Management: Got work interruptions?

Next time you’re in the shop, look around, ask around and find out how many jobs are interrupted due to the lack of something. The “something” could be a spare part - the most common reason for a work interruption, a special tool, a piece of equipment, a manual with critical settings, anything.

Is this a common sort of occurrence in your shop?

We call all these “somethings” essentials for the maintenance job resources. There are other resources too, such as labor with certain skills, bays or places to work, certain capacity and size lifts, tire machines, even space out in the yard. Anything needed to do a job is a resource.

Missing any resource means that either the job has to be abandoned or delayed, productivity is trashed or the mechanic will have to improvise to get the job done.

The last “resource” is improvisation - wonderful in a comedy club or the theater but potentially deadly at 65 miles an hour down a dark wintry interstate. Of course, many improvisations work out quite well and we are rightly proud of our abilities in that vein.

Even if your shop is on top of things, job interruptions will occasionally occur due to a lack of a resource. Most interruptions happen when you are surprised by the extent of the damage found after a job is started.

Most jobs are scoped by the mechanic, service writer or planner, and the materials are determined to either be in stock or they will be delivered in time. It is essential to get this right or you’ll be spending most of your time spinning your wheels, working very hard and not getting a lot done.

Here is a list of the resources needed to do all different kinds of maintenance jobs on both mobile and stationary equipment.

Person(s) with the right skill(s) and physical and mental aptitude to perform the job.

Safe job steps

Correct parts, materials, supplies and consumables for the job.

Correct special tools.

Adequate equipment for lifting, bending, drilling, welding, etc.

Identification of hazard and mitigation, including personal protective equipment (PPE).

Proper permits and lockouts.

Custody and control of the asset.

Safe access to assets (decontaminated, cooled down, etc.), safe work platforms and humane working conditions.

Up-to-date drawings, wiring diagrams and other information.

Proper waste handling and management.

One solution for avoiding interruptions is to put the job and its resources into time. Creating a schedule is the basic tool of any shop manager to manage resources. The schedule displays the status of all the resources and moves the resources toward a particular time and place.

Of course you have to have a list of all the resources needed by each job. The place for this is the repair or work order.

Obviously, it is not just making a schedule that makes the big difference. It is using the schedule as a reminder system on steroids. The schedule serves as a reminder that if the job needs a man lift or a special ladder/platform, and there is only one, to not schedule the resource at the same time.

The schedule also alerts management that the unit to be serviced had better be available at the scheduled time.

Setting up a reminder system on steroids helps you focus on those elements that are causing the most pain.

This reminder system extends to each of the resources mentioned previously. A great supervisor - or planner, scheduler, service writer, almost anyone - looks at the schedule and looks at the resource requirements and makes sure the resources converge on the job in time.

People think that planning (identifying the resources), coordination (making sure operations is in alignment about what jobs will be done when) and scheduling (putting everything in time) requires a huge bureaucracy. Actually it adds about 5 percent of the job duration and saves as much as 50 percent in execution time.

It’s funny, but as a percentage, planning and scheduling saves more time on shorter jobs. If you spend 30 minutes waiting for a tool on an 8-hour job, that is one thing. But the same 30 minutes on a 30-minute job is a very large loss.

The focus is on the basics. You can get 80 percent of the benefit from effective planning and scheduling from spending just 25 percent of the money. Focus on those elements that are causing you the most pain.

For example: Are you weak on getting the unit when you are scheduled to fix it? Is the problem written on the work order causing wasted steps? Are parts an ongoing problem? Do you have frequent shop floor conflict over specialized tools or specialized skills?

When you focus your solutions on your areas of pain while keeping the big picture in mind - trying to identify resources and then making sure everything happens in time, your maintenance operation will run smoother. I promise.

Joel Levitt has trained over 6,000 maintenance leaders from over 3,000 organizations. Since 1980, he has been the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues.