Uptime: Put The People-Factor Back Into Maintenance

Bob WilliamsonMy contention that we can "Beat China" when it comes to manufacturing sets the stage for this month's column. In my December 2009 column, I listed the seven "strengths" of American industry that we need to exploit now. Let's review:
  • Advanced manufacturing technology—but it must be reliable, first time, every time.
  • Market proximity—but we must deliver on time.
  • Workmanship—but we must attract and retain a skilled, competent workforce.
  • Productivity—but we have to do our very best, the first time, every time.
  • Widespread electric power and utilities—but they, too, must be reliable.
  • Responsiveness—but we must listen to our customers and be agile enough to respond to market changes quickly.
  • Capitalism—but we must drive waste, fraud and abuse from the system at all levels.

Note these words: "reliable"..."agile"..."competent"..."our very best"..."on time." Regrettably, these admirable qualities do not come about automatically. The simple, yet powerful, motto that I suggested—"Do it right the first time"—is truly a competitive advantage. But printing this rallying cry on a poster, sending it out in e-mails to all employees or wearing "DIRTFT" buttons will not make it happen. The concept must become woven into the fabric of the work culture. This "work culture" can be simply defined as the "collective behaviors of people on the job."

All of this begs the question: How do we change or align the "work culture" to become more reliable, more agile, more customer-responsive? What we're talking about here is the "soft side" of competitiveness. From the top down, senior executives, management and front-line leadership have to drive changes in the work culture in order to address competitive pressures head on. Then, the entire workforce must be engaged to make things happen.

In our profession—the profession of maintenance and reliability—we are real good at focusing on what it takes to maintain EQUIPMENT. We are also real good at developing WORK PROCESSES that define the procedures and methods for getting maintenance and reliability work accomplished properly. The bottom line is that PEOPLE must be engaged to make equipment reliable using these work processes! Sometimes we are not so good at that. Thus, we must put the people-factor back into maintenance to make our businesses competitive and financially successful.

How others have done it
Here are a couple of examples of the PEOPLE-side of improving competitiveness from the early days of successful American companies.

McCormick and Company...
Developing a prescription for struggling times: Let's go back to the 1930s and look into what grew into the world's largest spice company. In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Charles P. McCormick instituted a new business philosophy. His guiding belief was that a company, whatever its products or services, was nothing without its workforce, and an empowered workforce made for an empowered, efficient and successful company. This original 1932 corporate philosophy and system of participative management was formally published as Multiple Management in 1938. McCormick's main theme was "business is people."

Interestingly, McCormick led the successful culture change of a struggling company he had inherited (upon the sudden death of his uncle) in 1932, after the stock market crash and at the height of the Depression. Within a year of taking up the head position, cutting weekly work hours from 56 to 45, increasing wages 10% and establishing his "Multiple Management" philosophy, he saw the company return to profitability.

(FYI: In 1949, an updated and expanded version of the Multiple Management book was published under the title The Power of the People. It's a great read!)

Ford Motor Company...
Setting a new industry standard: Henry Ford built his first car in 1896. In 1903, he founded the Ford Motor Company, based on his vision to revolutionize the automobile manufacturing industry. In 1924, Ford produced its 10-millionth car. Then in 1926, in his book Today and Tomorrow (reprinted by Productivity Press, 1988), Ford detailed what most experts today describe as the foundations of the Toyota Production System (more than 50 years ahead of Toyota's breakthrough).

In his 1926 writings, Ford described his equipment reliability philosophy: "Machines do not often break down because there is continuous cleaning and repair work on every bit of machinery on the place...It is the fault of management if a machine or a series of machines leaves anything to be done by hand." He continued with his philosophy on abolishing central tool rooms: "A man (men) cannot be paid high wages for standing around waiting for tools...New tools are brought to (him) them." (Amazingly progressive for 1926!)

Henry Ford led a radical work culture change in the motor vehicle manufacturing business with something called the "Ford Principles of Management." They are:

  1. Do the job in the most direct fashion, without bothering with red tape or any of the ordinary divisions of authority.
  2. Pay every man well...and see that he is employed all the time through 48 hours a week and no longer.
  3. Put all machinery in the best possible condition, keep it that way and insist upon absolute cleanliness everywhere in order that a man may learn to respect his tools, his surroundings and himself.

As president of the company, Ford set clear expectations for how work was to get done, people were to be treated and equipment was to be maintained. And it worked extremely well.
Decline of the British auto industry

Unfortunately, the British auto manufacturing industry was unable (or unwilling) to adopt Ford's proven manufacturing methods. For example, in 1913, on the eve of World War I, Ford's American plant produced over 200,000 vehicles, compared to 5000 that year at Peugeot (France's largest automaker), and 3000 at Wolseley Motor Company (Britain's largest). By 1924, Ford was producing his Model T in England—advertising it as "92% British built."

A great debate subsequently ensued in England over "Fordism and the British system of mass production." The less-productive, higher-cost British system of piecework and mass production prevailed. Combining this type of system with powerful trade-union stewards, management apathy, government labor protection, government wage controls and the 1975 government takeover finally led to the demise of the British motor vehicle industry. Productivity (and quality) suffered. In 1976, England produced 5.5 equivalent motor vehicles per employee; Germany produced 7.9. U.S. autoworkers, however, produced 26.1 vehicles per employee—a rate nearly five times that of their British counterparts! This classic example of failure to address competitive opportunities (or challenges) through WORK CULTURE CHANGE is documented in Roy Church's book, The Rise and Decline of the British Motor Industry (Cambridge University Press, 1994). It's another timely read.

Dawn of the quality movement
Six decades ago, (c. 1950), an American, Edwards Deming, introduced the "Quality Movement" to post-war Japanese industries. Their success later led (in the 1980s) to U.S. business leaders recognizing the power of engaging (and "empowering") all employees to build quality into every step they perform. Total Quality Control evolved into Total Quality Management and small group problem-solving activities. Accordingly, while Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) departments specify and communicate quality standards, it was now up to people, their equipment and tools to build quality products every step of the way. The prior decades-old approach of turning out quantities of products and inspecting for defects at the end of the process or at key points along the way had led to high scrap and rework rates that increased the cost per unit produced.

International quality standards surfaced in the 1990s. ISO 9000 quality standards, and QS 9000 for the U.S. "Big Three" auto industry suppliers, were developed for the purposes of standardizing, documenting and assuring use of quality-first methods. Yet, despite documented procedures and methods, it was still up to people, their equipment and tools to build quality into every step. This dependence on people to build quality in, as opposed to inspecting defects out, relied on a significant WORK CULTURE CHANGE. The business case for improving quality was so compelling that senior executives set new expectations for defect-free production. A radical paradigm shift in the WORK PROCESSES represented a new requirement in the competitive marketplace. The QA/QC department alone could not have accomplished that culture change.

Culture change is about people
No matter how well our processes, equipment and facilities are designed, built and installed, they must be properly operated and maintained throughout their life cycle for business success. The culture of maintenance and reliability is MUCH MORE than the maintenance department can handle by itself. As I've said before, Reliability Culture must be led from the top with new expectations and accountabilities. People at all levels in the business MUST be engaged and empowered to sustain equipment performance and improve equipment reliability.

There are countless historical examples of creating high-performing and productive work cultures. Consider (as I have, since the late 1980s) the original principles of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) as documented and taught by its founder Seiichi Nakajima. Here you will discover elements of and methods for creating a work culture that leads to the highest levels of equipment performance and reliability. Sadly, TPM has been grossly misinterpreted and poorly implemented by many in America as a result of its "not invented here" factor. Could this ignorance of and resistance to implementing proven people-side methodologies and approaches in maintenance and reliability be taking us down the same dark road as the British auto industries? We can't afford to gamble. Let's put the people-factor back into maintenance in 2010. MT

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