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Does the Activity Match the Goal?

by Torbjörn Idhammar

A potential client asked if IDCON could do a productivity study of the hourly maintenance staff at a mill. My initial reaction was “WHY?” and I am sure my facial expression was less than thoughtful.  But quickly, my manners and professionalism caught up with me and I posed the same question again, this time with a more positive facial expression and an honest curiosity.

To me, studying people’s productivity feels outdated, even insulting, so I became curious as to why anyone would put their personnel through it. My potential client wanted improved reliability and assumed that the problem was that maintenance personnel needed to be more productive during work hours, alternatively, needed more work hours.  I am sure he had good intentions, but I’m not quite as sure about how well he had thought through his idea.  

            The situation made me think about how often we kick off activities that sound good, but lack a clear end-goal, sometimes our actions even work against reaching the initial goal.

For example, most organizations want to reduce the total value of their parts inventory.  Toying with this idea, we could scrap the whole spare parts inventory in order to get our total value of inventory to zero!  In this example, the goal sounds good but after thinking it through we realize we need a counter-balance for the initial idea of cutting inventory levels.  The stand-alone goal could be really bad for business.  In this example, the counterweight may be service level of spare parts, or service level of critical parts. It is important that our activities match our goals, and also that the goals help us work in the right direction.

Does the Activity Match the Goal?All improvements involving time and money have to be estimated—cost versus gain/profit—before starting a new project or activity. While this may sound obvious, my experience has found this is rarely done in maintenance organizations. Ask any manager at any processing plant, anywhere in the world, if they want good preventative maintenance (PM), or, if they want planning and scheduling, and the answer is always ”Yes!”

            If I had a quarter for every time a company has said: ”All managers are on board, they want improvements. We don’t need a case study to prove that we need this.” I’d be so rich that I could hire someone to write this article.

If everyone thinks PM and planning and scheduling are the right things to do, why aren’t they happening out in the factories? Because the question isn’t properly asked. The question isn’t if they want improvements—that’s like asking a three-year-old if she wants ice cream. She doesn’t need to pay or work for the ice cream so it’s a no-brainer. One-way to ask this question may be: ”Do we want to improve PM? We believe it’ll cost blood, sweat and tears, 600 work- weeks, an additional $600,000 for tools and repairs, and we think it will give us improved reliability (OEE) by two percent. Is this a good investment?” If we give decision-makers a clear picture of cost, work and improvement, we will get a better answer and, hopefully, better backing from management in our improvement project.

So, let’s get back to our initial question regarding “tool-time studies” on our hourly craftspeople.  There is a commercial from 1967 that has run in different versions over the years about the ”Maytag Man.” He’s a maintenance guy for the appliance giant, Maytag. The problem is that he is very lonely because nobody ever calls him for repairs. There are no tools in his toolbox, just playing cards, crossword puzzles, and some craft projects. The message about the quality of Maytag’s products shouldn’t escape anyone.

            So, is it the right goal to measure if our hourly workers are busy?  Do we even want our maintenance personnel to be that busy? It’s definitely not a goal in itself. And just because a maintenance guy walks around carrying a wrench doesn’t mean that we have better reliability. We want our personnel to work on the right projects, with the right tools, offering the right quality. The best-run organizations I’ve visited use about 25 percent of their hourly personnel for RCPE, a good chunk for PM, and a lot of time for planning and scheduling. I don’t know the exact figures, since we don’t do productivity studies. J

Ponder whether your goals and activities/projects actually match each other. Do they point in the same direction? Do they work hand in hand?

If you have questions about this or any of our leadership in maintenance articles, I welcome your feedback.   

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