MRO Magazine

Taking Control

By Cliff Williams   

Machinery and Equipment Maintenance Operations

This column 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 column 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 April 2010 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards gets ready to take on more responsibility in implementing major changes to the mill’s maintenance operations.

Having had challenging meetings with the plant manager and production manager, and a frank discussion at home afterwards with my insightful wife, Sandy, my first stop next day was Carol, our reliability manager. I wanted to see if any of the guys had been recording delays in getting their work done.

“Some of them do, but most don’t,” she replied. “Why do you ask?”

I told Carol about my conversation with Sandy and how it seemed to fit in with the goal of reducing downtime.


“Do we have anywhere on the Work Order we could get the guys to record this info?” I asked.

Carol quickly switched to the Work Order Manual and started scrolling through the screens. As she turned her screen toward me, she had a cell highlighted entitled ‘Delay’.

“Well, it seems as if someone has thought about this before, Bob. I’ll look at how this is set up and how it’s linked to the reports. If I can set up a drop-down menu, what would you like included?”

“What I was thinking was Tools, Skills, Training, Ability, and of course Authority.”

Carol went to her filing cabinet and pulled out a folder.

“Ah, I thought so, these are the notes I made during our visit to Wisconsin. When we were talking about the off-shifts with the guys up there, I asked about when they had to call in the supervisor or manager and they said they didn’t. When I talked with them about how they were able to do that, they pretty much told me that they had been given all of the things you just mentioned.

“I can’t imagine they just gave them total freedom from the start so it may be worthwhile asking Alan, the mechanical team lead at the mill in Wisconsin, about how they started. It looks like we’ll kill two birds with one stone. You and the supervisors won’t get as many call-ins and we’ll reduce downtime.”

There were a number of things I needed to talk with Alan about, so I added them to my to-do list for the day and headed down to the shop to see the guys. When I got there, everyone was gathered around the new KPI boards.

“Okay Bob, where do you want us to hang these?”

“Well, I want you guys to see them clearly and often.”

“In that case, we’d better put them up in the lunch room,” shouted Dave.

“Hmmm? The lunch room is in a hightraffi c area, and, as Dave hinted, you do spend a lot of time there. How about we hang it outside the lunch room — that way you’ll see them every day and so will all of those people who walk by. The more people who understand what we’re trying to do as a department, the more they’ll be able to help. Let me talk with Fred in production to see where he wants his hung. I want to explain what our thinking is.”

When I got to my office, I decided that I’d better look at everything I had to do that day and that quickly led my thoughts to what we needed to do if we were going to achieve the numbers they did in Wisconsin. As I pulled my thoughts together, I realized that most, if not all, of what they did was based initially on a philosophy, but practically, it was based on data.

I started to scroll through the CMMS and was pleasantly surprised with the amount of information that had been entered over the past few months. It also took me back to the training session I’d been to, where we were told that the whole point of gathering information and making measures was to change something for the better.

I needed to get through my to-do list quickly as I had ideas I wanted to start working on soon, so my first call was to Fred, our production manager, and as I explained our decision on locating our KPI boards, he agreed with our thoughts and asked that I just send the guys to him.

Next was talking to Alan in Wisconsin, who as usual was a great source of information. When I explained about how we were now being held to their standards, he just laughed.

“Don’t worry, Bob. I’m sure you’ll make progress very soon and I’m sure your corporate office won’t expect our numbers right away.”

When I told him about Joe’s comments on speeding up, he again put a positive spin on it.

“Bob, they’re not going to give you goals you can achieve tomorrow; they need to be stretch goals, so you push harder. That used to happen to us where, when we achieved our targets, they just adjusted the targets. We used to get ticked off but now they don’t do that any more — we do it ourselves. As soon as we hit a target, we look for the next opportunity — it’s part of the culture.

“As far as planned downtime is concerned, that very quickly became a key measure for us. When we reduced everything to dollars, we found that shutdowns had a bigger impact than we even thought about. There were dollar losses as we ramped down and we never started up at a 100% quality, so the cost went further than just the shutdown time. When we added the cost of parts that were changed prematurely, and the cost of contractors we used because our guys were working on those big unnecessary jobs, it became obvious there was great opportunity for savings. In fact there was as much opportunity to save by reducing planned downtime as there was in unplanned downtime. I’m sure you’ll find the same.

“On the reasons for delays in getting work done, I think you’ve got the big hitters. If your organization is anything like ours, the biggest problem you’ll have with trying to reduce these delays will be with authorization. But it’s probably the biggest opportunity.”

I was making progress, so my next call was to Carol, who agreed to meet in a couple of days with some reports I asked her to prepare. That was when I got a call from Joe, our plant manager.

“Bob, I just walked by your lunchroom and I see you’ve posted your KPI boards. I think it’s a great location, but didn’t I tell you to forget about the planned downtime stuff and concentrate on the KPIs I gave you!”

“Yes you did, Joe, but I really believe it’s a worthwhile measure.” Then I went on to tell him about my conversation with Alan.

“I don’t seem to be getting through to you Bob — those were the numbers that corporate was looking for and those are the ones I’m going to have to report every month.”

“I understand that, Joe, but corporate does not know the complete picture. I started out on this journey long before corporate got involved and they were happy to accept the direction I was taking. There are a lot of fundamentals we need to work on and if they can’t trust what we’re doing, then all of the things we’ve talked about are worthless.”

I realized I was getting a little passionate, but as I’d already pushed back at Joe, I thought I might as well continue.

“Come to think of it, Joe, you don’t seem to trust our judgment. If we can’t trust that you’ll support what we’re doing, then driving change will be almost impossible. I really believe that corporate is being shortsighted in just looking at the KPI s they’ve given us, and if you won’t tell them that, then just give me an opportunity to do it.”

Joe was silent for a while but seemed calmer when he started speaking again. “Okay, Bob, you’re right, you’ve done well so far, so I’ll support you with this one — and I’ll give you the opportunity to defend your decision in front of corporate at the quarterly meeting next week. In fact, I think you should take the opportunity to help them with their vision problems — show them the complete picture. The more references you can make to Wisconsin, the wider you’ll open their eyes.”

The rest of the day saw me pulling together all of the things we’d done and talked about over the past few months and trying to pull them back to supporting the results corporate expected. At the end of the day I was happy that with the reports I’d asked Carol to prepare, we’d be in good shape

The next day was taken up with analyzing the impact of our shutdowns — what they had been and what they would be, and before I knew it, the day to meet with Carol had arrived.

“Okay Bob, let’s take a look at what we’ve got. First I have the downtime by area, then by equipment type, then by discipline, then by failure type, and last but not least, by individual. There’s an awful lot of information here.”

“That’s great, but does it tell us anything?”

“Okay, let me tell you the story ….”

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

KPIs are to be shared, not kept in a file in drawer.

People need the required tools and authority to be successful.

If you don’t believe in your vision, nobody will.


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