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The Partnership Organization

by Christer Idhammar

In poorly performing mills it is typical that production, maintenance and engineering organizations work in silos without much cooperation. The traditional view in these mills is that the maintenance organization delivers service to its customer which is the production organization and the engineering organization is called “the black hole” where requests for drawing and other documentation updates disappear, and maintenance and operations input on design are not included when new equipment is specified and procured.

This traditional view has never made sense to me because the results of maintenance work are not service. Services are the resources the organization has to deliver equipment reliability and asset preservation.  

One common observation in best manufacturing organizations is that Operations, Maintenance and Engineering work in a close partnership. They view Reliable production as their common goal. The Maintenance organization delivers Equipment Reliability; The Operations organization delivers Process Reliability in an equal partnership and the Engineering organization design and procure equipment based on lowest Life Cycle Cost (LCC) instead of lowest purchase price.

LCC includes total cost of ownership for acquisition, installation, operations and maintenance, energy, scrapping etc. Reliability and Maintainability requirements are included in early specifications with involvement from the operations and maintenance organizations.

All organizations I talk with about the principles of a partnership work system agree but seldom implement the changes aggressively enough to harvest the benefits. Most organizations are under the illusion that they already work as partners and therefore do nothing to implement it. Today pulp and paper mills can not afford not to implement a partnership work system, the saving opportunities are too big to be ignored and the decision to implement a partnership work system has to come from the mill manager or above him/her. The rest of the organization is often gridlocked and protective of their old roles.

The table below summarizes some maintenance related differences between traditional service focused organizations and organizations based on a partnership work system driven by reliability performance.


Service Focused

Partnership Work


Key Performance

Maintenance Cost/ton

Prime Quality
 Tons/Manufacturing Cost

Drives the organization to
 focus on competitiveness
 and total results. The
 focus must be on what
drives cost, not cost alone.


Specification and procurement
 of new equipment done without
reliability and maintainability
specifications and enough
involvement by users.
Procurement primarily
 based on lowest cost to acquire.

Procurement based on lowest
Life Cycle Cost. Specifications
 include reliability and
maintainability requirements. 

To be successful investments
must change from short term
cost focus to long term total cost
of ownership. Privately held
companies can be more
successful to implement this
strategy than public companies.


Seen as a maintenance
responsibility and deals with
 equipment only. Sometimes
related solely to predictive

Reliability is the total
performance measurement for
the whole organization.
Encompasses  process and
equipment reliability.

Improved manufacturing
 reliability drives down cost.
One common performance
indicator helps build the
partnership work system.

Production Reports

Documents lost production per
department. E.g. Mechanical Maintenance, Electrical,
Instrumentation and Operations.


Describes the problem, selects
problems to be solved, assign
problem owner, eliminates
the  problem and train rest of
organization in solution.

A change from asking who? To
asking Why? strengthen 
partnership work practices.

Root Cause Analysis

Often called Failure Analysis.

Called Problem Elimination

The term “Failure” often relates
to equipment and thus
 maintenance. The term
“Problem” includes everything
and supports the partnership
work practices.


Operators operate and
maintenance people maintain.

As a minimum operators do
basic inspections of equipment
and process. They are trained
in how to do inspections.

Operators can often do 50% of all
basic equipment inspections. This
will significantly lower costs for
preventive maintenance. It is the
first step towards expanded
operator and maintenance work

Priorities of
Maintenance work

Priorities are decided by the
 requestor which often represents
 the operations organization.
Priorities are often emotional.

A priority guideline is agreed
upon and respected by both
 operations and

The most common reason why
 planners do not plan is frequent interruptions by emotional
priorities. A service focused
maintenance organization will
encourage a “Yes Sir” mentality.
 In a partnership the priorities
will be set on basis of what is most
 important for the whole

Planning and
-Shutdown work.

Maintenance and  Operations
work scheduled in separate
Schedules can easily be changed.

One schedule for all work.
Schedule changes are done
jointly between operations and maintenance.
Shut down project manager
represents operations.

A partnership will easier overcome
old and very costly practices.
Improves reliability and
Production throughput.

Planning and
 - Daily work.

Work frequently  added to
schedule in the morning of the
day it is requested to be done. This
practice is accepted by
maintenance because operations
is the customer.

Schedule for next days work is
closed at 11.00 a.m. day before
Work is assigned to crafts
people end of day before
execution of schedule.
Less than 5% changes in

Drives a change in behavior.
Increases maintenance

Maintenance cost

Operations request 70% of work.
Maintenance manager is blamed
For budget over runs.

Joint responsibility for
Manufacturing costs.

Drives partnership work

Maintenance craft
People on shift.

Many people on shift to cover
For possible break downs. Craft
People often poorly utilized.

Very few or no maintenance
craft people on shift.

Fewer maintenance craft people
on shift will result in more
maintenance work done by


First of all your mill manager must believe that to implement partnership work practices is the right thing to do because it improves the mills’ competitiveness and you can not afford not to do it.

It is imperative to understand that the change to partnership practices is not a revolution it is more of an evolution through implementation of a lot of common sense. So it does not need to take long time and it does not cost a lot of capital dollars.

Recommended implementation steps
If most of what you have read in this article makes sense you need to sell these ideas to key people in your organization. Often you can speed up this process by assemble operations, maintenance and engineering to present and discuss these ideas. Because the principles are common sense there is a very good chance that acceptance will be very high.

Mission statement
It will help you to first agree on a joint mission statement between operations and maintenance for your production organization. Key operations and maintenance leaders must together work out this statement. You can start by listing some key words that should be included in statement E.g. Reliable Production, Safety, Partnership. Split up in a couple of groups to work out the statement. Review the statements you come up with a couple of times and you will most probably come up with a mission statement you all agree to. An example could be;

“In a partnership between operations and maintenance we shall safely deliver continuously improved production reliability through long term implementation of best practices”
Improved production reliability will decrease manufacturing costs.

The mission statements for maintenance and operations must be tied with the above statement. For the maintenance organization the mission statement could say;

As an equal partner with operations we shall safely deliver continuously improved equipment reliability through long term implementation of best practices”
Improved equipment reliability will decrease maintenance costs.

The application and true use of this statement will drive very different work practices than if the statement would say as following actual statement from a maintenance organization;

“As a service organization to production we will safely provide effective services at lowest cost.”

This organization became very cost driven. The maintenance manager focused on cutting the cost of maintenance over many years. He had done exactly what was asked by his manager and followed the mission statement. The easiest way to cut maintenance costs is to defer maintenance work and that was what he did, so after two years maintenance costs started to go up drastically and reliability was decreasing so he was fired.

What good look like and how good your organization is
You might also want to do a structured educational evaluation of your maintenance performance in order to increase awareness and to let your organization discover the gap between best practices and your actual practices. This evaluation should describe your new work practices in such a way that improvements, or the lack thereof, can be measured.