Back to Basics for True Operational Excellence

Many companies are beginning to search for and implement sophisticated maintenance and reliability (M&R) tools and technologies in hopes of finding the next best thing to help achieve operational excellence (OE). Terms, such as asset performance management (APM), predictive analytics, machine learning, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the Cloud, connected plant, etc., are making their way into everything M&R. As game changing as these concepts can be, adopting advanced technologies without first addressing the basic fundamentals of M&R is like building the world’s finest home on a crumbling foundation.

Organizations are not often successful in achieving desired results from technology implementations because they tend to skip over the M&R fundamentals in their haste to chase the OE prize. It is important to understand that technology alone will not provide the solution. Rather, the solution lies within the implementation of the fundamentals of M&R management, which has a direct and significant impact on OE.

Companies are often keen to follow standards, such as ISO55000 for asset management. However, it’s important to know that these standards merely set guidelines for a management system, not the specifics of how the compliance is actually executed. From the start, companies striving to achieve OE need to ensure that M&R fundamentals are solidly in place, as these fundamentals are essential in helping businesses achieve their objectives, while providing a sound platform on which to improve through innovation and automation.

M&R Fundamentals

Time and again you hear of the use of shortcuts and bypasses leading to catastrophic failures — failures that could have been prevented if these shortcuts were not used. In most cases, the root causes include a lack of fundamental practices necessary to assure reliability of processes, safety of personnel and protection of the environment.

Building M&R fundamentals starts by making sure organizations have developed and established their M&R standards, as well as their guiding principles, procedures and work practices. Equally important is designing and implementing meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs) based on monitoring the health of not only OE objectives, and more importantly, the effective implementation of the OE program itself.

One of the fundamentals of M&R is a continuous improvement work management process, represented as a continuous clockwise cycle in Figure 1.


Figure 1: The fundamentals of M&R management – continuous improvement work management cycle

  1. Work Identification: The cycle begins with maintenance work identification. Whether preventive, predictive, or corrective, each is prioritized based on risk. All proactive work is identified through a risk-based work selection process.
  2. Planning: Once work is identified, the maintenance planning process begins to ensure correct actions are put into place to safely, efficiently and effectively complete the work.
  3. Scheduling: The maintenance scheduling process is then set up to enable the most efficient application of properly trained and qualified resources, and the availability of the right parts and materials to support the work.
  4. Work Execution: The success of the work execution step depends heavily on work package quality and the appropriate utilization of standards, procedures and proper skills. One measure of the desired outcome is zero rework.
  5. Analysis and Continuous Improvement: The continuous improvement of the M&R process depends on the ability to analyze and measure performance metrics and KPIs, identify gaps and opportunities, and initiate actions to drive improvement through this continuous cycle.

Building on Fundamentals to Achieve Operational Excellence

It is important to understand that achieving OE depends on the appropriate consideration of people, process and technology, as illustrated in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Operational excellence classification model

The operational excellence classification model is a commonly used management method designed to identify, implement, monitor and assess controls to manage risk. OE requires that the correct people are in place to assure the right processes are employed, fully supported by the right technology, including tools to both administer the process and support lifecycle decision-making.

Experts estimate that as much as one out of every three maintenance dollars is wasted, which puts more focus on maintenance management because, in some cases, maintenance is seen as the single most controllable cost. The maturity of M&R practices has increased the demand for higher availability; lower maintenance costs; higher quality of work; and better safety and environmental compliance. To improve effectiveness and overall cost performance, many equipment strategies have shifted to a more predictive or condition-based approach, rather than a fixed, interval approach. Knowing when a potential failure is likely to occur allows organizations to realize the maximum lifetime from equipment without the negative effects of full functional failure, particularly production loss. However, as more and more strategies shift toward a condition-based approach, the ability to manage such a program is even more challenging, especially if M&R fundamentals are not strong.

Vision, Framework and Road Map

As mentioned earlier, it is important to have an M&R vision and incorporate it into the overall corporate business objective. An example of an M&R vision is:

“We commit to the rigorous application of M&R best practices, resulting in world-class levels of safety asset availability and cost performance.”

This vision can be achieved by determining the current gaps in best practices, as well as the necessary changes required in the key categories of people, process and technology.

  1. People – Focuses on areas, such as roles and responsibilities; value-based decision-making; competent and accountable resources; front line ownership of equipment and process; and fostering a culture of reliability.
  2. Process – Concentrates on aligning with clearly defined business objectives, which focus on topics, such as asset lifecycle management; integrated organizational processes and workflows; best practices to be embedded into standardized processes; aligned KPIs and metrics; internal and external benchmarking; risk-based equipment strategies; risk-based spare parts strategies; strategy-based budgeting; and strategic alliances with key suppliers.
  3. Technology – Focuses on the ease of access to integrated data; systems configuration and functionality aligned with processes; ability to input and capture source data simplified by technology; integrated and linked documentation to equipment; managed KPIs through automated dashboards; effective control of lifecycle asset information; and fully leveraging next generation technology to support OE management by exception.

Best performers continually search for competitive advantage and effective management of M&R fundamentals that represent a significant opportunity. As organizations are challenged to improve work efficiency, many initiatives have taken small steps toward achieving competitive advantage. However, an examination of practices by best performers shows that to achieve world-class performance, a fundamental shift in the mind-set of workers and the nature of work is needed. A holistic and evergreen approach to asset management processes provides the capability to change the nature of work and drive a reliability-centered culture. This is the true underpinning of operations excellence (OE). However, the reality is that OE is a journey, not a destination.