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Avoid the blame game: Get more from your CMMS



It is incredible how often the CMMS takes the blame for why the maintenance department is not able to make any significant improvements. Some claim their systems are hopelessly antiquated. Others say they bought the wrong software package or that users are not doing what they are supposed to do.

However, the CMMS is rarely the bottleneck to improvement. The real opportunity to exploit even a legacy CMMS starts with resolving those nasty issues that have plagued the company for years: fundamental strategic, policy, procedural or management issues — not system issues — that impede attempts to maximize the value of a CMMS. Indeed, the system may fit perfectly the needs and technical specifications of the company, yet there is still no agreement on how the tool can best be used. Radical change is sometimes required to break the deep-rooted habits of the past.

The four types of issues can be defined as follows:

1. Strategic issues: These are issues that speak to the vision, mission and fundamental goals and objectives of the company (such as the need to create a learning organization through extensive training programs offered to employees).

2. Policy issues:
Depending on the strategy of the organization, policies are established that guide employees on how to conduct business (such as the need to have every tradesperson take a mandatory 10 days of job-related training per year).

3. Procedural issues:
Procedures are established to ensure policies are followed correctly (such as a need to define a procedure for developing a training plan each year specifying who needs what training, and how to implement it).

4. Management issues: If a tradesperson is not adhering to policy or following the proper procedures, then there is an issue if management fails to take action (such as a need for supervisors to allow their tradespeople to go on the training course on how to make better use of the CMMS, despite the extensive backlog of work).

Listed below are common strategic, policy, procedural and management issues that companies are wrestling with when replacing, upgrading or trying to get more out of a CMMS. If these issues are not dealt with prior to implementing a new system, everyone will blame the CMMS for the continuing problems. In some cases, these issues will impact the specification of the system, depending on how they are resolved. However, each issue has a component that is completely independent of the choice of CMMS.

For example, one common issue is to what extent machine operators will be involved in maintaining their equipment. This may not impact system requirements, in that the system doesn’t really “care” whether a maintenance or production worker has done the maintenance, enters the data or outputs the reports. However, the success or failure of the entire CMMS implementation can rest with this single issue, with the CMMS acting helplessly as the scapegoat.

This is because unless operators begin to take seriously the care and maintenance of their equipment, in the same way that most now care about the quality of the product, then the maintenance workers will feel that it is a waste of time to complete work orders for the same old problems. Operators will complain that the system is not improving the response rate of maintenance to their problems, nor the quality of the repairs. Maintenance will insist that nobody looks at the reports off of the CMMS to see that problems are repeatedly caused by operators who are poorly trained and don’t care about the equipment.

For those companies that have already implemented a CMMS, problems are compounded by the fact that people have begun to mistrust or even blame the system, making it more difficult to identify and resolve the true issues. Any continuous improvement methodology (Lean, Six Sigma, etc.) can be employed to find, prioritize and eliminate these barriers to change. The difficulty is always influencing people’s attitude and changing their behaviour for the long term, at all levels of the organization.

Discussion Questions
By discussing and answering the following questions, you may uncover improvement opportunities, through resolution of some old and thorny strategic, policy, procedural and management issues:

1. What is the role of the maintenance supervisor, planner, storekeeper, etc., regarding the CMMS? Who has what level of access into which modules, menus, reports and functions?

2. Who administers the system and what will be that person’s responsibilities?

3. To what degree can users manipulate the design of screens, menus and reports generated by the CMMS?

4. What portion, if any, of maintenance costs should be charged to production departments? Should spare parts be expensed when issued from stores or upon purchasing? What about consumables such as nuts, bolts, and safety supplies? What about capital projects that require stock items?

5. Should fixed asset and accounting work centre numbers from Accounting be adopted or cross-referenced in the CMMS?

6. Should labour hours recorded via the CMMS be transferred electronically to the payroll system or should a separate data collection exist for payroll purposes? How often should information pass to the payroll system?

7. Who has the authority to initiate work requests? (Should operators?) How can a proliferation of repeat, unnecessary, or vague work requests be avoided? Who determines priority of work requests? Can work requests be phoned in or passed verbally to tradespeople walking by?

8. Who should plan the work orders and assign them to individual tradespeople?

9. Should contracted services be used, and to what degree, instead of internal maintenance resources?

10. Who (tradespeople, supervisors, maintenance management, maintenance purchasing, general purchasing) should order what material? What about during emergency downtime? How can rush orders be minimized?

11. How do we account for and locate spare parts and consumables kept outside central stores (eg. on a given production line, on trucks, with an outside contractor)? How do we control stock issuances outside of day shift?

12. Should estimated hours be provided for all work orders? Where will estimates come from (historical records, engineered standards, etc.)?

13. Should work orders be issued prior to material being available?

14. When tradespeople identify follow-on work as a result of a given work order, should they expand the existing work order or begin a new one?

15. How should we account for a supervisor/planner’s time when planning large jobs?

16. What approval levels should be established? What if the approving authority is unavailable?

17. What happens if a job begins to exceed the original estimated cost, eg., should it be re-approved?

18. Will variances to estimated labour hours be used for disciplining a maintenance worker? Who will take what action if variances occur? How big must the variance be to take such action?

19. How often will operations require what feedback (on-line, daily, weekly, etc.)?

20. How detailed should PM routines be?

21. How do we ensure that PM routines are completed satisfactorily?

22. Should operators perform PM routines? Should these routines be recorded onto the CMMS? Should operators input directly onto the system?

23. Should maintenance workers input their own work order and time information (such as at a terminal or using a handheld device)?

24. At what value are repaired parts returned to inventory?

25. For multi-plant environments, to what degree should head office or the larger plants influence which CMMS package should be run in each plant, and how it should be set up? (For example, should head office “force” small plants to adopt the maintenance module of an enterprise-wide ERP solution?)