Feature Article - October 2005
Find a printable version here

One Stone at a Time

Tips for building your proactive maintenance plan

By Kelli Anderson

First steps

Taking stock of your current situation is step number one. Knowing where you are will tell you where you need to go.

"One of the first proactive steps a manager can take to get a handle on his/her maintenance operations will be to develop and implement an inspection program," advises Scott Payne, assistant director and teaching professor at the school of maintenance at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. "Conducting inspections and sharing the results with maintenance staff can be a positive step forward."

Gathering information from inspections also should be paired with customer satisfaction surveys to complete the picture. For the city of Miamisburg, Ohio, surveys or feedback systems include opinions and observations from citizens who live adjacent to the park, advisory boards who report their findings monthly, customer-service hotlines and even a secret shopper program.

"It's important to have a user perspective," says Debbie McLaughlin, acting director of the city's park and recreation department. "If feedback is just from the staff, things can begin to look common and be overlooked."

But staff input is critical, she adds. A common problem in maintenance management is not involving staff when they know the job and its pitfalls best.

To constantly keep a pulse on the facility's maintenance health, these surveys and inspections need to be scheduled as a regular part of the facility maintenance calendar, culminating in a formal, annual evaluation to measure the facility's successes and areas for improvement, both practically and fiscally. One good indicator of success is consistency—repeatedly achieving positive results or meeting the designated standard.

Inspections can range from hourly pool checks, daily walkabouts for general cleanliness to specified manufacturer checks on larger systems like the HVAC.

"In its totality all the details are overwhelming," Gilligan says, "but when you break it down—section it off by area—divide it, assign it with signed and dated checklists, and have a purpose and a plan, you can do it."

And don't be afraid to adapt and revise as you go. The inspection process not only tells you what is going right but also highlights areas of needed attention or adaptation. If notations about burned-out light bulbs begin to appear regularly on inspection forms, add light-bulb checks to the checklist if it didn't previously exist. Creating an effective inspection form is an ever-adaptive process that evolves as your facility and its users change.

Quick Tips

Although networking will probably net you the greatest amount of practical tips for making your facility more maintenance-efficient, here is just a small sample of tips from facility managers, maintenance directors and professionals in the field to get you started:

Sweat the small stuff—Switch out burnt-out light bulbs immediately and check them daily. To customers' interpretations, a lack of concern for details translates into a lack concern for what matters.

Get familiar—Keep a laminated list of standards and tasks with every work crew for easy, familiar reference.

Join the service—Hire maintenance staff from the hotel industry. They tend to be service-oriented.

Be a model student—Before choosing a vendor, ask if there is a vendor-predictive maintenance model to learn when services for specific equipment are typically needed.

Go nocturnal—Do major cleaning at night to avoid customer disruption.

Ban "Out of Order" signs—Get broken equipment off the floor within one to 24 hours. Better to have an empty spot than a sign that announces poor maintenance.

Be sensitive—Have gender-specific crews assigned to restrooms to avoid disruption.

Get picky—All staff should be in the habit of picking up trash as they go from place to place.