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Coal, Cost and Culture: Maintenance Planning and Maintenance Culture – Inseparable Partners in Success

Oilfield Technology,

Whether a mine is newly commissioned or on its third decade of operations, management teams are always concerned about keeping the equipment running, sometimes at all costs. If maintenance planning takes a back seat to a ‘don’t fix it until it breaks’ philosophy, maintenance management and maintenance techs learned to accept breakdown maintenance as the norm. Very little planning takes place. In this reactive environment, even the smallest plan seems like a big undertaking that management does not have time for.

Working in a plan-free environment causes priorities to change on a whim. Jobs are given priorities in the morning meeting and 30 minutes later, crews are headed in a different direction. Priorities for work change again later that day or the next. Major scheduled jobs move around on the calendar frequently. The maintenance team may view this practice as a flexible approach to managing maintenance; in fact, the crews executing these jobs are constantly running…looking for parts, trading people to get the job done, forfeiting the opportunity for set up, etc. It is easier to operate without a plan because a plan comes with ‘game rules’ attached. Often maintenance teams know that equipment maintenance could be performed more efficiently, but are not ready to step out of their ‘flexible’ comfort zone.    

Breaking out of a reactive maintenance mindset is tough, especially if reactive maintenance is the only maintenance strategy that managers and employees are familiar with. The first step is a recognition and acknowledgement that current practices are not working, people are burned out, and production units are not running optimally. Once any mine starts down the planning path, the struggle begins. Superintendents and supervisors that are used to changing course must STOP giving ‘shoot from the hip’ directions. This behaviour change can be one of the most difficult, especially for individuals that define their primary roles as directive (i.e., making decisions for others or expecting others to wait to be told what to do).

It is at this point that subtle behind the scenes sabotage occurs. The best plans can be formalised, communicated and launched. Massive software systems can be purchased to contain and manage the plan. However, the personal choices of every individual in authority can chip away at the validity of the plan in the form of exceptions and after the planning meeting changes. This is the point where success or failure with a maintenance plan teeters in the balance. It is also the point where culture begins intersecting with planning and makes culture change an inseparable part of every new planning process.

My process/culture work with maintenance departments has taught me that a reactive culture can influence maintenance performance as much as planning (or lack of it). Every successful maintenance plan must be built on a solid foundation (trust within the management team, good communications, and paradigms/behaviours that reflect a proactive culture). Breaking down a reactive culture and beginning to build a proactive culture must precede the implementation of any maintenance plan if you serious about sustainability. This means that old and powerful paradigms/beliefs must be replaced with new paradigms/beliefs. New beliefs and behaviors lead to new levels of performance.

Thought for the month:

Understanding your maintenance culture is critical to your success with every maintenance plan.

Author: Kay Sever CMC, CQIA, Sustainable Improvement Consultant and Coach. Kay Sever is a leader in sustainable improvement for mines and plants. She combines 29 years of mining experience with a common sense approach to improvement that raises awareness about lost opportunity and hidden barriers that prevent improvement success.

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