Maintenance Quality Improvement

What it is and how to effectively mange it

Maintenance quality improvement means very different things to different people and organizations. For example, in some circumstances, maintenance quality may mean no downtime, or safe operation, or on-time turnaround, or quick response, or no repeat repairs, or keeping a vehicle in spec or a satisfied customer.

Consequently, the first step in improving the quality of any maintenance operation is to define quality in the way most useful to the operating environment, advises Joel Levitt, a leading trainer of maintenance professionals and the author of a column on management that appears regularly in Fleet Maintenance.

Levitt has conducted more than 500 training sessions for more than 15,000 maintenance leaders from 3,000 organizations in more than 20 countries. He is president of Springfield Resources, a Lafayette Hill, PA-based management consulting firm that services clients of all sizes on a wide range of maintenance issues.


The late Dr. W. Edwards Deming is known as the father of the Japanese post-war industrial revival. He was regarded by many as the leading quality guru in the U.S.

After World War II, Deming was invited to Japan by the country’s industrial leaders and engineers to help them transform their businesses.

In developing his Guide for Transforming Japan into a World Power, Deming created his 14 Points for Management. These points were the basis for transformation of Japanese industry.

Deming taught that by adopting appropriate principles of management, organizations can increase quality and simultaneously reduce costs by reducing waste, rework, staff attrition and litigation while increasing customer loyalty. The key, he said, was to practice continual improvement, and to think of manufacturing as a system, not as bits and pieces.


While Deming’s focus was on manufacturing, his style of management applies to maintenance as well, according to Levitt.

“In maintenance, as in manufacturing, we know much of what is needed to produce quality work and a safe work environment,” he says. Some of the key elements for achieving this are:

  • The most important element of quality is that technicians have a complete knowledge of the scope of work they will be doing, plus have the necessary skills to perform the work.
  • Technicians must have the correct tools and equipment, parts, materials, supplies and consumables available for the job. “If the wrong things are made available, then the technician must improvise,” explains Levitt. “While improvisation is great in a theater, it introduces potential quality problems in maintenance.”
  • There must be safe access to assets and work areas, as well as humane working conditions. “Working conditions are important for quality,” he says. “Areas that are too hot, too cold or unsafe compromise quality.”
  • There needs to up-to-date service information on each asset that will be worked on.


Levitt has adapted Deming’s management points to apply to maintenance issues.

1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement by allocating the necessary resources to stay competitive, remain in business and provide stable employment.

2. Realize the need for change.

“Deming says, ‘Awaken to the challenge and adopt a quality philosophy,’ “ points out Levitt. “Take responsibility for leadership and be a leader in change.”

3. Build quality into the process.

Quality, Levitt says, comes from:

  • Skilled and knowledgeable technicians given good tools, good materials and enough time to do the job.
  • Choosing well-designed equipment that doesn’t need much maintenance.
  • Having well-designed and furnished works areas.
  • Pride in a job well done.

“Lead by example with ceaseless training, coaching and systems analysis,” counsels Levitt. “When defects occur, concentrate on the system that delivered the defect rather then focusing on finger-pointing.”

4. Move toward a single source for each item, and a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

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