Maintenance Quality Improvement

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.

“End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price alone,” he says. “Instead, minimize total cost.

“Look at the total costs of a part or the lifecycle cost of a machine. Some savings are illusionary and hurt the overall goals of an organization.”

5. Keep up the improvement of quality and productivity in order to constantly reduce costs.

This is important, Levitt emphasizes, because “in today’s industry, the way it used to be done is never going to be good enough for the future.

“All improvements and growth flow from dissatisfaction with the status quo. Build measurement into the maintenance information system.”

6. Training should be mandatory for technicians the way it is for doctors or teachers.

“Technologies are changing; skills must change too,” he stresses.

In addition, Levitt says special effort should be given to training those workers who deliver the on-the-job training so that they can become more effective teachers.

“Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement. World-class maintenance departments make a commitment to invest 1 to 3 percent of their hours in training for all maintenance workers.

7. Institute leadership with the aim of helping technicians and machines do a better job.

Supervisors should serve their subordinates by removing the impediments to quality productivity and making sure the technicians, tools, parts, units to be serviced and work permissions all converge at the same time, Levitt says.

8. Break down the barriers between departments because everyone’s expertise is needed for constant improvement.

9. Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the work force asking for zero defects or new levels of production.

“Such exhortations create adversarial relationships,” maintains Levitt. “A bulk of the quality problems belong to the system, not the people. Stable processes create quality.

“When you create stable processes producing quality outputs workers will feel the way the slogan says without coercion and alienation.”

10. Eliminate work standards, quotas and management by objectives (MBO).

“Work standards and quotas are associated with management styles that treat the maintenance worker as someone needing to be told exactly what to do and how long to take,” explains Levitt. “Standards are useful for scheduling and to communicate management’s expectations.

“It is difficult to not use them as a production whip, and that is a disaster in maintenance situations. Once an asset is down for maintenance, the desire is to have technicians take the time needed to fix every problem they see – within reason, and not just the original job.

“We must trust the technician to look out for the company’s interests, particularly when management is not there,” he continues. “The problem with MBO is that it focuses on visible, measurable aspects of maintenance, yet many of the real issues of maintenance concern aspects of the environment which are hard to measure.”

11. Remove the barriers that rob technicians of their right of pride of workmanship.

“Technicians must be allowed to feel pride in their jobs that are well done. Maintenance managers and supervisors must not allow anything to stand in the way of that pride.”

12. Because transformation requires the talents of all the employees, put everyone in the organization to work to accomplish the transformation to maintenance quality improvement.


Any organization can improve its maintenance quality, says Levitt. This is best accomplished through benchmarking exercises to determine how well it is meeting its quality performance objectives.

The next step is to then apply best practices to:

  • Identify problem areas and areas for continuous improvement.
  • Define the processes used to identify causes of problems.
  • Manage the effectiveness of corrective actions that drive the resolution of problems, plus drive improvement in the future.


There are a number of common impediments to improving maintenance quality, Levitt notes. Key among these are:

1. Not allowing enough time for improvement because the changing of fundamental processes takes considerable time.

2. The supposition that solving problems with automation, gadgets and new machinery will transform a shop. “Maintenance problems are people problems,” he says. “The systems, attitudes and approaches are at issue.”

3. An emphasis on short-term profits and short-term thinking fed by compensation systems that focus exclusively on short-term performance.

4. The belief that an organization’s problems are different.

“Actually many shops’ problems are the same,” observes Levitt. “In my public trainings, maintenance managers in widely different industries, sizes and sophistication often marvel at the familiarity of their problems.”

5. Quality control has already installed.

“Quality is a way of life. It is a daily diet. You don’t install it once and forget about it. Instead, you become it.”

Additional details on maintenance quality improvement can be found in Levitt’s book, The Handbook of Maintenance Management, Second Edition.