John Crossan | Manufacturing Ownership Blog
Counterintuitive Maintenance PDF Print E-mail

Like many other admitted golf addicts, I ‘ve struggled endlessly over the years, through frustration, embarrassment, weeping, and of course, the painful gnashing of teeth, trying to somehow learn how to play the stupid game, and all of that just to get to my current level of pretty questionable competence.
Probably the biggest part of the struggle though, apart from absence of hand-eye coordination, and overall athletic nothingness, is that so much of golf is counterintuitive.
“Hit down on the ball to make it go up”, as an example. How obvious is that? And then even if you do know it, can you actually make yourself do it?

Something being counterintuitive means that it’s backwards to what you think it would be. It’s the opposite of what the seemingly obvious common sense approach would tell us to do. It’s just not “natural”. (There is no “natural “golf, my wife has told me for years there’s no natural reason for it).
So counterintuitive ideas normally don’t just occur to most people, even the really smart ones.  That means you probably won’t ever figure it out on your own. You’ll need to learn it from somewhere or someone, who knows what they’re doing. (And that’s usually not the guys you play with, who typically rhyme off all the usual, non-counterintuitive, advice?. “Keep your head down”, “Keep your eye on the ball”, etc.).
And you will absolutely have to force yourself to do it because most of the fibers of your being will be screaming that it’s wrong, wrong, wrong.
And you probably still won’t believe it, until you yourself, personally, actually, see it work for you.

Advice to anyone starting out in golf would be to get lessons from a really good teacher and also do what he tells you. Don’t even try to learn it on your own. This is evident when enviously watching the current crop of well coached, high school kids with their smooth, trained, consistent swings and comparing them with all the older, more “experienced”, golf veterans on the driving range hacking and smashing and slashing at the ball with this year’s $400 hot club. (while yelling at themselves to keep their &*^$*^%# heads down).

Obsessing about this (no kidding) my belief developed  that the biggest reason proactive maintenance processes don’t seem to occur naturally in our world, and when they do occur, have trouble being sustained, is that It’s almost all counterintuitive.
Here's a few examples. There are many more:

Replacing parts before they actually break or even exhibit obvious problems.

To many that’s just, flat out, wasting money. If it’s still, even sort of, functional, why on earth wouldn’t you get every minute of life you can out of it.
It’s only when someone explains:
•    How much downtime it will cause when it does fail.
•    How long the inefficient emergency repair process will take, even if we actually do have the part.
•    What collateral damage that part failure will cause to other parts of the machine.
•    What potential quality issues there could be to product made on the machine when that part was worn.
•    The increased potential, safety issues for operators who have to interact more with the equipment to compensate for its poorer performance (and the time they spend paying increased attention to it, vs doing other more useful things).
Then light bulbs might begin to glow dimly.
I’ve had pretty easy discussions on this with well-meaning mechanics who just didn’t want to waste the company’s money, and much more difficult conversations with pretty smart managers, where the light bulbs had real problems even getting to a dim glow.
And yes it’s usually a judgment call, but evaluating the downside risk tells you which way to go.
I used to keep some current debatable parts on my desk just to provoke the “discussion”.

Taking perhaps the best mechanic out of the work pool to do administrative work planning.

This is one of the toughest. Everyone just knows that administrative work has much less value that actual physical work. That’s pretty much a core ideological belief in our society, and pretty much around the world I think. (Although we all do know how much investment bankers and hedge fund managers make from administrative manipulation vs. producing actual stuff (30% of GNP!))
Even when we know that taking that one mechanic out of a pool of ten to organize and set up the work of the others, can potentially raise their productivity the equivalent of actually adding as many as six more mechanics, it’s still a gut level wrong feeling that’s hard to get over.
Unless you yourself have actually seen it work, making that leap of faith is difficult. And when all six mechanics don’t show up on day one, then you really begin to struggle.  
It’s often tough for the new planner too, it takes time for his (merciless) coworkers to see the value in his administrative work, and sadly some never seem to.

Mechanics spending time on inspection vs repair

Some would argue (actually quite a few more than some, in my experience) that inspecting isn’t actually really doing anything, so how can we afford to have people around just inspecting vs. doing actual repair work.
They might even bring up that one of the big realizations in quality improvement, was getting away from inspecting quality into the product and fixing the process to eliminate the defects (and that was definitely counterintuitive).
Possibly even tell you that inspection is waste and so it’s a violation of Lean concepts (and you sure don’t want to be caught doing that these days, I’ve heard of companies where violating Lean is a burning at the stake offense)(Worse than showing up at work with only  5 of your sigmas).
But in quality we always continue to monitor and test attributes of the product as a part of process control, and that’s not the same as inspecting quality into the product by removing those with defects. Similarly in maintenance we are inspecting in many ways to determine if defined levels of deterioration have been reached. and it’s the same process as happened in Quality improvement, we could inspect less when the inspections eventually showed us what we needed to do to improve the process and we improved the process.  The inspection process is constantly changing as equipment is improved or different failure conditions identified.
Identifying equipment deterioration issues leads us to not just continually making the same repair over and over again, but working on eliminating the causes of the deterioration.
Without constant awareness of equipment condition, there will be surprise failures and with surprise failures equipment, availability is always questionable, and maintenance cost is basically uncontrollable.
Then there are needed repairs that show up during PM inspections and the urge is always to jump right on something that needs to be fixed (since we’re there anyway) and forget the rest of the PM. It just makes sense. It feels like the right thing to do.
One group I remember stated with considerable pride “we deal with our problems right away, that’s just the kind of people we are”. But it’s the “forget the rest of the PM inspection” part that’s the problem. If it’s a repair that really has to be done, then we need find some way to get both done.(And later figure out how we could have eliminated the surprise.)

Having mechanics spend time documenting what they did.

Same thing. They should be out there fixing things, “supporting production”, (i.e. frantically chasing their butts all around the plant, or alternatively standing around waiting for some piece of equipment to be available) not uselessly writing or entering information into a computer (and besides they’re not really good at that anyway, and it’s like pulling teeth because they hate doing it).
But the biggest reason they hate doing it is because they know it’s a waste of time. Nobody ever does anything with the information (except come back and question why it took so long, with so many people, and why they didn’t do it a different way, and ask if they understand how really bad it looks on the report).
Of course you can “force “them to do it, but generally North Americans (and probably every other nationality) are basically not very good at mindless obedience, but we are quite excellent at mindful disobedience when told to do things that we don’t see as having any value.
But If people see the information actually getting used usefully, and they’re involved in that use, to make the job easier next time, or to identify a way to eliminate the need for the repair. Or even if it identifies a need for some additional training. Then it has value and it’s not a waste of time. And if people struggle writing it down, or entering it into a computer, then maybe having them review it with somebody who’s good at documenting, is a better way to go. And it really doesn’t take that long.
When it comes to improvement as always “you can’t get to where you want to go, if you don’t know where you’re at”. (The great American philosopher Yogi Berra I’m sure said something like that) and documenting is the only way to find out where “at” is.


Now some of the resistance to counter intuitive concepts happens in times of crisis (For some that’s every day). In a crisis where there isn’t time for much analysis, there comes a feeling that you just can’t gamble that what your gut is telling you isn’t right. You have to go with your gut, or your boss makes you go with his gut.
In his book “Blink” Malcolm Gladwell talks of the merits of trusting “Gut” feelings, as the mind holds lots and lots of information and processes it subconsciously without us even knowing, and gives many famous successful examples.  But he also gives unsuccessful examples where the subconscious got it wrong for various reasons, and  he makes the point that for gut feelings to really get to effective decisions  that actually work, there has to be a database of  relevant knowledge and experience accumulated somewhere in the brain, that the subconscious gut feeling mechanism can draw from.  If there is no relevant knowledge there, then the feelings coming from that uneducated gut just aren’t worth a whole lot. (Maybe just something it ate)
Also most people are uncomfortable with counterintuitive concepts because they upset and cast doubt on our core base of knowledge and our thinking processes, our basic stuff that we try to cling desperately (Like trying to retrain an old golfer).

So based on all of this, moving to proactive maintenance and staying there, means making sure you can continually convince all those above and below you (because they will change, and the new people won’t know) that these counterintuitive activities are  the right thing to do. Don’t ever count on it being obvious, or an easy sell, or having been already sold for the foreseeable future in the organization.
You need lots of true stories, lots of testimonials, lots of other believers willing to support it, and above all lots of current money numbers that constantly show progress. How effective maintenance and improved reliability is decreasing downtime, and reducing the cost of maintaining equipment, adding to quality and overall customer service. (And these days be sure to add that poor ineffective maintenance is another big store of waste that our lean efforts need to be constantly eliminating).

One of my favorite quotes, and I wish I knew who said, it is “Good Maintenance Costs Time And Money. Poor Maintenance Costs A Lot More Time And A Lot More Money”. A great statement and completely counterintuitive, but you have to have current numbers that can prove it for your location on an ongoing basis.