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In my newsletter column of Jan. 10, 2022, (see link below), I wrote that as a maintenance calendar winds down, our thoughts often turn to events of the year past. At that point, it is not unusual to question the effectiveness of our current approach to maintenance. Do we operate in a partial or complete vacuum, or do we stay in continual communication with our sponsor(s), clients, and service providers? Do we have the agility and ability to adapt and synchronize/re-synchronize our activities to a constantly changing manufacturing/workplace environment?  

Click Here To Read The Referenced Newsletter Column
“New Year, New World, New Best Practice”

Today’s plants and facilities are truly global businesses in that they are typically buying from vendors/selling to customers around the world. But that’s not as easy as it once was. Over the past few years, the pandemic, natural disasters, extreme weather, shortages of goods and material, shipping interruptions, workforce disruptions, and more have had a profound effect on a maintenance organization’s ability to function in the way it did 5 or 10 years ago. It’s not your imagination.

If you’ve thought about purchasing a new or used vehicle lately, a quick glance at almost-empty dealer lots supports the narrative perfectly. With the shift in many office workers now working from home on a part- or full-time basis, office-building space requirements have shrunk and aren’t likely to rebound to previous levels anytime soon. This means building may need to be repurposed, managed, and maintained far differently than in the past.

Almost all businesses (and maintenance departments, too) have been forced to adapt to a new reality that calls for continual updates to their operating models. Some businesses have flourished. Others have suffered significantly or even closed their doors forever. Most experts agree on one thing:  This new reality is likely the new “status quo” that will require a highly agile (adaptive) approach to business management moving forward. Similarly, when a business model is revised, any associated maintenance/asset management models must follow suit if they are to synchronize and be effective.

Some may recognize the term “agile” as one used in project management and related software. Agile simply means to move/respond quickly and easily. When it pertains to asset management, agile means to be responsive to change, and capable of delivering what clients need, when they need it.

More important, an agile approach requires a high level of communication and interaction with sponsors, clients, service providers, and others to meet the rapidly changing needs of the marketplace. That includes, by de facto, the change in use and maintenance requirements of maintainable assets and their associated parts inventories.

Developing an agile (or adaptive) maintenance approach calls for a multi-step approach to change. As discussed in my previously referenced newsletter column, successful change requires the determination of three elements before it can take place. These elements include a current-state assessment (before); a future-state change-model assessment (after); and a gap-analysis bridge that roadmaps how we navigate from current to future state.

As individuals, it is often difficult to take a step back and evaluate our methods and understanding in an objective manner. A 16th-century proverb by John Heywood sums that up with the modernized phrase, “We often cannot see the forest for the trees.” Therefore, a change-management journey toward an agile state is often best accomplished with assistance from a non-partisan, third-party such as an asset- management change-management consultant.

Step 1: Current State Assessment requires us to take the following actions.

    • Hold a mirror up to ourselves to take stock, understand, and document who we believe we are
      as an organization within the organization.
    • Perform a peer review to understand how we are perceived and valued within the organization
      by our sponsor(s), clients and stakeholders.
    • Conduct “Input /Output” modelling to determine who is currently responsible for what actions in
      the maintenance-management process loop.
    • Document and validate all our current inter- and intra-asset-management processes, procedures,
      tools, and performance measures for effectiveness and value.

(Step 1 is achieved through an interview process involving relevant staff and client/stakeholders that’s followed by a document-review process.)

Step 2: Future State Assessment documents who we want to become, how we want to manage, and how we intend to meet changing business deliverables. In the past, future-state assessments relied heavily on availability of a company’s 1-year, 5-year,  and 10-year corporate and capital business plans to stake out asset-management needs. In a flexible production environment, space and machinery can be rearranged, retooled and/or repurposed into a high throughput/short-run manufacturing environment in a matter of weeks or months. Similarly, lines may be slowed down or mothballed for months at a time until they can be restarted or retooled for a new product.

In the event of material shortages and finished-product backups due to shipping difficulties, manufacturing lines may have to be temporarily shut down, once again affecting the maintenance schedule. Extreme weather events can affect a plant in many ways. That means a contingency asset-maintenance plan must be in place to mitigate the effects of those events and bring a plant back to its operating potential as soon as possible.

Such scenarios can play havoc with a standard calendar-based preventive-maintenance (PM) program that might keep printing out PMs that are no longer in sync with asset-usage requirements. This, in turn, would seriously affect a site’s PM-workload and demand-work scheduling processes. The solution is an agile approach to planning and scheduling that’s devised to keep up with and manage fast changing asset requirements.

In the future-state assessment, the maintenance organization must workshop the above scenarios with the production, engineering, capital, purchasing, sales, and management groups to map out “what if?” situations that may occur. By doing so, an agile strategic asset management approach can be designed and put in place.

Step 3: The Gap Analysis is the actual change-management program or project plan that’s designed to take a maintenance organization from the “before state” to the after state” within a defined timeline. Current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) defined in the current-state analysis are assessed against the requirements set out in the future-state analysis to determine the gaps that must be bridged, and within what timeline.

Taking an agile approach to asset management will primarily require a site’s planning and scheduling group to develop a new set of processes to quickly update and synchronize the approach to the businesses needs. They can be designed like a SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die) manufacturing process used to drastically reduce tooling changeover times in a multi-product production or assembly line. This type of “changeover” or “adaptive” process is used when general maintenance processes must be updated to meet changing business needs and assure success in a new business environment.

Given the “new normal” with which plants and facilities everywhere are dealing, a well-planned “agile” approach is destined to become a “new maintenance best practice.” Are you and your organization willing to make that change? And if you are, how soon?TRR

Ken Bannister has 40+ years of experience in the RAM industry. For the past 30, he’s been a Managing Partner and Principal Asset Management Consultant with Engtech industries Inc., where he has specialized in helping clients implement best-practice asset-management programs worldwide. A founding member and past director of the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada, he is the author of several books, including three on lubrication, one on predictive maintenance, and one on energy reduction strategies, and is currently writing one on planning and scheduling. Contact him directly at 519-469-9173 or

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, asset management, professional development, workforce issues