Sustainable Reduction of Maintenance Backlog in 7 weeks

At a global chemical manufacturer in the United States, a site producing Olefins and Polypropylene had reduced both its internal and external maintenance workforces. As only a small group of client craftsmen - supplemented by a larger resident contractor - remained responsible for site maintenance, both the maintenance backlog and unscheduled overtime levels had started to grow.

A client Six Sigma Black Belt had performed an assessment and identified an opportunity to reduce unscheduled overtime by $2m.

Approach and Objectives
T.A. Cook was brought in to conduct a two-week analysis to validate the opportunity and design a ten-week improvement plan to help the client begin the process of implementation. The two- week analysis helped to better clarify the client’s opportunity.

Instead of focusing on overtime reduction, which would only have treated the symptom, T.A. Cook was able to focus the client on:

•    cleaning up the existing backlog;
•    improving maintenance planning and scheduling; and
•    designing and implementing a Management Control and Reporting System (MCRS).

Supplementing Six Sigma: Focusing on Behaviors
While Six Sigma is an excellent data-based approach to quantifying, measuring and tracking opportunities, the underlying behavioral root causes of problems were not being addressed.

T.A. Cook conducted interviews with key personnel - including the Maintenance Coordinators - revealing several key issues.  Critically, the Maintenance Coordinators had been given additional tasks which were preventing them from properly reviewing and managing the backlog in their areas.

An inventory of Maintenance Coordinators´ duties was conducted and many of their “additional tasks” were reassigned. This allowed them to carry out a focused backlog cleanup, eliminating redundant, obsolete and unnecessary work orders. The site backlog across four areas was reduced by 35%.

Initially, Maintenance Planning and Scheduling was thought to be understaffed due to the ever-increasing backlog. T.A. Cook led a joint process mapping exercise which identified several root cause issues: overlapping roles & responsibilities; a lack of consistent planning processes; and a “weekly schedule” which was being reworked daily.  Additionally, metrics for monitoring planner productivity were non-existent.

T.A. Cook worked with the Maintenance Manager to establish and communicate clear work expectations for Planners, Schedulers and Maintenance Coordinators, eliminating confusion over roles & responsibilities and the second guessing of the maintenance schedule. Furthermore, it put mechanisms in place to monitor planner productivity. A formal process was jointly designed to build a weekly schedule, update it daily and measure both schedule compliance and schedule breaks. Schedule compliance increased from 32% to 70%, while the proportion of unscheduled hours decreased from 45% to 30%. T.A. Cook ensured the work was planned, scheduled and executed correctly.  

With a strong Six Sigma culture, data and information was readily available across the site. However, no formal process - either for the reviewing of information at appropriate management levels - or for the taking of prompt decisions had been put in place. T.A. Cook worked with the Site Leadership Team to establish and agree the critical few Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) both at the organizational and functional levels (Operations, Maintenance, Procurement and so on). Terms of Reference (TOR) were established for each MCRS review meeting, defining: timing (whether daily, weekly or monthly); participants; meeting inputs and outputs; and a set agenda. Action Item logs were also introduced to capture and manage agreed activities to a timely completion.
By scheduling all work and conducting the backlog clean-up, one of the benefits was a significant decrease in overdue PMs.

T.A. Cook used one-to-one coaching in follow-up sessions to ensure that everyone involved in the MCRS Reporting Process knew how to behave in order to drive optimum performance. As a result, unscheduled overtime was reduced by $2 million within ten weeks.

For many companies, Six Sigma is a powerful tool for identifying, quantifying, measuring and tracking improvement opportunities. T.A. Cook works closely with its clients to supplement the tools Six Sigma utilizes and helps focus them on the “behavioral” aspects of making and sustaining performance improvements. Unless people in an organization have both a clear understanding of what is expected of them and receive immediate, constructive performance feedback, the achievement of business objectives is at best situational and in the majority of cases, not sustainable.