Breaking Down Organizational Barriers by Creating Plant Partnerships

As appeared in the IMPACT newsletter and our popular Reliability Excellence for Managers course

Partnerships: Who needs them? The truth is we all do, especially at work!  In many companies, “organizational silos” prevent departments from working together effectively. These barriers, often due to a lack of communication, competition within the organization, or a difference in priorities, can mean the difference between working at optimal capacity or tolerating un-productivity. Building partnerships between departments enables an organization to operate as one cohesive unit.

While the need for a real and active partnership between the various functions within the typical manufacturing organization is usually acknowledged, the reality is often less than ideal. The ideal partnership is strengthened by open and frank communications, a common set of beliefs, well-defined expectations on the part of all participants, and a set of common goals that are aligned with business needs. With this in mind, any organization can improve the performance of the manufacturing environment.

Nowhere is a partnership more essential than between the operations and maintenance departments.  While a traditional maintenance department can and should improve the internal processes and practices that are used to execute maintenance activities, it is impossible to achieve and sustain world-class reliability levels without the support and cooperation of other, non-maintenance plant functions. Simply stated, maintenance depends on these other plant or corporate functions. Conversely, these non-maintenance functions depend on effective maintenance to achieve world-class reliability performance levels.


Because of the integrated nature of plant operations and management, maintenance typically cannot control its own destiny. Instead, it depends on other plant functions as well as the plant culture.  Figure 1 illustrates the level of control that maintenance has over the building blocks that are essential for effective maintenance management.

Partnership Graphic

Figure 1: Maintenance Interdependency

In almost all cases, control of these building blocks resides with plant or corporate management, and maintenance has little, if any direct control. This is why it’s critical for maintenance to develop a cooperative partnership with plant management, as well as with production and other functional groups. Without direct input into the cultural decisions that are made by plant or higher management, maintenance has little chance of optimizing reliability independently.

Functional Responsibilities

Each of the functional groups that comprise the plant or corporate team has clearly defined roles and responsibilities that must be effectively performed and coordinated with other functions.  Each function should sit down with the other functions that they deal with regularly  and develop “Service Level Agreements” that spell out their roles and responsibilities to the other in order to ensure success. Typical roles and responsibilities include:

Responsibilities of Operations to Maintenance: The Operations or Production function has explicit responsibilities that must be provided before Maintenance can achieve and sustain world-class performance. These responsibilities include:

  • Operate machinery and equipment properly
  • Know the conditions and performance of facilities and equipment. Detect unsatisfactory conditions and anticipate essential work.  Report malfunctions to appropriate engineering/maintenance personnel for diagnosis and action.
  • Authorize and describe clearly in writing the repairs, replacements and alterations.  Avoid unnecessary work and fictitious priority. Help to control the volume variance within maintenance budgets. Participate in backlog management using a clearly defined and agreed-upon set of priorities, and participate in repetitive failure analysis, using cause codes and effective analysis techniques.
  • Accept equipment ownership
  • Perform maintenance work to the degree specified, authorized and trained for
  • Plan for and provide adequate equipment access for timely performance of programmed and scheduled maintenance
  • Communicate the necessary capacity specifications for systems and equipment

Responsibilities of Maintenance to Operations: The Maintenance organization must also meet its responsibilities. These include:

  • Based on authorized requests for maintenance service, define and execute the required work in a timely fashion, with quality workmanship, knowing what is to be done, when, and how best to do it. Then do it right the first time.
  • Assist operations in establishing a practical level of maintenance so that long and short-term operating plans can be met and repairs can be anticipated, planned and scheduled.
  • Maintain facilities at specified levels of operating conditions, at lowest possible cost consistent with the goals of producing a quality product as economically as possible
  • Actively participate with production to create and implement a comprehensive preventive maintenance program
    • Convert emergency work to planned work by anticipating it
    • Make repairs and replacements at intervals required for optimal operating efficiency and in a manner creating as little production loss as possible
  • Constantly strive to improve maintenance work methods, completeness and neatness with the goal of quality work at minimal cost
  • Effectively plan, schedule and coordinate maintenance work with production, far enough in advance to permit them to plan for out-of-service equipment and to minimize nonproductive time and production shortages
  • Prior to execution, thoroughly review all shutdown work with key production personnel so their intimate knowledge can be fully utilized. Prior to start up, review the repairs made and any circumstances of note with the operations personnel in the area.
  • Provide regular feedback regarding status of work requests and completion promises.
  • Advise production personnel about the levels of risk and the potential costs related to operating equipment believed to be close to failure. Develop techniques for predicting failure of critical facilities with reasonable accuracy
  • Inform operating personnel of facilities requiring excessive maintenance and take appropriate action to reduce it
  • Account for the level of cost incurred in the performance of requested maintenance (standard vs. actual—the performance variance). Regard operations as an internal customer
  • Sponsor and participate in repetitive failure analysis sessions, with the goal of eliminating repetitive failures and isolating the behavioral or mechanical causes of these failures

Responsibilities of Engineering to Maintenance: The Plant or Project Engineering organization has several responsibilities to Maintenance to ensure adequate reliability of newly installed assets:

  • Design for lowest life-cycle cost instead of lowest installed cost
  • Design for reliability and maintainability
  • Up-front Failure Modes and Effects Analysis to identify potential design changes that may reduce the need for maintenance
  • Standardization of components to reduce the need to stock additional parts in the storeroom and to reduce future training requirements
  • Vendor input on maintenance strategies, failure modes, MTBF, and spare parts requirements for all components
  • CMMS records updates for all newly installed equipment
  • Technical documentation to enable proper Preventive/Predictive strategy definition as well as to enable planning of future corrective work
  • Test and inspection results from performance tests at the vendor’s facility
  • Installation in accordance with good reliability practices, such as good piping alignment, adequate foundation mass, etc.

Responsibilities of Maintenance to Engineering: The Maintenance function has several responsibilities to Engineering that will enable reliable designs to be implemented:

  • Provide input on plant standard equipment and components
  • Realistic assessment of necessary redundancy (not everything requires an installed spare)
  • Participation on the design team to identify potential reliability and maintainability issues
  • Commissioning assistance to enable thorough check-out of equipment prior to startup
  • Realistic maintainability requirements (access platforms and overhead monorails aren’t necessary everywhere)
  • Allocate resources to conduct or witness performance testing in vendor facilities prior to machine acceptance

Responsibilities of Procurement to Maintenance: The Procurement function has several responsibilities to the Maintenance organization to support equipment reliability:

The right materials in the right place at the right time (and the right price!)

  • Commitment to the lowest Total Cost of Ownership rather than lowest initial price
  • Commitment to standardization of components to reduce training needs
  • Hold vendors accountable for performance:
    • Compliance to specifications
    • On-time delivery
  • Effective storeroom layout to enable critical parts to be easily located
  • Pre-kitting and delivery services
  • Identification of components under warranty so that claims can be made if necessary

Responsibilities of Maintenance to Procurement: To enable the Procurement function to be effective, the Maintenance organization needs to provide:

  • Reliability specification information so effective vendor negotiations can be held
  • Input on supplier and/or material performance (let us know when it’s not right)
  • Assistance in minimizing quantities of stocked material
  • Compliance with stores procedures to enable that function to work effectively
  • Set up Bills of Material so that the right parts can be acquired
  • Input on obsolete stocked items
  • Realistic delivery requirements
  • Proactive work process (enables Just-In-Time procurement)
  • Information to file warranty claims

Once functional responsibilities have been defined, the organization can work on creating awareness among employees. However, in order for partnerships to be created, awareness is not enough. A communications plan needs to be developed, complete with the messages that need to be communicated and the channels to be used. Open and consistent communication about expectations is critical to establishing a successful, lasting partnership between departments.

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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