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I’ve shared this story elsewhere over the years, in print and in presentations. That doesn’t matter. The lessons learned from it are worth repeating. As I have often mentioned, motorsports racing, and pit-crew methods can provide invaluable insights for plant shutdown, turnaround and outage (STO) maintenance. At the track, people, machines, plans, schedules, parts, supplies, and more must come together in very short periods of time to successfully accomplish specific maintenance and repair tasks during pit stops. While a race team’s pit crew is considerably smaller than the STO teams in today’s plants, many of the same principles and methods apply. Here’s what I was asked to observe, from a pit-crew perspective, during a 24-hr. paper mill STO and then offer suggestions for improvements.

I arrived at the mill two days before the shutdown to review the plan and schedule and inspect the targeted equipment and facilities. The overall STO planning team, which included team leaders from many different sub-teams (each with specific work packages to accomplish), had been working off and on for six weeks on a master plan for the STO event.

During the process, some of the planning sessions proceeded with substitute team representatives or absences. Nevertheless, any known gaps were ultimately resolved in the final planning session.

The teams’ plans and schedules all rolled into the master STO plan and schedule that was posted on the walls of the “war room.” All issues associated with cross-team sequencing, overlapping activities and access to special equipment were worked out in the planning sessions.

Armed with the final STO plan and schedule, the work package planners had been issuing work orders, ordering parts, materials and supplies, and lining up contractors. A marshalling area had been set up for support equipment. Materials and parts were assembled into “kits” along with the associated work orders and necessary documentation.

Work packages, plans, and schedules were distributed to various project teams for their preparation. Meanwhile, the work-package team leaders focused on their respective parts of the overall STO schedule, communicated to their team members, and made sure their parts, supplies, and special tools were staged and ready.

On the appointed day, the mill’s shutdown began at 6 a.m. Nearly 200 people grouped in smaller task teams descended on the plant. Things appeared to go smoothly. Leaders gathered their team members in front of their posted plans and schedules. Work packages were assigned as planned. Last-minute questions were clarified.

Unfortunately, problems began surfacing about two hours into the shutdown. The operations team had turned the power off and locked out a machine, even though a maintenance team needed the machine powered up to move a major component into position. A heated debate ensued. The work of two teams came to a halt.

Schedules were consulted, and the overall STO project leader was invited to referee the dispute: Work was interrupted for one team, while the other team performed its powered-up tasks. The project schedule that the operations team had developed for itself conflicted with the maintenance schedule.

It was later discovered that the project leader from the operations team had not attended most of the STO planning sessions. “After all,” he explained, “it was a ‘maintenance’ event. We thought we could accomplish some of our own tasks during the shutdown.” The operations team was not pleased that its work plan had been compromised.


As this 24-hr. shutdown neared the 20-hr. mark, some of the smaller project teams began wrapping up their work. Several team members shifted to other teams to assist, as planned. The work packages of other project teams were in the final stages and on schedule. No surprises.

At hour 22, however, a major problem emerged: The electrical-contractor’s work package was running well behind schedule, as the contractor completed a major tie-in project that had started prior to the shutdown.

The electrical-project engineer advised the overall STO leader that the contractor work would take another four to six hours to complete. Several short delays occurred while the contractor waited for other teams to provide equipment access and support. As it was later determined, while the electrical-work-package timeline appeared in the overall STO master plan and schedule, the contractor had not been involved in the detailed STO planning sessions.

Although the STO project cited here initially had all the appearances of a well-oiled machine, there were some disconnects in communications and leadership focusing on common goals. Whether in motorsports racing or plant STO projects, these are some of the most common problems.

Remember: A plan only works when leadership at all levels is aligned and communicating from a common perspective focused on common goals. In the case of this paper-mill STO, the common perspective was the integrated master plan and schedule that embodied the overall goals of the event. Unfortunately, leaders on the operations and contractor teams were not fully integrated with the goals of the master plan and schedule.

Motorsports race teams seem to have a more holistic view when it comes to goals. For a racecar to be successful, every person and every group—everyone—who touches the vehicle or makes decisions affecting it must consider how his/her work and decisions affect the work of others.

Every race fan perceives the race as ending with a checkered flag. The winner crosses the finish line first. However, the race team’s perspective “If we can’t finish, we can’t win” permeates the organization. To accomplish this, a racecar must arrive at the track ready to race AND ready for efficient and effective pit stops. Think of this as a “race to the green flag.”

The design-engineering of the racecar and its components must be aligned with the goals and expectations of the race team’s business goals. In addition to being designed for performance and reliability, the racecar must be designed to facilitate routine pit stops in record-setting times. Engineering teams, as well as build teams, shop teams and the pit-crew members must all be aligned toward common goals that will ensure a high-performing car, and high-performing pit stops.

Pit stops, for the most part, are planned maintenance downtime. Any work that can be done in the pit stall on pit road has been planned. Every team member, including crew chief and pit-crew support, have trained, practiced, and drilled: They know what to do and how to approach the work. All needed parts, tools, and supplies must be at hand.

Despite their focus on major pieces of equipment, pit stops and STOs are more about teamwork and leadership than machines. Efficient and effective pit stops and STOs begin with designing and modifying the equipment to make it maintainable. Thorough planning and scheduling become the master plan for winning the race.TRR

Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the people-side of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, planned maintenance events, shutdown, turnarounds, outages, STOs, teamwork, leadership