in solo performances may lead to brief success, but if he can’t pass the puck, the success will be short-lived. By the way, hockey coaches wear skates, too, during practice; they don’t just stand by the rink yelling instructions to the players from the box.

So, what do we do? I suggest the following:

  1. EVERYONE needs to be trained in how the maintenance chain should work. We often start with a basic understanding and overview. This takes about 2-3 percent of the time in an improvement project.
  2. DESCRIBE the workflow so that every task has a designated person to do the job as well as someone who is responsible. In some cases, there will also be consulting or informative roles, and sometimes both. Clear role descriptions are derived from the workflow because every activity is tied to a specified role. Size, roles, and culture differ from organization to organization, so the workflow will vary too; but certain principles must be followed. This will be approximately 7-8 percent of the time in an improvement project.
  3. GET OUT ON THE FLOOR and coach! Lend a hand, practice, and follow up until every role is functioning smoothly in the workflow. It’s not enough to do just a follow-up because it doesn’t reach deep enough. Each individual and role needs to receive clear feedback and the opportunity to share theirs. This makes up about 90 percent of an improvement project.

All maintenance organizations can improve their work processes. Here are some questions to consider prior to starting an improvement project:

  • Do role descriptions align with work processes and are they clear?
  • Are all personnel trained in work processes and their roles?
  • Do you know the work processes for each role? Are there clearly described problem scenarios, improvement plans, and a feedback system for each role?

Theoretical thinking and training only get us so far within maintenance. So put on your skates, get out there with your team, and help them be their best, because this will lead your organization to be its best. Remember: a chain is only intact if all links are together. 

Torbjörn Idhammar is president and CEO of IDCON, Inc. and section editor, Reliability & Maintenance, for Paper360° magazine. Contact him at . For more articles, please visit: