From mentee to mentor — Why good leaders never stop learning

From mentee to mentor — Why good leaders never stop learning

Jeff Shiver, CMRP, is the Founder and Managing Principal at People and Processes Incorporated. Jeff guides people to achieve success in maintenance and reliability practices using common-sense approaches. He’s also a contributing editor for Plant Services, authoring two columns to date. His current department, From The Plant Floor, features reports on what Jeff is seeing and hearing from a practical, hands-on perspective. He also authored a library of columns called Ask Jeff, where he answered readers’ questions on a variety of topics, including planning and scheduling, reliability centered maintenance, best practices implementation, leadership, and much more. In the introductory episode of our Meet the PS Experts podcast series, Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk spoke with Jeff about the improtance of mentorship and fostering a culture of continuous learning if you want to developing future leaders.

Listen to Jeff Shiver on The Tool Belt Podcast

PS: Every time we meet at events, not only do we have great conversations, but I always take away something that I can learn from and think about until the next time we meet. One of the things that I took away from your presentations is one of my favorite sayings of yours, it’s backlogs should not have birthdays. I know we’re jumping into some of the details, but Jeff has a really accessible, practical, memorable way of phrasing tips and best practices that make you want to do better. So maybe we can start with that. Where did the phrase “backlogs should not have birthdays” come from?

JS: Honestly, I don’t remember. I was working with a client and something came up around the birthdays, and we were able to make the relationship between the two. And it’s so real because, if you think about it, many organizations will only report backlogs that are less than six months old. In some organizations, they hold items in the CMMS as placeholders. It might be some capital project they want to do in the future or other things. But in reality, if it sits in there for more than a year, you’re not going to do it. One of the biggest challenges we have is keeping the database clean and scrubbing the database appropriately so that ultimately we can use that data to make good business decisions. That’s a really key piece for us is how do we make sure we do it in the right way? It truly is a challenge. I go to so many places where they don’t do a god job. I just did an assessment at a major university, and as part of that, we had the very same conversation, and they said, “Well, we’ve got a ton of work orders out there that we just haven’t had time to close. I’ve got them. I know that they are there. I just need to close them. The work has been done.” But the problem is we’re not managing the data from a business perspective. We’re not helping maintenance engineering or reliability engineering improve the processes when we fail to close items and have lots of backlog.  Interestingly enough, we often measure backlog in terms of work orders. And in reality, we need to think about it in terms of workload hours. Is a job two hours or is it 200 hours? What we really want the planner to do is a quick estimate when the work order comes in, is it two hours, 208 hours, or whatever? Then we can come back later and plan it in more detail. That’s a key piece for us, to understand what is truly the backlog.

PS: That’s a good point. A backlog of that size just has the effect on the plant teams of a crashing weight. At some point, people come to work realizing, “Oh, another crisis day. We’re never going to get ahead of this. We’ll just do our best.” And it becomes more of a drudge than a pleasure to do this kind of work.  I want to look at your most recent column for “From the Plant Floor.” You talked about FMEAs and the way that you were trained by a couple of folks to do them. Part of your column focused on how to take an FMEA up from the asset level and look for at the line or at the plant level. I thought that was really a great way to look at it. I want to ask you about some of your mentors in this profession. You mentioned in that column that you worked with both Keith Mobley and Ron Moore, and that they both had an influence on the way you approach this discipline. Could you talk a little bit about those two mentors or others you’ve had and how they’ve influenced how you approach this?

JS: I think one of the struggles that most maintenance managers and other professionals, at the end of the day, have is we don’t build up a network of both formal and informal mentors. I spent the first part of my career working at Mars, so think Snickers, Skittles, Pedigree, Whiskas, Waltham, and things like that. And Mars had a mentoring program at the time. During that time, I was mentoring a number of people. But one day, the light bulb went off, and I said, “You know, I really don’t have anybody that’s mentoring me.” I went over to HR, and I had a conversation with Bill (I’m not going to tell you his last name, but he’s a great guy, he’s actually retired now), I said, “Bill, I don’t have a mentor.” And he looked at me, and he said, “You know, Jeff, most people might need a mentor, but you don’t need a mentor, because you have so many informal mentors.” And it’s the approach I’ve always had. 

For example, I might want to do something, a particular project or something, within the plant. And I would go and present a proposal in a way to individuals. I might go to you and say, “Tom, I’m thinking about this. What do you think?” And I would get that feedback from you. Then I would build that in when I went to see Jane and say, “Jane, what would you do here?” I would get that feedback, and I would build it in and then ultimately, at some point, I would present it to the leadership team, but everybody had already seen it. So at that point, it was pretty much rubber stamping, to say, “Okay, boom, here it is.” One plant manager told me, “You know, you have a bedside manner, like a doctor that goes into the hospital has a bedside manner.” It’s about number one being humble all the time. There’s always an opportunity to learn from everybody. So that’s the mentoring piece. 

When we talk about great individuals like Keith Mobley and Ron Moore, Ramesh Gulati, and lots of others like Doc Palmer and Tom Moriarty and all the other columnists, for example, that are part of Plant Services, it is the same kind of thing. Doc and I have worked together in the past, doing things, and he has his approach. I look at it, sometimes think about it, you know, I’m not necessarily exactly the same as Doc, but we’re very much aligned on how we think. 

So here’s the story on how I came to meet Keith Mobley. At the time, like many other people in the maintenance world, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I knew that I was getting hammered by late-night calls and all the other things. I’d taken over maintenance from an engineering role. I took it personally that the equipment didn’t run well and that we didn’t have the reliability we needed, and that our costs were higher. It was like a saber had pierced my heart in the morning meetings, and I just said, “I have to fix this.” So, I went out and I started looking for help. Again, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. When I brought in a consulting group, we went through an assessment process, we developed the plan of improvement, how we were going to approach things, and within that, there were specific areas. 

For example, I can always remember a caramel cooker, where it would actually cook the caramel for Snickers, and it was a constant problem. Because it was a reliability issue, it was associated with maintenance, and incorrectly so. So, I brought Keith in, and we did an FMEA on the caramel cooker. And I’ll always remember the maintenance technician, who was part of that analysis, coming to me and saying, “Jeff, can we talk about this data?” And I said, “What do you mean? ‘Can we talk about this data?’ ” And he said, “Well, it’s not us. It’s Operations. Operations is not changing over the tank properly, and not doing the CIPs, the clean in place procedure, and not doing all these things. And that’s what’s causing the failure.” And that’s what FEMA pointed out. And I said, “Well, do you have data?” And he said, “Yeah, we got data all day long.” And I said, “Well, let the data speak for itself.” That was my first encounter, really, with Keith, and it was awesome. It’s incredible, that you have those memories, but at the same time, how do you become a continuous learner at the end of the day? I never really worked directly with Ron Moore. When we started People and Processes, Ron and I became somewhat friends, maybe more sort of acquaintances in a lot of ways too. Ron would share his wisdom, and I would always try to pick up on that through his presentations at the University of Tennessee, or at conferences, or during our conversations. And from his book, for example, we talked about the idea of using the line-level FMEA. And I’ve used that successfully with a number of clients, where you actually elevate it up and out of the maintenance round on a specific asset by itself. 

In one particular bottling plant, they had a lot of issues that were not maintenance issues. Sure, maintenance had their own problems, but HR took forever to replace employees that left, and the company didn’t pay well, so there was constant turnover. Then they ended up putting temporaries, and the temporaries wouldn’t get any training on, for example, the logistics side. Because of the limited floor space, what would happen is they wouldn’t have places to put the product. And then the truck was bringing the cans to package the beverage, or the bottles to package the beverage, they would be the ones who would take away the product. And if the trucks were late, or whatever the case may be, you had nowhere to put the product, so you had to stop lines. Or, you ran out of raw materials. So, there’s all these things that came out of, for example, the line-level or the plant-level FMEA, that were not specific to an asset. 

At the same time, they created downtime. And they caused excessive cost and the unavailability of the equipment as well. There were a whole lot of factors that came out of that. Out of it, just like you would do with an FMEA, you generate an action plan, and from that action plan, here’s all the things we need to go fix. HR looks at you, their eyes glaze over and they say, “We’re already working as hard as we can, Jeff.” But how do we shorten the cycle? What do we do differently to make sure that we get in requests, and we can do value stream analysis, for example. There’s part of this whole process to replenish somebody. What can we do to take out days at the end of the day? Or what can we do to train people better as temporaries when they come in, and what is the progression path from a temporary to become an employee? If you’re bringing them in through a temporary agency, and they’re great, then how do you transition them into employees where they become great operators? And then maybe at some point become great maintainers. And on and on, and on.

PS: All the things that you’re citing with these examples, it just reinforces your attitude towards maintenance and reliability that it is not a single-sector issue. Like you said, you may work in the maintenance sector, but to solve some of these problems you’re talking about, you do have to have contact with operations, with HR, with supply chain. The more you ask why, why, why, the more you dig deeper, the more you apply maintenance best practices and principles like RCM and FMEA, the more you get that holistic view of the plant. What I’m also hearing you say too, is that it is a relief to discover sometimes where the heart of the issue is. And it’s not the people that are behind the issue. It’s just the heart of the issue. Your reaction when you discovered the issue with the caramel cooker was not, “Hey, those guys in operations are screwing me up.” It was, “Oh my gosh, we figured out where the problem is. I can sleep now, and I don’t have to feel bad about not being able to maintain the asset. We found out how to maintain it as a team, and let’s go do it now.”

JS: One of the challenges that every organization faces as part of that is, how do you build at the CEO level, at the C-suite level, the VP level, the director level? How do you build in this culture around asset reliability and improving reliability overall? Even in the Mars world, we did all this great stuff. And I’ll always remember a technician from when we first started our journey, and he said, “You know, Jeff, we did this 15 years ago.” And I said, “Yep, guess what, we get to do it again, too.” That’s what we do to people at the end of the day. We constantly give them these cycles, if you will. Some new manager comes in, and it’s his or her approach, and then they leave. Most maintenance managers, I think, stay in the role on average, about two years, and then they move on to somewhere else. Obviously, for me, its the same kind of thing. I moved from a maintenance manager role to an operations manager role. But then I left the business to start up People and Processes. 

When I left the business, they brought a new plant manager in, and the new plant manager says, “Well, we don’t need to spend all this money.” That individual had never spent any time in the plant to truly understand the costs. We had already harvested all the low-hanging fruit. And they basically said, “Well, we can cut the budget by 20%.” And I’m like, wow. It wasn’t the maintenance budget, they cut the whole plant budget. At the end of the day, you still have to produce X number of widgets. So many Snickers bars you need to make, so many Skittles, so many Starbursts. It takes so much production labor to do that. Where’s the one lever, they get to pull? It’s maintenance. So, they basically say we’re not going to maintain things. This is what you pretty much get when you take a very proactive organization, and then you say, “Okay, we’re not going to spend money anymore. We will save our way to prosperity,” which we know never works. What happened is that a new plant manager came in, and they told the business, “Well, I need to spend about $30 million to get this plant back where I can run it again.” It’s one of those famous sayings, the old cliche, “pay me now or pay me later.” At the end of the day, we’ll still have to do the same work. 

But you’re right, it’s so real for it not to be just a maintenance thing. I was listening to a story from one of our team members just the other day, and he was talking about how they had so much waste, and they chased down all the waste. They found that it was really due to people not operating the assets correctly, not following the right operations procedures, and so forth. There was just so much opportunity there, and they were able to harvest a lot of that. We talk about the “hidden plant” all the time. And we find so many companies that don’t believe the numbers initially, but then they realize, “Wow. We don’t have to go invest in new capital assets in a new location, because we’re now maximizing the capacity that we already had. We just weren’t leveraging it in the right way.” 

I’ll share with you one of the biggest challenges. It’s the personal accountability piece. We tend to be conflict averse, and we don’t want to hold people accountable. We talked about mentors, and one of the best mentors I ever had was a boss. He was tough. He didn’t let me slide. He set expectations and held me accountable to achieve those expectations. And I’ll always remember him. We’re friends to this day. He’s long retired, but we’re still friends to this day. He held me accountable, and I learned from that, and that’s something we tend not to do. Managers, especially young managers, tend to look the other way. You don’t realize it, but people are watching you as a manager. Then if you have a toxic apple, as they say, you taint the whole orchard. It just takes that one bad apple. And because they’re watching it and because you don’t do anything, the other apples eventually give up and they just fall back, and you lose the opportunities that you had.

PS: What you’re saying ties back into your column for the for the November / December issue, “How To Overcome Your Workers’ Natural Resistance To Change.” Quick story. I was just down at the ARC Industry Forum event, which attracts as many C-level workers as frontline practitioners, and that column drew some attention from people I was talking with. A lot of the challenges people spoke about at this event were centered around when you focus on things like changing your maintenance practices, digitizing your operations a little bit here and there, embracing sustainability initiatives. Everyone kept saying, “Well, the toughest part is implementing change with the teams.” They didn’t look at it as an impossibility, but they all said, “Yeah, this is an issue.” And when people would see that page in the magazine, Jeff, I had two or three people, say, “Can I have that from you? Can I have that issue?” It’s interesting that you point that out about challenging people, because that’s something which I wish I would have heard more at that event: when it comes to these goals you want to meet, especially your sustainability goals, why not challenge your employees? Best, middling worst — give them a challenge. Show them that you’re there for a good reason. If mistakes are made, you learn from them and keep going. Give them the mission and challenge them.

JS: You bring up a good point. How do you become a learning organization where you can make mistakes? We don’t want to injure people from those kinds of mistakes, but we want to make sure that we have the opportunity to fail and learn from that. And when we talk about change management, I always say that people buy into what they help create. Many times, we don’t allow people that opportunity. We don’t put them on a team. I just had a conversation only about a week ago, around auditing and taking three work orders out of the stack that are completed and walking them down. And they said, “Well, we’re going to have the manager and their supervisors do that.” I said, “Okay, but what about the technician? What about the planner? What about the person from the storeroom?” And they said, “Well, no, we’re going to do it. If something’s wrong, we’re going to have a conversation later with the technician or the planner, or whomever indirectly.” I was like, “But you’re losing a heck of an opportunity.” 

When you’re walking down, you can take those people with you. And this focus shouldn’t be on the individual. The focus should be on the business processes. Did we initiate the work order in the right way? Did we properly scope it to identify the child asset that was necessary? Did we plan the work? Do we get the materials? Were the materials kitted and staged? Did we schedule it properly? Do we have time to do the work? Was it coordinated? When we take the planner, or when we take the technician, when we take the storeroom operator, even the plant manager, we can set expectations in a coaching manner. It’s a mentoring opportunity where we can say, “Hey, that ceiling tile is stained. We should get that replaced.” Maintenance technicians and other people tend to have blinders on. And so, what happens is they go out, and they just look at where they go, and they don’t really look around and say, “I hear that bearing going over here, or I see the seal is leaking on this pipe, or things like that. And that’s where you can train people. 

I actually had another mentor. I used to have a plant manager who was originally a controls engineering manager when I was a controls engineer. Later, he became a plant manager, and I reported to him at that point too at a different site. We would go out together, and he would set those expectations. Later, when I would go out, for example, with planners or other people in coaching through People and Processes, I would walk the plant floor with those individuals. Here’s a great example. I was in a mine here in Central Florida. They had a rock washing station, and there was a beater bar up on the top, and they were looking at a pump and a motor mount, and how they’re going to plan the job and that type thing. At this agitator bar, there was a guard. Interestingly enough, there was a small hole in the guard, and I could see that the belt was broken. It was almost broken, and it was just barely hanging on with the webbing. When they came over to me, I asked, “Do you need this when you start back up? And they said, “Yeah, we’ve got to have that.” And I said “You need to get somebody to fix the belt.” I showed it to him, and he said, “How did you see it?” I said, “I was looking for it.” 

The challenge gets to be, how do you teach people to look for things? How do you teach people to understand, are we following the process? I’ll share this with you too. What I find is that people want to do the right thing. So, what they’re doing is they’re working around the processes typically because something in the process is not right, and so you need to go back and fix the process, hence the audit piece. In that way, it enables them to do the job the way you expect them to do it. It’s another challenge. My good friend Doc and I talk about this all the time. How do you rely on the skills of the craft, but yet still set a standard? 

The organization I was in the last couple of weeks, they experienced the same kind of thing. They said, “We struggle with planning because the technicians don’t want to follow the plan.” Well, that’s because we really didn’t work with those technicians to develop the plan. We didn’t give them an opportunity to buy in. We gave them a gift, and said, “Here’s the plan.” And they say, “I know how to do my job.” But the real challenge is how do we take those individuals and get them all doing it the same way. If Tom does it his way, and Jeff does it his way, and Alexis does it her way, and at the end of the day it fails, which way caused it to fail? We have to have one right way to do it. But I’m not trying to kill the creativity of the crafts. If Tom has a better way, then let’s all get together and agree that that’s the better way, build it into the process, and built into the job plan. We’ve all agreed, and now we all go out and do it the same way. That way, we can guarantee the longevity of the reliability of the assets that we’re trying to nurture and preserve.

PS: We all agree that a job plan is a living document. I’ve heard you and Doc both say that as you find improvements, it can grow. It’s not going to be a static one-and-done document. It’s going to be alive. It’s going to have to be.

JS: I like to say that there’s no such thing as a perfect job plan. There’s always opportunity to improve it. I want to go back and touch on one thing that you mentioned, and that was around the defect eliminations. I’ve seen Joel Levitt ,another great individual, talk about this too. We’ve made a mistake, in a lot of ways over the years, in maintenance, and we finally learned from it. I think most of us have learned from it, but it’s still an opportunity, especially when you think about the number of people that are moving through the different positions, and who was a maintenance manager two years ago is no longer the maintenance manager. But on the defect elimination side, in Winston P. Ledet’s book, “Don’t Just Fix It, Improve It!”, he talked about how it’s not about planning and scheduling more work. It’s about eliminating the need to do that. You see the P-F curve models that now have specify, design, install, and so forth. From an RCM perspective, that’s really not inclusive, it’s not really inclusive of a PF curve. It highlights the point of how do we design for reliability? 

One of the sites that we worked with in the past had geology issues with the ground when they built the plant. They had to take $14 million out of the plant construction budget that was going to be used for stainless steel and more rigid pump bases and those kind of things for the equipment, and go in and fix the geology of the ground. They installed, for example, carbon steel, which quickly rusted away, and other installation methods that made it a maintenance issue. They couldn’t keep the equipment running because they couldn’t keep it aligned. They couldn’t keep the bases stable. And the operators couldn’t operate it well because it was falling apart on them. But again, maintenance was supposed to fix that, right? It comes back to the conversation of rather than focus on more planning and scheduling or more preventative maintenance, how do we make sure that we never get into the state where the equipment’s going to fail? We can’t prevent all failures, obviously, but the focus should be more to the front end, is how do we make sure we operate it right? How do we engineer it properly? How do we make sure we’ve got solid bases?  Ensure that we have done the laser alignment on installation?

If we look at places like universities, it’s basically low-cost provider, at the end of the day. Who can sell me the part in the least expensive way possible? It’s not about best value, but least cost. What happens then is in the storeroom, for example, you have a mismatch of parts, literally. You have so much duplication, but the mounting is just slightly different for this versus that, and yes, you can overcome that with standards, but unfortunately, not everybody has their construction standards that they should really abide by. 

That’s where the focus is. How do we make sure that we’re doing the right stuff on the front end, to think about total lifecycle costs, versus just making it a maintenance problem at the end of the day.

PS: You’ve got an educational series coming up pretty soon, which wraps a lot of these concepts together, and also adds in a strong element of leadership. As you mentioned before, a lot of times the maintenance managers don’t have the mentoring support, once they get in those positions. It’s a four-part series called Maintenance and Reliability for Managers, and it kicks off in March. Could you tell our listeners about that series, where they can find out information about it?

JS: Sure, and thank you for mentioning that, because it’s so important. You know, we hear all the time that we just don’t know where to start from a maintenance manager perspective. In addition, that course, is great for you know, I don’t necessarily call it a prep course for the CMRP, the Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, but it definitely touches on all the parts of that, because the CMRP body of knowledge was actually used along with other things like GFMAM, ISO 55000, some of those standards are built into the methodologies within the course. 

But what I want to say about that course is many people use that course, as an initial path into their journey for reliability. What do I mean by that? Well, we’ve got lots of cases where, I’ll use one in particular, actually presented a couple years ago at the SMRP Annual Conference. What happened is, an individual maintenance manager brought his plant manager and brought his planner to a public class, just like we’re talking about this particular one is, it’s located in Dallas. He brought those people who happened to be in Ohio at the time, and they got excited about it, they learned, here’s the different parts and pieces. 

What makes the class so cool, Tom, is the fact that you go for a week for three days, and then you disappear for basically six weeks, and then you come back for the class, and ideally, you can have a project. So once again, is you get the benefit of actually doing some projects, so the business is getting a return in addition to the return coming from the training itself. Then they get to present so they present every time they come back, hey, this is where I’m at with that, with this particular project, I’m working on whatever it is, and then they get feedback, both from the instructor and from their peers that are in the class: “We tried that, and here’s where we struggle, so think about it this way.” And so that becomes very, very powerful. And then ideally you should be in a great state to take the CMRP, when you finish the four parts. 

Many organizations use it, and it happens, that particular organization where that maintenance manager came, what they did is they then brought it back to their plant. And they opened it up, and they did it within their plant and then opened it up for the regional plants around that and started bringing them into that. As that organization continued, executives got excited about it because they saw the change going on within the region. So now they put in a reliability management structure, they dedicated resources to improve the reliability, because they were getting such great returns on all the activities that were happening. And then they spread it out across the continental U.S., and some of Canada. And now every plant manager is required to attend that course. It is foundational and we do that course every year for them. They’ve been doing it every year now for the last probably five years, if I remember correctly, so it’s been awesome. We used to do it in Houston sometimes, in certain organizations they would put two or three people in every time we offered it publicly. It was a way that they could change the culture, they were slowly but surely changing the culture, because everybody got the same message at the end of the day.

PS: Very cool, and that kicks off pretty soon, right?

JS: It is coming up March 7-9, and it’s incredibly powerful. And even if you couldn’t make the first session, you can still sign up for the course and come back and make up the first session on the next round of courses as that’s one of the cool things about it is you have that flexibility too. You can find it at:

PS: I do have one more question for you Jeff, and it’s going to lean a little bit more towards the personal side. I have seen a number of your presentations at conferences, at SMRP, Reliable Plant, MARCON. And I’ve seen you stop the room, when you start talking about why we do what we do. And in to paraphrase what you’ve said, I hope I capture it closely enough, you say “we’re not in the asset health business, we’re in the family health business.” And you could hear just a pin drop when people digest that, because you’re speaking to people who believe already that, yes, this is a job, it’s a profession we like doing where a lot of us are engineering oriented, or engineers professionally. But the reason why we do this thing, it’s  so that people can live their lives and have good family lives too, they go home safe after a day’s work, you have to wake up fewer times at 2 am to rescue the asset, hopefully, if you get reliability going. So that always struck me as really powerful, Jeff, and it’s a dimension of empathy that comes out into columns you write for us too, where you never lose sight of that mission, that we’re here for people first.

JS: It’s incredibly important that people succeed, and that’s really a personal mission for me. Our tagline within People and Processes is “make plant reliability your success.” How do you balance the work that you do? And how do you make sure you’re doing it the best way you can? So that’s one of our goals is how do we educate people? How do we coach, how we mentor them to become truly successful in what they do? 

There’s so many great, there’s so many great resources, and so many great leaders. Bob Chapman is one, and you can obviously get to all the TED talks. I’ll share this with you very quickly: I’m so sad when I see that statistics show that maintenance managers only read about one book a year. I read many books a year because I’m always trying to stay up on the thoughts and the processes and the technologies. But you’re right, at the end of the day, a reliable plant is a safer plant. There’s just so many stories, and if you if you have access to OSHA, for example, and just all the different events that happen, and you look at so many tragedies or injuries that are just so needless, at the end of the day, because somebody didn’t do something right, or some process wasn’t followed, or the company didn’t even have processes around that. 

I’m reminded of a company that is based in Atlanta, and it happens that they had a plant in India, and the VP for safety had to go over to India, because they were just killing too many people. And the plant manager really struggled to understand, he says, “you want me to spend all this money on guarding and machine safety and that type of thing. You know, I can just go out here and get another person. We have so many people in India that I can just go get another person.” And you know that the VP of safety was like, “we cannot kill people. That’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable for us to maim people, to harm people.” 

When we think about the human aspects of it, at the end of the day, we hope we’re doing all the right things. In reality, when you think about it, the real challenge is that you can pass away today and truthfully, in six months, they’re able to have somebody right back in the same shoes as you walk the same path. So how do you do the right things for you? And as an organization, how do we do the right things for those individuals? We see so many times where somebody gets hurt, or they get potentially killed, simply because we didn’t follow the right maintenance practices, or we didn’t make sure the equipment was reliable or we didn’t have safety. One of the things that I think is really important too, from an RCM perspective, is that when we talk about protective devices that are set up to protect individuals, protect the plant, protect whatever, many of them are in a failed state. Obviously, you go into chemical plants, they’re much more rigorous about their approach. But in other plants, they might not even know about all their protective devices. And then they don’t even have a maintenance program for them, so they don’t know if they’re in the failed state. Even when we go back to just basic PMs, we know that 40 to 60% of the PMs don’t add any value, they don’t address the likely failure modes, and that’s a common issue. If I look at where I was at with the university, they have a generic program. What does that mean? Well, only for very critical assets do they have unique PMs, so they have the same PM for a fan, a different PM for pumps. It doesn’t matter what the operating context is for the pump, it’s just the same PM, you know, if we have 1,100 or 11,000 pumps, it doesn’t matter, the PM is still the same. And the problem is, we don’t take into consideration the operating context: does it run all the time or does it never run? Then we address that because the failure modes are different based on that. 

So it’s the same thing for protective devices: how do we make sure we’re doing the right maintenance at the right time? And we’re checking to see if it’s actually operational, because it’s hidden, it’s not normal for us to know that it’s in a failed state. So I’ll add this too, and most organizations struggle with this, but we manage maintenance by managing failure modes, and we truly have to understand the failure modes. What I encourage people to do is to take an introductory RCM class — you might never do RCM in your life, and that’s fine — but what RCM does is it gives you a framework. We take RCM2 and the seven questions, it gives you a framework from which to think about PM optimization, and at least understand the function, the functional failure, and then a failure mode. And then out of that, you can go through a decision tree, how to make a decision on what strategy to use, and that’s groundbreaking. Unfortunately, Tom, that came out in 1978, and RCM2 in 1984. It’s not new, it’s nothing new about it. But yet in many organizations it might as well have come out yesterday, because nobody knows about it. You don’t know what you don’t know.

PS: In a given organization, over 20 years, you’ve got a whole new generation in place, and it may be new to the organization, people may have changed enough, so I thank you for those references. For those listening who do want a framework, yes, start with this, it’s a familiar discipline, and if you talk to anyone who who is experienced with it, they’ll share the resources. Thank you for spending so much time with us today, Jeff. And hopefully, everyone listening got a taste of the kinds of topics Jeff writes about for Plant Services in both “From The Plant Floor” and the library of “Ask Jeff” columns. You can find all of his work for Plant Services under the heading From The Plant Floor, or just search for his name. Just as importantly, go to, that’s Jeff’s company and you can find more information about what he offers there, and then make sure you go to Maintenance and Reliability Management course link: Last question Jeff, will you be at MARCON?

JS: I will, I’m actually looking forward to it. I hope to see you there again. I’m doing a workshop around change management, and what I’m more excited about actually, I love to get an opportunity to do education and help people again succeed, but we’ve got a couple people from one of our client groups from Salt Lake that are coming over and they’re going to accept their certification for their maintenance planning and scheduling certification through the University of Tennessee. So they’ve achieved that status, and they’re going to do a presentation with me after they receive their certificate, and they’re going to talk about all the great things they did to get there, you know, what they’ve done within their site, and all the changes they’ve made. And so I’m really looking forward to seeing those guys share their story.

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