Emerging Stronger from Crisis

Paying your Way

Emerging stronger from crisis – that’s our current challenge. We know we can do it. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Our businesses can emerge stronger too, but that won’t happen without leadership and choice.

Capital asset-intensive industries that have had a chance to pause have been wise if they used the opportunity to catch up on deferred maintenance and review their proactive maintenance programs for effectiveness. They will emerge stronger. Better maintained equipment will run better, longer, and last longer, producing more and doing so with lower levels of risk.

Emerging stronger from crisis requires good maintenance, the activity necessary to achieve asset reliability. In turn that delivers increased availability to do what you want those assets to be doing. Ultimately you want the lowest achievable costs per unit of output and you get that through two workstreams.

One is a focus on executing maintenance work efficiently. Good planning of jobs, good scheduling, sufficient availability of spare parts support, combine with a skilled workforce to execute work at low cost. Achieving that requires a focus on the “essential” components of the “Uptime Pyramid of Excellence” from my book, “Uptime – Strategies for Excellence in Maintenance Management[1]”. Lowering costs, however, is only the start.

Emerging stronger from crisis also requires a second workstream, which does not need to wait for the first. It requires focusing on doing the right work. Proactive maintenance is less expensive than repair, and it reduces the need for repairs. It makes sense to build a maintenance program around being proactive – preventing and predicting failures wherever it makes sense to do so. Detecting failures in dormant (usually protective) systems before you need them to act is also being proactive to reduce the consequences of losing the protection. Achieving that requires a focus on the “choosing excellence” components of the “Uptime Pyramid of Excellence”.

Those two work streams will require an investment in business process rationalization, training, some technical analysis work, and possibly supporting systems and execution technologies (e.g.: condition monitoring). If you are too lean to staff with planners, then you may need to invest in them, but you can take comfort in the fact that they’ll more than pay for themselves with improved efficiencies from your trades workforce. Good planning and scheduling practices can translate the cost of a planner into the equivalent of having a dozen or more trades – without hiring!

Combined, the effects of improved efficiency (getting work done well) and effectiveness (doing the right work) are multiplied. In a recent customer case dealing with 6 operational locations, we found $100 million in cost reductions and another $900+ million in productivity gains, both annually. There was no need for capital investment to achieve that. The cost was roughly $20 million spread over a 3 year period. In another case, we produced a combined gain from 2 sites of nearly $1.2 billion annually. That required roughly a $12 million investment over 3 years. Both of those cases involved transformations where reliability was low and maintenance practices highly reactive to breakdowns. Our Business Case Estimator tool was used to develop those estimates.

If you have any of these “symptoms”, then you may have a bigger case for change than you currently realize:

  • High maintenance costs, with plenty of trades’ overtime and contracting,
  • High levels of direct purchases of maintenance parts and materials, often at premium pricing and with rush orders,
  • Frequent breakdowns disruptive to production,
  • Difficulty meeting production targets due to the breakdowns,
  • Finger-pointing (blame game) among maintenance, operations, and spare parts stores,
  • Stashes of “shadow inventory” kept by maintenance and not managed by your spare parts stores,
  • Unfavorable safety incident rates that are difficult to improve and unfavorable safety audits,
  • Spills or emissions that could (or have) resulted in fines or other penalties,

If you have heard signs of complacency about the current situation, then you most certainly need fresh eyes on the situation. Remarks like, “that’s just the way it is here”, “we can’t do anything about that”, “it’s always been that way”, “we are no different than others in our industry”, etc. are all red flags to watch for.

Making the leap to high performance requires you to take a leadership role. Functional departments operating as individual silos cannot achieve that desired improvement on their own. Collaboration, not competition, not mere tolerance, is needed among maintenance, engineering, operations, supply chain, human resources, finance, and information technology. Only true leadership and a degree of blindness to those silo walls can do it. That needs to come from the general management or executive level.

My most recent book, “Paying Your Way” describes where value arises, how much value can be unlocked, an overview of the practices needed to achieve it, what your role as a leader needs to be, and even how to get financing for it all. It’s a book written for, and aimed at, the non-technical business leader. It can be read in less than 3 hours and it has the potential to enable you to propel your organization to higher performance with very little investment.


J D Campbell and J V Reyes-Picknell, “Uptime – Strategies for Excellence in Maintenance Management”, 3rd edition, 2015, Productivity Press, NY

James V Reyes-Picknell, “Paying Your Way – Improving Performance Through Uptime”, 2020, Conscious Group Inc., Barrie, Canada

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