Beginning a Maintenance and Operations Partnership

Beginning a Maintenance and Operations Partnership

Torbjörn Idhammar, President & CEO IDCON INC

Plant pros often talk about the importance of a maintenance and operations partnership. In my experience, the discussions commonly center on very general terms such as better communication and understanding. Those issues are important, but we need precise rules and actions to drive that the maintenance and operations partnership long term.

When IDCON INC works on reliability improvement projects, we often start by working with operations and maintenance leadership to lay down the law and agree upon the work process and the rules of the partnership. Once we agree, we create a “rulebook” that all employees can keep in their pocket. I want to share some of the rules I think help drive the maintenance and operations partnership behavior in an organization.

Example rule 1: “Operations, maintenance and engineering are joint partners and together form a production team. Maintenance is responsible for equipment reliability, operations for process reliability, and engineering helps both with technical expertise.”

This means that we shy away from having maintenance as a supplier to operations. A customer-supplier relationship is different than a joint partnership. The customer-supplier setup doesn’t work well because if operations is the customer, operations will get what they request at all times, meaning they manage maintenance. I have seldom, if ever, seen long-term success when operations is in charge of maintenance. The reason is that an operations manager just can’t be an expert in maintenance management and the process. And if a person is just such an expert, his or her successor most likely will not be.

On the other hand, if there is a customer-supplier relationship and maintenance is in charge of its own budget, it’s even more of a mess; operations can go to maintenance and ask for anything they want and not have to pay for it.

Agree that it should be an equal partnership with a joint goal of improved production which can be measured by overall production efficiency on bottlenecks.

Example rule 2: Agree on the criteria for each priority code. Let’s assume there are prioritization codes in your CMMS system. Each code should have a set of criteria and a time limit. The criteria is very important because it guides and holds the requesters to a set of rules. For example, an emergency (Priority 1) work order could be any work that is an immediate safety, environmental or quality issue, or that critical equipment is down. If the criteria isn’t met, it’s agreed that the maintenance schedule isn’t broken for this issue.

A priority system with corresponding criteria and time limits makes maintenance more productive and builds a partnership due to better communication.

Example rule 3: There are agreed-upon cut-off times for the following:

  • The start day and time of a shutdown, outage or smaller area shutdown
  • Adding jobs to the weekly and daily schedule
  • Adding jobs to a shutdown/turnaround

It may not be possible to follow the rules to 100 percent, but there should be an agreed-upon guideline with the intention to follow them. For example, it may be OK to add on a job to a shutdown seven days before the shutdown, but that job will be called a break-in job and must be approved by the plant manager; it can’t be added just because we forgot to mention it three weeks ago.

This set of rules will force operations and maintenance to communicate better. Execution of work will improve due to fewer last-minute changes.

Example rule 4: Have a formal, joint approval point for work requests.

Requested work should have a formal evaluation point. Here, it’s decided if the work needs to be done or not. Maintenance and operations should screen work before getting together. Divide work into two buckets – “routine” and “improvement”. Maintenance jobs (routine) must be done; a valid maintenance job can never be avoided. Improvements can be questioned.

It’s easy to forget that it is at this point that a budget can be controlled. It’s not uncommon to see organizations free up 20 percent of craftspeople’s time when each work request is evaluated. The practice builds the partnership because work we decide to do more likely gets done in a timely manner, and unnecessary work will less likely be requested. Trust develops.

Example rule 5: Root cause problem elimination is done jointly. Equipment and process problems involve both maintenance and operations representatives to assist in the investigation and learn about each other’s fields. A problem seldom has one solution pointing to only operations, maintenance or engineering; it’s more commonly a combination. Recognizing that fact builds trust and communication.

Torbjörn Idhammar

Torbjörn Idhammar is the president and CEO of IDCON INC., a Reliability and Maintenance Management Consulting Firm. Tor’s responsibilities include training IDCON consultants, product development, sales, and marketing. He gives advice to IDCON’s multi-site and international clients to ensure outcomes and deliverables are met.

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