MRO Magazine

Full Steam Ahead!

By Cliff Williams   

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO's February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archiv...

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archived online at this issue, we pick up where we left off in the November 2009 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards and members of his team, along with other managers, discuss the next steps in Project 600 with plant manger Joe Davis.

Joe Davis seemed to have lost any doubts about his role as the champion for our new project and quickly moved on to the need for relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) that all tied in to the new Project 600.

“Fred, as production manager, obviously your prime KPI is going to be the number of tonnes we produce, but we’re going to have to go deeper,” Joe advised. “We need to know exactly how many tonnes we lose due to operations problems. And before you say anything, we’ll really look at root causes.

“You’ll also need to look at your decisions to shut down and change the paper-carrying felts; not only do the felts cost $30,000, but it takes eight hours to change them.”


“I don’t mean to be pessimistic, Joe, but there’s no way I’ll have the time to do all of that by the time we track the people down,” Fred responded.

“That’s the next big change we need to make,” interrupted Joe. “I don’t want you to do it, Fred. I want you to review the results but I want your people to do the rest for you. You’ll need to figure out who is better suited for doing what, because we’re going to depend on them.

“We’re changing the way we do business at this mill, Fred, and I need everyone to play their part. Bob and his team had an interesting visit to another paper mill in Wisconsin and one of the things they found was that not everyone liked or could even work in their environment after they changed their processes. I’m sure we’ll find the same thing and we need to be on the lookout for it. Then we’ll figure out how we can deal with it.

“This doesn’t mean we’ll get rid of people. We may be able to re-assign them, but we can’t let them get in the way of our progress.

“I realize that this is a new concept to you,” Joe told the group of managers. “If any of you have concerns, then let’s talk about it, either here or in private, because our success depends on each of you being fully on board.”

Fred was clearly uneasy with what he’d heard and seemed uncomfortable talking about it.

“I… well… uhm… I mean…. uh….”

“Look Fred,” I interjected, “when we were in Wisconsin, we talked to people who openly admitted they weren’t on board at the beginning. Some even said they were angry when they were told to start passing down some of the decision-making and analysis responsibilities.”

“No wonder, Bob, as it’s taken me years to get to this position and now you want me to give up some of my job. I never had any power when I was an operator — I just did what I was told.”

“But don’t you think you could have contributed, Fred?” asked Debbie, the mill’s quality assurance manager. “I know quite a few of your operators think they have something to offer — they tell me so when I talk to them about quality issues. I think they just need a chance.”

“Remember when we had that problem with dryers and we called in John, the vibration consultant, to do some ultrasound analysis? One operator in particular — Keith– was great. He pointed us in the right direction and John was able to confirm what he believed. With operators like that, I’m sure it won’t be as difficult as it seems.”

“Yeah… but… well… I….”

“Fred, answer my question! Don’t you think you could have contributed when you were an operator?”

“Of course I think I could have, Debbie. I didn’t just inherit the management knowledge when I got promoted. It just wasn’t done back then — the boss was the boss. It was frustrating but that’s the way it was.”

“So why would you treat your operators the same way? Think about how much more rewarding it would have been for you if you’d been able to give your opinions and suggest solutions. They’ll feel the same way if you let them get involved. That way, you’ll be able to do what Joe is asking.”

Fred didn’t reply and there was a lingering silence until Joe commented.

“That’s exactly the sort of discussion we need and now is not the time be quiet, Fred. It’s no good holding your breath — you have to deal with it.”

“No, it’s not what you think, Joe. I’m just thinking about what Debbie said. There were many times when I thought we could have solved problems a lot earlier if they’d only involved us operators, and to be honest, I used to think that my manager was insecure and selfish — and even wor se, a r r ogant and foolish — for not listening to us. I’m just wondering if the guys think of me that way. I don’t mean to come across like that — I just take my responsibi l it ies personally. To be honest, I’m a little bit scared of all of this. I’m not too good at trusting people because I’m afraid of failing.”

“Wow, Fred — an epiphany! I’ve got every confidence that you’ll be able make the transition,” Joe said. “And if you need help, it seems that Debbie can assist and we know Bob can also.

“So to get back to our goals — Debbie you’re going to have to look at all of our downgrades and why we have quality issues in a lot more detail. You’ll need to work with Fred and the operators to eliminate some of these causes.

“Josh, as technical manager, I’m looking to you to oversee process issues in general — what it is we can be doing better, what it is that we should be doing that we’re not, and what is happening in the industry. You’ll also need to be involved with Debbie and Fred.

“Bob, we’re looking to you to use your experience with the tradespeople and hat you saw in Wisconsin in leading us and helping us make this move. I went to the liberty of identifying the KPIs I want you to use.”

Joe must have noticed my face drop, since he seemed to do exactly the opposite of what he had just told Fred to do.

“Wait a minute with those stern looks, Bob. I know that to do this properly we would have all sat down and discussed them first, but let me explain. As I said earlier, the corporates are really pushing for improvement and they’ve set out the areas we need to work on. In the interest of time, I’ve taken what they’ve decided on and I just translated it into what you need to do. I’ve identified the KPIs, but I want to meet with each of you some time today to look at targets for them. At that time, I’ll show you where they fit into corporate’s goals.”

It seemed that Joe had really paid attention to what we’d found in Wisconsin. The fact that he was moving forward so quickly gave me more confidence than ever before that we could make the necessary changes.

“Bob, I’ll need you to prepare some KPI boards similar to the ones you saw in Wisconsin. I want them conspicuously displayed in your departments so that there can be no question about what they are.”

“Can we do something a little different, Joe?” I asked. “In Wisconsin, they had been educated about the KPIs from day one, while our people will just be learning about them. I’d like a section where we can describe why they’re important, what they mean and what we can do if we don’t hit them. At least, I want to do that for maintenance.”

“That’s fine with me, Bob. You might as well make them all the same for everyone.

“This is excellent! I want to hold Town Hall meetings next week to roll out the new initiative.”

“I thought I’d do that with the operators, Joe. See, I’m confused again,” said Fred.

“No, you’re not confused, Fred. You will talk with them about real specifics, but I want the whole mill to understand that this is a major change in direction for the mill and not just a ‘flavour of the month’ idea.”

As I walked back to my office, I bumped into John, the vibration analyst, w
ho told me he had everything we needed to install the online vibration monitoring.

“It will take about six hours work on the rolls and then another six hours to set everything up when the machine is running. Is next shutdown soon? Will it be okay to do it then?”

“Sure, it’s next Thursday, and that will be fine.”

I’d been caught up in the visit to Wisconsin and the talks with Joe, so I’d not given much attention to the day-to-day events in maintenance or any of the ‘hard’ issues of my job. Bumping into John brought them back to me.

“I’ll get the guys to meet you in the shop in 10 minutes and you can get everything set up,” I told him.

However, I needed to get back to my office and sit down to think about what to do next, as I was sure I was missing something.

Cliff Williams is the corporate maintenance manager at Erco Worldwide in Toronto, ON, and a consultant with TMS — Total Maintenance Solutions Inc., Markham, ON. He can be reached by e-mail at


Key Points

People can change if given the right information and motivation.

Once the ball starts rolling, get out of the way.


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