Let me start by telling you something you already know – there is no such thing as a perfect job plan. We must continually learn from our experiences and strive to make those small adjustments to our job plans that will improve our performance. This is a career-long commitment – the only time it ends is when we retire and then it becomes someone else’s problem.
Let me tell you something else you already know; the people best qualified to provide this feedback are the people who actually perform the work – and here is where core of the challenge exists. How do we ensure that the voice of the worker is integrated into the improvement of our job plans? The job plans that represent our standard way of doing things. Our standard way of doing things that represent our best chance of success.
I want to give you 3 tips that will increase your chances of receiving real and meaningful feedback on your job plans. Planners, this message is for you of course, but Maintenance Managers and Superintendents, I need you to hear this as well. These are the top 3 reasons that I see more often than not (in no particular order).
Reason Number 1: We Think Feedback Is Someone Else's Job
I have a lot of Maintenance Planners tell that they don't receive feedback (ok, almost every single Maintenance Planner tells me that they do not receive feedback). I think the key word here is "receive". If we want to know what's going on, then we need to get out to the job site. There are no substitutes. Of course, we cannot view every job, but we need to set aside time in our daily agenda to get out and view some jobs in progress... Talk with the workers, let them tell you what they are dealing with, see it with your own eyes. Even 1 hour per day is something. Make this a personal goal of yours.
There are 2 key reasons that Maintenance Planners need to see and be seen at the job site:
- You don't know everything, you need to seek out answers.
- Credibility. If you are the faceless office worker who spits out work orders, no one is going to read them.
The bottom line: Seek out the feedback you need.
Reason Number 2: We Try to Use a Worksheet to Capture Feedback
This one goes hand-in-hand with number 1. We find that we are not getting the feedback we need, so we build a worksheet to capture feedback and attach a copy to every work order.
We then get frustrated because no one is filling out our worksheets, so we do the next most logical thing; we create a longer and more detailed worksheet! Do you see the problem here?
In the lives that we have chosen, we are not big communicators in the written form. We are doers. We get out of our chairs and we build things, we fix things, we adjust things. Very few people in the maintenance organization are built to provide written feedback.
We can solve this in two ways:
- Planners get out to the workplace more often (see number 1).
- Find some time for workers to sit down with the Planners and discuss the most important work order from the past week. It doesn't take much - even 15 minutes of face-to-face communication can solve a lot of problems.
Consider my "Have a cup of coffee with the Planner" strategy. Twice per week, we schedule a 30-minute meeting between the Planner and one Maintenance Technician. Only 30 minutes, the duration of one cup of coffee. They discuss the most important work order that the Technician worked on in the past week. The Planner gets to ask probing and follow-on questions. The Technician gets to tell the Planner first-hand where the challenges were. Then, we fix that one work order and we bank the value we have gained from fixing that one. Call it a victory and do it again next week.
Make it a scheduled event, count it as planned work, but invest just a few hours a week in face-to-face communication and you will see a direct impact on your availability. Certainly the time it takes for a cup of coffee is an investment we can afford to make?
Reason Number 3: We Don't Really Take This Aspect of Our Business Seriously
Look, we are all smart enough and have been around long enough to know when to throw out the tired old "continuous improvement" catchphrase when the big boss is around. But do we really live it? Do we look for opportunities to improve on what we already do....even just a little bit? And do we look for these opportunities every single week? When we see them, do we really follow through on them? Do we come back and check to make sure that the necessary changes in behavior have been realized (yes, I said it, changes in behavior, not changes in paperwork... We know that there is a big difference)?
I get it, we are all busy, but all the more reason that we need to take advantage of these small things that add up to a big difference. We don't have the time to hit home runs every day. We need to fix this process, really fix it, so that every member of our team is contributing just a little bit, each and every week, to our future improvement. Only you can answer this question, take a moment and be honest with yourself. Can you do more? Can we make it real?
Continuous improvement is not a punch line, it is how we bring a team together and produce results.
Let's take credit for the small victories. If we find some broken conduit on a motor and fix it, preventing a failure, let's take a moment to enjoy our victory and let's not set out to develop a site-wide conduit inspection program. If we are able to fix the bill of material for a single asset this week, but really fix it and make it accurate, let's sit back and enjoy a job well done. Programs designed to fix "ALL" of our problems in the next 90 days rarely survive or produce any results.
Successful teams win because of the sum of the little efforts carried out by each team member each and every day. Set a target for improvement, make it reasonable, execute that target, and celebrate the success. Avoid the trap of all, everyone, and always.
Stop swinging for the fences. Baseball games are won with consistent delivery of singles and doubles.
Make no mistake about it, the discipline required to improve the performance of a maintenance organization is significant, and quite possibly one of the harder things we do in life. So much unpredictability. We always feel like we can cut a corner today – and catch up tomorrow. Sadly, tomorrow never seems to come.
Make having this discussion on how we can do better a habit. One that we carry out each and every week.
Best of Luck and Mahalo