How To Organize An Efficient Maintenance Department
Behind every business success story, there is a maintenance team working behind the scenes to ensure the smooth flow of all business activities.
Like any other business function, the maintenance department has a lot of moving parts, and getting all of them to work in sync is a daily grind – even more so if the department is underfunded and has limited resources.
Be that as it may, to organize an efficient maintenance department you need to know what is the purpose of maintenance, what a modern maintenance department looks like, and how to set smart goals that will raise the quality of the performed maintenance work.
What is the main purpose of a maintenance department?
At a face value, the main purpose of every maintenance department is simple: ensure optimal asset reliability.
Improved asset reliability means that an asset is more likely to work without failure for a certain period of time, under set conditions. A reliable asset is like a reliable friend – it will rarely fail you.
But we can do better. A more nuanced definition could say that the main goal of a maintenance department is to ensure asset reliability in a way that aligns with the company’s needs and business goals.
Why is that a better definition?
Well, simply stating that you want to keep assets in peak operating condition forgets about all of the limiting factors like budget and time constraints.
If your business needs to produce 10 000 canned bottles a day and 60 000 bottles a week, you cannot schedule maintenance for any machine whenever you feel like it. You have to plan downtime for maintenance of critical assets around the production goals. In other words, your maintenance goals should not prevent you from achieving your production goals, and ultimately your business goals.
Of course, production and business goals can simply be unrealistic and leave you with not enough hours in a day to do all of the maintenance work you need, but that is a whole other discussion we will leave for another day.
While the overarching goals stay the same, the secondary focus of the maintenance department can change depending on the nature of the business in question. For example, while an industrial maintenance team might be focused on reducing downtime, a building maintenance team will often place extra focus on energy-efficiency.
In a broader sense, the responsibilities of a maintenance department include:
prevent unexpected machine breakdowns
maximize the reliability of all operating systems
keep equipment and operating systems healthy to eliminate potential safety issues and ensure production standards
work with production teams to reach production goals
support the efforts of other departments
provide quality maintenance services while keeping costs under control
The anatomy of a modern maintenance department
The composition of a maintenance department will differ depending on the size of your maintenance team. A standard composition for a medium to large organization could look something like this:
If the number of technicians is in single digits, there is often no need for a middle-man so the maintenance manager will also take on the responsibilities of a maintenance supervisor.
You can take the list of responsibilities from the picture above with a grain of salt as the exact division of work and duties can vary from organization to organization. That’s why there are maintenance engineers, maintenance technicians, maintenance directors, and more. There’s lots of work that needs to be done. And that requires specialization. That becomes obvious as soon as you google job posts for different maintenance roles and compare the list of stated responsibilities.
With job structure out of the way, let’s take a look at the characteristics of a modern maintenance department:
runs a proactive maintenance strategy
uses modern maintenance techniques (i.e. condition monitoring equipment)
supports maintenance efforts with modern software solutions (mobile CMMS, Energy Maintenance System, predictive analytics, inventory management software…)
has a properly trained maintenance team
recognizes and adopts industry best practices
has a clear line of communication with other departments
sets smart goals to work towards
How to set smart goals for your maintenance department
You have probably heard about the acronym S.M.A.R.T. It refers to the way in which you should structure your goals.
Let’s look at how this framework applies to defining goals for maintenance:
Specific: Maintenance goals should be well defined and clear. Everyone knows the who, what, where, when, and why of the goal.
Measurable: Each goal should come with specific criteria to measure progress towards accomplishing the goal. Ideally, you should be able to assign one or more maintenance metrics (which you can track) to every maintenance goal you define.
Achievable: The goal is attainable. It is challenging enough to keep you motivated, but not impossible to achieve.
Realistic: It can be realized within the allocated time and with the available budget and staff.
Timely: Has a clearly defined timeline to create a sense of urgency. This is non-negotiable for success as having goals with no due dates is just a wishlist.
How to organize a maintenance department to maximize productivity
There are a few things you can do that will go a long way in helping you establish an efficient maintenance department. We will discuss five of them that stand out the most.
#1) Hire smartly
As the aging workforce retires, there are many indications that the maintenance space will have a serious labor shortage. This was one of the four key questions raised at MRO Europe 2018 and predicted by this MRO survey from 2017:
While the supply and demand predictions need to be corrected to account for the changes in the market caused by COVID-19, the fact is that young people that are entering the job market are increasingly less interested in blue-collar jobs than previous generations.
For organizations that plan to increase the size of their maintenance departments, this is an important fact to keep in mind. Failure to hire qualified people results in increased overtime and outsourcing, both of which increase operational costs.
When an organization does eventually decide to hire new maintenance professionals, the character of new hires should not be overlooked.
In a few conversations I had with maintenance technicians over the years, it was obvious that there are two types of colleagues they dislike working with the most: the ones that are lazy and the ones that refuse to learn.
In most cases, you will have two or more technicians working together in a shift. Being a maintenance technician is a physical job and if someone likes to rest more than they like to work, that slack will have to be picked up either by other workers in their shift or by someone from the following shift.
In a similar fashion, you can come across stubborn workers that like to do things in their own way, which can be far from optimal. Additionally, they often do not like to put much effort into learning specific machines because they know their range of responsibilities will grow – which again increases the workload for other technicians.
So, if you have that luxury, it pays to evaluate the character of potential new hires and provide them a clear path in which they can improve and climb the organizational ladder.
Larger organizations should consider partnering with local universities and look for other ways to organize internships and mentorships programs to attract new talent.
#2) Set a clear hierarchy and communication lines
It is hard to have a productive environment if people do not know to whom they can turn to for specific issues, who is in charge, and what exactly is expected of them.
If these things are loosely defined, you will have cases where a new technician has to interrupt three people to solve a certain problem, gets two different answers, and follows the wrong advice.
Establishing a clear hierarchy and ensuring that everyone knows their responsibilities will help to keep things organized.
The importance of clear communication lines can be looked at from two different angles. One would be the importance of smooth information flow through the entire maintenance department that helps to keep high operational efficiency. The other one is having an open-door policy where the employees can freely share their ideas for improvements or submit complaints.
#3) Outline important procedures
Every organization has its own unique workflow that is defined by how work requests (tickets) are submitted, which maintenance strategy is used, which tools and equipment are available, are they using a CMMS software or not, which communication channels are used, and so on.
Even when an experienced technician comes into the firm, they will need some time to adjust to the new workflow and standard practices.
One way to make this transition smoother is through proper onboarding and training, as well as by:
CMMS solutions are not particularly expensive, are easier to implement now than they have ever been, and provide a quick ROI. In other words, there are very few valid arguments against implementing it.
After about a month of using Limble we could start to see our maintenance trends on the graphs. Additional P.M.’s were created to counter the trends and we actually witnessed a drop in our downtime. After using Limble for over a year I can say that it is paying for itself and worth every area of implementation. – Ben Jackson, Maintenance Manager, Little Giant Ladder Systems
#5) Commit to continuous improvement
While maintenance is not the most dynamic field out there, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be on the lookout for new technologies, tools, maintenance strategies, best practices, and other ways you can use to improve your maintenance department.
If the budget is tight, that should be another incentive to use a CMMS. Limble, for instance, saves our customers about $20 for ever $1 they spend on licensing fees. It does that by helping them spot operational inefficiencies, improve informational flow, control inventory spending, and gather relevant data on productivity and costs of different maintenance actions. They use all of that data to generate helpful reports and gain deeper insights into the causes of different problems.
The easiest way to commit to continuous improvement is to simply work on spotting and eliminating those problems.
Dream big, start small
Leading a maintenance department is not easy. The good news is that a maintenance department grows alongside the organization it supports which means that the head of the department can first build a good foundation and then deal with incoming complexities as the business grows.
With the available software solutions on the market, having a well-organized maintenance department is achievable for almost every organization.
Really a useful post. I work as maintenance engineer of a leading manufacturing company. I always make sure that the maintenance goals do not affect production. Thanks for the tips on setting smart maintenance goals.