March 2019

Maintenance and Reliability

The critical maintenance team: Do you have one?

Larger plants typically have planners and maintenance supervisors onsite, as well as operations personnel.

Thorman, G., Consultant

Larger plants typically have planners and maintenance supervisors onsite, as well as operations personnel. But are they formed as a team? Do they make decisions as a team? Does the alignment of the maintenance workflow process and computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) support the team?

It is common to see pieces of the above. However, their performance is too often fragmented, with some areas/departments doing well while others underperform. Telltale negative signs include:

  • Maintenance planners reporting to area maintenance supervisors and receiving no centralized best planner practice leadership
  • Maintenance supervisors with a focus on the emergencies of the day and with little time allocated for helping plan and schedule the next week’s schedule
  • Planners who specialize in emergency parts acquisition and who are, in effect, junior maintenance supervisors
  • Operations customers who come to maintenance from numerous positions with conflicting requests and a universal demand of “fix it now”
  • A workflow process that has gaps and workaround avenues, often frequently modified to meet ever-changing conditions and perceived needs
  • A poorly used or constructed CMMS that hinders, rather than helps, work management
  • Management staff members who are frustrated with poor metric results that indicate high levels of emergency work, raising costs and declining reliability—e.g., key performance indicators (KPIs) have become key indicators of poor performance.

In 2006, a small group of maintenance consultants looked at available practices to correct some of the shortfalls common in the field of work management. What they found included limited training courses for planners, along with supervisors receiving only leadership pep talks, and operations personnel with no maintenance training at all.

The consulting group began with planners. The traditional 4-hr planner training session was significantly expanded to nearly a full week. Note: This training was not focused on how to use a CMMS. Rather, planners were assumed to know their CMMS, including the important area of securing parts. Their previous knowledge would now feed a key component of the much larger work management process. What started as a training effort grew into a certification, awarded only after the classroom training and testing, coached field implementation of new skills and a final audit were successfully completed. Planners came away from this training with an all-inclusive perspective of what the planning and scheduling role should be.

FIG. 1. The work team certification process.
FIG. 1. The work team certification process.

However, components were still missing, since planners do not operate in a silo. The work they plan is typically requested and scheduled by operations personnel. The maintenance supervisor then executes the work and captures the results, returning the work orders to planners for closure. A successful work management plan requires all of these entities to be cohesive and group focused. This training is not just focused on roles, but also on the team. This led to the team being aptly identified as a natural work team using a well-defined process. Each of the three entities received not only training for their respective roles, but also training on how to operate as a team, followed by individual field coaching, along with an audit of role performance and the desired certification.

Contributing to the training’s success was its verification through a closed-book test, which became the portal to confirm the training and prove that the candidates were ready to apply their new tools in the field. Candidates who did not meet the minimum score received personal coaching before retaking the test. As with many of life’s endeavors, the testing became quite competitive. Scores were kept confidential, but candidate chatter usually revealed who got the highest scores—all of which added to the excitement of the process. The ending audit and certification as gold, silver or bronze in the field of maintenance planner, maintenance supervisor or operations maintenance coordinator were equally competitive.

Over the years of natural work team training, few candidates have withdrawn from the process, and few candidates who have been driven to succeed and reach certification have failed. Since the process is made up of teams, team awards are also given based on the lowest certification of any of the team’s members. This promotes achievement of team members for the team’s benefit.

If a natural work team training process is being considered, the following are several details of the process design.

Prelude to training

The week before the process begins is crucial, as it sets the expectations and deliverables. Typically, a review of the candidates and management’s goals begin with 1-hr presentations to key personnel, at times including the entire site. The presentations cover topics such as training, coaching, and the final audits and certifications (FIG. 1). They also detail the “why” of such a process being implemented and how the entire plant benefits. If a union is involved, a presentation is offered to help the union better understand what the certification benefits are for its members (often if there are hourly planners). In addition, union craftsmen will learn how a certification process allows them to experience better-organized jobs with less emergency job pull-offs. The pre-week session includes a white-board exercise diagramming the work process flow. Participants—including maintenance and operations personnel—can see the gaps and workarounds that often exist in the work process flow. These gaps then become notable points during the classroom training and underscore the need for a robust work management process managed by trained participants.

Classroom training

The training portion of the project is a lengthy process averaging more than 30 hr of instruction. Topics range from how work orders originate and who approves them, to what is involved in planning, scheduling and execution, and the completion and closure process. The topics are pre-aligned with site protocol and adjusted as necessary. If conflicts with best practices exist, the site may decide on changes or adjust the training program before it begins. Typically, the program’s best practices are within 90% of what the site already expects. The training contains textbook-supplied material in a single-point lesson (SPL) format, along with videos, spot review questions and prizes for candidate winners. Exercises cover specific knowledge topics, including how to calculate a backlog or build a Gantt chart (TABLE 1). Candidates have never considered the classroom training boring since the topics always include specifics to each role (e.g., planner, supervisor, coordinator) while still benefitting the entire group. The training is for both individual roles and completing team objectives.


Each test covers elements from the role-specific training (e.g., the planner test is different from the supervisor test and the maintenance coordinator test). Typically, the test takes 1 hr–2 hr to complete. A calculator is recommended for determining backlogs in a man-weeks question. The test results are not disclosed and are rated as pass/fail—a passing score is 75%. For candidates who fail to meet the minimum score, retests are allowed. The test is the portal through which candidates must successfully pass to begin implementing their new skills, roles and responsibilities.

Implementation and coaching

The newly certified candidates are ready to implement the skills they have proven they learned by passing the test. Teams begin by conducting mandated daily and weekly scheduling meetings. Coaches often run the first meetings to ensure that correct protocol is followed, and then attend the additional meetings to observe and resolve deviations. One example is the maintenance supervisor’s report on the status of a job scheduled for the day. “Almost done,” “nearing completion” and “about halfway” are unacceptable responses to a job’s status. The supervisor’s report is expected to use more precise terms that include percentages (e.g., 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% or 100%). This process allows the team to understand the status of the job and to move to the next phase of decision-making if a job has not been completed. Repetition of this process is key to sustainability. Other coaching takes place with supervisor crew line-outs, planner preparation of job packets, coordinator selections of jobs for the schedule, etc. All coaching will help candidates prepare for audits and final certifications.


At the end of the implementation and coaching stage, the coach becomes the auditor and advises that all observable actions and decisions will be part of the final score and certification ranking for each candidate. A lengthy form becomes the checklist to certification by the auditor. Each candidate arranges an audit period with the auditor, where detailed questions are asked and documentation is requested by the auditor to verify compliance. The formal audit requires a 1 hr–2 hr individual time slot. Upon completion of the informal and formal audit, a score will determine if the candidate passes. Candidates who are dissatisfied with their ranking may request personal remedial coaching and re-auditing, as allowed and approved by management. Candidates who want to secure previously approved multiple-role certifications are given separate audits for each role.


Once all audits have been completed and scored, candidates are ready to celebrate. Team award plaques are presented to those teams that achieved recognition. This team award is coveted, as it reflects how well the individuals scored as a team, emphasizing that the success of an individual is only a part of the success of the team. The success of a team is summarized by how well the group works together for the advancement of the plant’s entire maintenance and reliability goals.


Because of normal plant personnel turnover, renewal sessions are often conducted every 2 yr–3 yr with new candidates. This allows the process to remain embedded within a site’s core group and to become part of its culture. Completing these sessions usually takes half the time of the original session, as existing certified members become ad-hoc coaches and supporters for the new candidates. Renewal sessions are often accompanied by rechecks of how the overall process is doing at the site. This status of the process is captured in a management audit report that highlights any areas that may require reinforcement. Metrics tend to reflect if the process has contributed to overall plant improvement objectives.


This certification process should contain the following:

  • Plant management that is 100% behind the effort
  • Principles of best-practice maintenance work management protocols
  • A degree of competition among the candidates, for which success is then measured by both testing and scoring
  • Certification success that is regarded with a sense of pride by both management and candidates
  • Continuous and random management observations that help make the process sustainable
  • Certification renewal sessions to re-certify existing personnel and also certify new personnel.

Any plant can implement this process by adhering to these outlined steps and by developing the appropriate materials. Past results have consistently shown changes and improvements in workplace cultures and the advancement of positive relations between maintenance and operations teams. Metrics and continuous improvement measurements underscore the benefits of having dedicated teams for planning and scheduling critical maintenance. HP

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