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How to Move from Firefighter Mode to More Continuous Maintenance Improvement

Grace Flack
  • May 30, 2018
  • 3 minute read

Learn some tips for moving your maintenance operations from a firefighter mode to one of continuous improvement for a better future for everyone.

When processes stay stagnant over time, there is a big chance that companies aren’t seizing all available opportunities. Continuous improvement is a worthwhile goal, especially when it comes to key functions like maintenance and reliability. The American Society for Quality defines continuous improvement as consisting of two different elements – incremental improvements and major breakthroughs. Of course, companies without the right technology in place may struggle to achieve either of these results when it comes to their maintenance processes, or any other vital internal operations.

When departments are pressed for time, straining to manage their backlogs or keep up with current demands, it’s hard to stay flexible and iterate. A maintenance team busy fighting fires and struggling to keep up with overdue work orders can’t spare a moment to orchestrate breakthroughs or incremental gains at effectual paces. 

The use of computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions can be impactful in this area, turning departments into well-oiled machines better suited to keep up with maintenance demands and grow over time.


Breaking down continuous improvement

The ASQ points out that many of the popular management frameworks embraced by companies today, such as Six Sigma, Lean and Total Quality Management, promote continuous improvement. Organizations hewing to this philosophy acknowledge that they should endeavor to become better at handling internal processes as a normal part of business.

One of the major tools the ASQ indicated as a continuous improvement framework is the plan-do-check-act cycle. This process, also called the Deming cycle, Shewhart cycle and the plan-do-study-act cycle, is a way to introduce changes and improvements into the everyday fabric of business.

Companies that use this cycle for process improvement think of their progress in terms of opportunities. They plan a shift intended to have a positive effect, test its effectiveness on a small scale, review the results, and either implement the change widely or go back to the drawing board. It’s simple and applies to just about every kind of business process.

Maintenance professionals hoping to become better can take this mantra to heart as they complete their day-to-day tasks, but only if they can first break the firefighter mentality that is so common among maintenance and operations teams today.


How to involve modern CMMS

David Berger, author of the Maintenance & Engineering article, “Using CMMS to Facilitate Continuous Improvement,” outlines some of the critical success factors of a continuous improvement plan. These factors include support from the top, direct involvement of both workers and managers, and an integrated incentive plan to help drive improvement. He notes that there are three major ways in which a CMMS can highlight areas eligible for gains:

  1. Reducing cycle time related to the completion of a process, such as the faster execution of a PM work order due to just-in-time inventory availability.
  2. Zeroing in on quality issues. A CMMS can help isolate missed or partially completed PM steps by a few select workers. This may indicate a need for better defined PM tasks or more detailed training – or both.
  3. Factoring in costs. Whether you’re aiming at parts inventory reductions, increased productivity gains and less overtime, greater uptime – or other cost savers – an advanced CMMS can help you identify these goals, track their KPIs, and report on these improvements over time.
Armed with a continuous improvement plan and this CMMS or EAM know-how, maintenance teams can be better equipped to not only address corrective issues as they crop up, but move forward in making improvements to day-to-day processes simultaneously.

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