MRO Magazine

Starting to work on real teamwork

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 archived online at this...

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 2010 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards gets ready to implement procedures to record the expertise of the mill’s most experienced maintenance personnel.

The meetings with Fred, our production manager, and his group, to tell them how we were going to record the reasons for delays in getting work done, went very well. We were able to explain that this wasn’t really a blame issue, but more a way of reducing or eliminating those delays. At the end of the session that I presented, I asked Fred if he had a few minutes to go over what had happened at the Corporate meeting the previous week.

“Sure Bob, although Joe, the plant manager, has told me quite a bit about it, and he did mention that you had supported me when he had said I wasn’t ready. Thanks for that. I do appreciate it.”

“Well, I hope Joe managed to get across how enthusiastic Corporate was about what we are doing. Fred, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I’m afraid you’ll stand out for all of the wrong reasons. Corporate seem to want us to be a copy of the Wisconsin mill and their production group is very advanced. Let me tell you about some of the things they do.”


I went on to tell Fred about how the Wisconsin mill had started as a greenfield site, where they threw out all the traditional practices and pay scales. I also told him how they now had competence-based training and skill sets.

“You are only considered qualified if you can demonstrate competence in doing the task — not just by answering questions — and only then are you allowed to do the task and are paid the rate for that task. Their pay scale is built on the number competencies the individual has demonstrated — there’s no thought for seniority.”

“Well, we’d never get away with that with our union.”

“Agreed, Fred, but there are other things they do that we could do also, and which would demonstrate to the Corporate office that you are on board and working towards the change.”

“Look, Bob, you know I was resentful of you at the beginning because I thought you were going to cause chaos with your change ideas. But now I’m only mildly re-outside sentful and that’s just because I don’t feel I have the vision you do.”

“In that case, let me share the vision … just kidding. One of the things that struck me in Wisconsin was the lack of barriers. Not only were the hourly guys allowed to do much of what our supervisors do, but there didn’t seem to be any difference in the approach of maintenance and operations in dealing with problems.

“Whenever they carried out an analysis of a problem, they had cross-functional teams — irrespective of the topic. Their operators have taken on what they call ‘Basic Care’, where they have operator routes and checks that actually get fed back into the maintenance system.”

“Our operators carry out checks and they have their shift walk-arounds. I know, I have drawers full of old log books.”

“Exactly, Fred. Any information that might help in the future is hidden away in a drawer that would take weeks to sort out. If we formalized their walkarounds, included them in a work order, and then recorded them and the checksheets in the CMMS, then we’d have everything live. It would also show Corporate that we’re a team.

“What do you think? Should I get our reliability manager, Carol, to draft something you could show to your people? And what do you think about the idea of having cross-functional teams? We intend to investigate any time the mill is down for four hours or more, or when there is a delay in starting a job of more than one hour.”

“I’m all for it, but you need to allow me some time to sell these ideas to the guys. How about three weeks?”

“How about one week? I think you’re doing what Joe did with you — selling short. I know from discussions we’ve had with your guys about what we are doing — they’re can’t wait to get started.”

“Okay, okay. One week it is.”

This was a great start to real teamwork, something the Wisconsin mill exceeded at. They had used one more idea I wanted to explore, so I headed up to the human resources office to see Patrice, the HR manager. I explained to him how the people at the Wisconsin mill tried to do something every month to give back to the community. One time it was painting the of a pensioner’s house, another was when they built a swing set for a family with six children under the age of nine.

“The company provided the materials and the workers volunteered their time. If you could spearhead getting this started , I’ll help out in any way I can.”

Patrice agreed to take this on and he felt confident that we would be able to work out the same type of arrangement that Wisconsin had.

“There are certainly winds of change blowing around the Corporate office and I think this will go over very well. My first step will be to get permission to gather a team to find a way of identifying deserving causes,” Patrice added.

I was definitely on a winning streak as I went to talk with Carol about how far she had come in setting up some codes. I asked her to set up routes for Fred’s operators and that’s when I had my first strike against me, or so I thought.

“Sorry, Bob, but I’ve not really looked at the codes, I’ve been too busy doing some analysis and I think I’ve come up with something.”

“Well, I hope it’s something good, as I was really expecting to have the codes set up for everyone next week. On top of that, I’ve just finished talking with Fred and we want to set up the operator rounds and checklists on the CMMS to have them ready for next week.”

“I’ve been looking at the failures we get during and shortly after startups and it seems to be very much people-influenced. I ran a check of who did the work during the shutdown and it seems to be the same people repeating. The other interesting thing is that it’s mostly the guys that joined us after the mill started.”

“Hmm, that is interesting. We did an awful lot of training early on that we haven’t repeated, so I guess we should be retraining people.”

“I’m not too sure if that is the right solution — or at least the only solution. When we started up the mill, we had so many failures that people learned the hard way — by doing it — and that experience seems to be invaluable. The other thing is what to do when somebody new is hired — get a training session again?”

“You’re not helping here, Carol. You haven’t worked on the codes and now you’re telling me what won’t work. That’s not really making my day.”

“Relax, Bob, this is all leading up to my eureka moment — procedures!”


“Yes, we get the experienced guys to write the procedures for repetitive jobs. Believe me, they know what to do and what not to do. If we can move their knowledge from their minds to our procedures, I’m pretty sure we’ll have all we need to stop these startup problems. We can concentrate on maintenance as much as we like, Bob, but if equipment is installed incorrectly, then no amount of maintenance will keep it running.”

This really was a eureka moment. We’d been so caught up in trying to find ways of stopping the fires from happening that we’d missed the idea of making sure we made things as fireproof as possible.

“Okay, I apologize. That was time better spent. Now all we’ve got to do is try to find time in the experienced guys’ schedules to have them write the procedures.”

“I’ve thought about that as well, Bob. In the CMMS, we have the capability of setting up a Standing Work Order that remains open and only charges labour to our general cost centre. We can set one up for ‘Procedure Writing’ and assign a period each week in each guy’s schedule, so th
at when we look at resources, we take that into consideration.”

“This doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook for the codes and Fred’s checklists,” I said. I then proceeded to tell Carol what I had agreed to with Fred, and left with the feeling that my one strike had actually turned into a home run.

At home, after dinner, my wife Sandy couldn’t help but notice the smug look on my face, so she asked what had happened. I recounted the success of the day and sat back and waited for the praise.

“So, you seem to have allies on your quest, but now you need to remember that you are only as strong as the weakest links in your team. As the team gets bigger, it becomes more difficult to identify them before it’s too late, so don’t get too complacent.”

I could always rely on my wife to keep my feet on the ground.

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

Not many people jump on a stationary band wagon; get it rolling and see what happens.

Nothing replaces first-class installation.

Procedures will help replace lost knowledge.

Keep your feet on the ground.


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