Unutilized Talent in Maintenance Organizations

A Waste in Lean Manufacturing Philosophy

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Let us tell you a story about a maintenance department that specializes in welding.

Joe is a great mechanical welder who is able to complete all assigned welding jobs on time. Joe is able to read the welding diagrams very well and is even able to sometimes spot mistakes in the drawings. Joe also writes detailed remarks on a the job plan when he submits his work completion reports.

Whenever there is a new welding apprentice, he is attached with Joe. Joe loves explaining the welding technique and skills to young disciples. There are multiple new hire welders in the maintenance department that thank Joe for teaching them good welding skills. Joe even shows them his notes from his time of being a welding apprentice and the young guys are amazed at the attention to detail Joe has.

However, Joe lacks leadership skills and he is not that good in managing a team of workforce. Joe is the type of guy who focuses on one job and does it extremely skillfully with great attention to detail. Due to this reason, there had been multiple occasions where a supervisor role became vacant but Joe was not promoted.

There is even some contention between Joe and his supervisor because Joe feels he is more talented than his supervisor but still has to take orders from him. Most recently, a maintenance planner in the same maintenance department has left the job. When Joe’s supervisor heard about the vacancy, he met the maintenance manager to promote him to maintenance planner position instead of hiring someone new. However, the maintenance supervisor has strong leadership skills which the maintenance manager wants to keep onsite.

The maintenance department has talked to HR to hire a new maintenance planner and the maintenance manager is worried about maintenance department’s productivity because the planner who left had been employed for over 10 years. A new guy will take considerable time to get the hang of things.

So what does this all has to do with unutilized talent and lean management? – We’ll get to that shortly.

First, let us dust off the basic concept of lean manufacturing (just as a refresher).

Lean manufacturing is a method of continuous improvement that focuses on reducing waste and improving the quality of the product. The term "lean" was coined by Toyota in the 1970s and was intended to describe their production methods. Lean manufacturing is an approach to production that focuses on minimizing waste resulting in increased productivity and lowered costs.

It started with Toyota as a way to improve their products quality and efficiency while maintaining a high level of safety for their employees. They were able to do this by eliminating unnecessary steps in their production process, focusing on small tasks instead of large ones, and re-engineering their manufacturing facilities to be more efficient than before.

However, lean manufacturing philosophy has stepped outside of the boundaries of production and is applied in many different work processes. One of the important areas of application of lean management philosophy is in maintenance of plant and equipment in industry.

Maintenance managers strive for improving the productivity of the maintenance workforce to get more work done with less resources.

The Lean manufacturing philosophy describes 8 types of wastes that are needed to be reduced to make the overall system more efficient. They are:

1. Transport

2. Inventory

3. Motion

4. Waiting

5. Overproduction

6. Over-processing

7. Defects

8. Unutilized talent

The last waste i.e., unutilized talent is of specific importance in maintenance management.

The main reasons for talent remaining unused in a maintenance organizations include lack of knowledge about the job and a lack of recognition of available skills and talents in the maintenance workforce.

Let us get back to Joe’s example. The maintenance manager is looking to hire a new planner despite the fact that Joe has got all the elements of a great maintenance planner. The attention to detail, the ability to write effectively (evident from his apprenticeship notes) and the knack of explaining techniques (to apprentices) are the traits that can make Joe a good maintenance planner.

Furthermore, Joe’s weakness i.e., leadership is something that is not needed in a planner position because planners don’t supervise labor. The personality of Joe sticking to one job at a time and diving into its detail is what is much needed in a planner role. However, maintenance manager is unable to see a potential planner in his existing team and is deciding to hire a new one.

This is what unutilized talent in a maintenance organization looks like. If the maintenance manager promotes Joe to maintenance planner, Joe’s low morale because of a feeling of unfair treatment from the department will be rectified while at the same time, department’s need for a planner will be fulfilled in a very effective manner.

What led this to happen includes the maintenance department not able to fully recognize the talents of maintenance personnel as well as inability to recognize important personality traits in maintenance planners.

There are a lot of Joe’s in a lot of maintenance departments whose talents and skills often go wasted.

Many times, organizations engage engineering teams to redesign an equipment component due to a recurring fault when experienced technicians could very well do it without any assistance from outside.

Many times, organizations engage consultancy firms for engineering projects in which a cross-functional internal team could have provided the necessary insights based on their experience and knowledge.

These are the wastes that maintenance organizations and maintenance departments in industries need to minimize. There should be a focus on the available talents in a maintenance department with consideration of how to nurture and develop it.

A continuous hunt for hidden talents inside the available maintenance workforce will allow maintenance managers to reduce this waste of lean management philosophy. It will save costs, improve department’s productivity and boost morale of the maintenance team by sending a positive signal on the workforce.

The signal would say that the management is continuously looking to find solutions to problems from within the available workforce thereby putting a positive pressure on labor to upskill themselves and step into new challenges for the department.