Do your business processes encourage careful work or promote sloppiness?

Did you ever think that your whole maintenance effort is just the sum of a bunch of business processes? Your maintenance effort is as effective or ineffective as the processes allow it to be.

All business processes have inputs, outputs and activities that transform the inputs to the outputs.

In many cases, the process sprang up as the company grew or the marketplace changed. There was no blueprint or overall design, just reaction to problems over the years.

I know of one city government that had a vehicle work order system so cumbersome that employees frequently just drove up to the fleet garage and would ask a technician to take a quick look, so there was no need for any paperwork. The technicians were quick to comply because they hated the system even more then everyone else.

When diagrammed, the work order made 43 stops in its life. Each work order was handled, read, signed and notated 43 times.

Parts Purchasing

Uncovering the underlying steps in the various maintenance and business processes can be a complex task. But in the more finite processes, like parts purchasing, the chore is easier. Here, the typical process will look something like this:

Input

  • Repair person gets a repair or PM job and goes to the window to buy the parts. The parts are charged to work order.
  • If the parts are not stocked, requisitions are generated and sent to the purchasing agent (PA).

Process

  • The PA either has a blanket contract (say for all GM parts) or shops the parts.
  • Once the vendor is decided, the PA sends a purchase order or places a verbal order. The PA might also pay for the purchases with a credit card.
  • When the parts arrive, the PA will ensure the charges are correct;

the receiver verifies the parts are correct.

Output

  • At this point, the storeroom tells the repair person that the parts are available.
  • After some period, the invoices get paid.

Business Processes

In any organization, each of the processes is either well-defined or loose. Each could have a written SOP (standard operating procedure) or could have been casually passed on from one employee to the next.

The process can encourage complete and careful work, or promote a slapdash approach.

Some processes simply don’t work or don’t work well. The symptom of a process that does not work well is not having what you need, waiting for something or having clashes of resource needs.

So when mistakes have been made, we might be looking at a process malfunction. For example:

  • What if the repair person routinely spends an excessive amount of time waiting for parts?
  • What if the part comes in and, more often than not, no one tells the PA?
  • What if the requisition is still sitting on the PA’s desk or the stockroom person’s desk?
  • What if this vendor never ships the part when they promise?

As you have probably experienced, many things can go wrong. The culprit might not be the purchasing agent or stockroom attendant.

Process Change

At this point, most organizations start to search for the guilty party - the one who dropped the ball. Once they are identified, the organization can “sort things out.”

While someone could have very easily just made a mistake, how does “sorting things out” result in ongoing improvement?

If a simple mistake can routinely take out a business process, then the process is not robust. A non-robust process must be changed to be more robust.

If your process is broken, you need to consider changing it. Before it is safe to change a process, however, you must understand it. That requires breaking down the process into its individual steps.

Core Understanding

I want to stress that considerable care must be taken to safely change any business process in maintenance departments to avoid causing a disaster. Maintenance departments have been crippled because the original processes were not well understood.

All too often after a change was made, no one was tasked with an essential activity, so it was not done.

Organizations are to some degree self-healing. Usually, if the activity is essential, then informal processes crop up to solve the immediate problem.

The result: a cobbled together series of business processes that you call a maintenance department.

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.

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