Sometimes the smallest things can cause the biggest problems. One tiny, out-of-alignment pin on a music box spoils the whole tune. One slightly bent tooth on a single cog and the entire watch stops working. At which point, the only way to fix it is to take the whole thing apart, examine every tiny piece and painstakingly put it all together again.
Not an ideal situation. But it is a decent metaphor for when things go wrong in your business. Because it’s not always the surface problem that’s the issue. Sometimes it’s a small but significant cog deep within the overall mechanism that’s got worn, or stuck, or bent out of shape.
That’s why it’s vital that any industry relying on large-scale production assets maintains a relentless focus on effective work management. To stretch our initial metaphor, there are multiple cogs and wheels that must be considered together to make the most of your budgets, your time and your people, as well as your assets.
Let’s take a look at the cogs that keep your work management systems running smoothly:
Good leadership in work management is fundamental to getting the best from every aspect of your organisation. It’s not always about some astounding new vision or the latest big thing. More often, it’s simply about keeping people informed, motivated and engaged when they have to do the same activities over and over again. It’s about taking a holistic view of the organisation, understanding how it all works together, and appreciating how each individual part interacts in order to create the smoothly-running whole.
The ideal scenario in any business is one in which everyone, from the CEO to the front line technicians, are continually asking themselves: “Will the work I’m doing right now support the long-term health of this asset?” It’s difficult to achieve. There’s always too much work and not enough workforce, too much to do and too small a budget – and that’s even without COVID-19 to consider. So when it’s not possible to achieve all the things we want to do, we need to focus on what we have to do to meet asset safety, availability and reliability targets. Get that right from day one, and you’ll have a better approach to priorities, make better decisions and control costs more effectively.
Most organisations have a work management process, or all the component parts of one, in place. But they’re frequently tweaked, adjusted, improved, amended or, in extreme cases, ‘transformed’. The result can be that the existing process is diluted to the point that people find it hard to understand, and that non-priority activities are slipping through the net. Your process should allow integration between your workforce, your systems and your data. It should support like-for-like comparison between assets, and give your workforce clear guidance on the most efficient way to get work done.
Any organisation involved in large scale asset maintenance is likely to have a computerised maintenance management system and associated technology, like SAP or Maximo, or cloud packages like UpKeep, or Hippo. These typically support preventative and corrective maintenance programmes, and can be integrated with supply chain and finance modules. They are as fundamental a tool for asset management as the spanners, screwdrivers and other tools used by technicians on the front line. But it’s vital that they’re calibrated correctly. You want a system that supports your process, not a process that gets increasingly complex or generates multiple workarounds in order to support the system.
It’s possible to cope with a less-than-perfect system, provided you have good quality data. But even the best systems can’t make up for data that doesn’t support work management. You need to make sure your data collection and analysis, throughout an asset’s lifetime, is right. That means recording work carried out, breakdowns, adherence to legislative and safety requirements, history, KPIs and measurement, reliability analysis, predictive maintenance, actual hours — and so on. Good data means asset leaders make solid, data-based decisions that reflect reality.
- Asset workforce
Your organisational structure has an impact on effective work management. Is it the right size? Are management and technical roles well balanced? Do you have clear accountabilities and responsibilities across different teams and departments? Does everyone understand what’s expected of them? Taking the time to see what makes your workforce tick is worth more than any number of culture change programmes. You can’t change what you don’t understand — or certainly not for the better.
Ultimately, if an asset is to have as long an economically viable lifespan as possible, you need to control costs and spend budgets for maximum asset benefit. If you get all of the above elements right, that becomes much easier, because you understand priorities and your systems and data support your decision-making. Get your workforce involved and everyone in the organisation is focused on sensible, sustainable spending. The whole organisation benefits when everyone understands what the constraints on spending are, and aims always to take and implement the best decisions for long term asset health.
Like any mechanism, all the component parts of your organisation’s work management structure have to work together. And it’s important to remember that an obvious fault may not be what it seems. Workforce behaviour might be impacting on work execution, but it could be a symptom of issues with data quality. All the behavioural programmes in the world won’t solve that.
The more that people in an organisation, particularly those involved in asset leadership, understand the whole picture, the better assets will be managed. Which means a longer productive life, a stronger bottom line, and a business that ticks.