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Myth Busting 3: Master or Partner

Who really is our customer? Does your organization have a master: partner supplier relationship or a partnership relationship?

Consider that a customer regularly buys our goods or services. For operations/production to be our customer, then they would be paying maintenance for its service. Do they? In some organizations, this may be the case, but is it that way in yours?

More than likely, you need to manage your own budget and meet operational demands as one of many departments all aimed at providing goods or services to some external customer or customers?

What is an internal customer?

The idea of internal customers implies some sort of performance contract. You as maintenance or asset management deliver something for your internal operations department and they pay for it directly. The notion of internal customers is a nice one, but it doesn’t really work well most of the time. Why? All too often it becomes a master and slave relationship where the two parties are far from equal. The master snaps orders and the slave jumps in an attempt to meet the demands, no matter how unreasonable they may be. The slave doesn’t really care how the results of his work turn out, so long as he does exactly what was demanded. There is no ownership of outcomes. Ultimately that harms the master as we have seen repeatedly throughout history.

When you have a customer/seller relationship, you deliver an expected service or product in exchange for money and more or less on demand. There is no master and slave, only buyer and seller. The seller has a stake in the buyer’s outcomes because it means more business for the seller. The seller truly wants the buyer to succeed.

Maintenance delivers repairs when things break down and it delivers proactive activities aimed at reducing breakdowns and/or reducing the consequences of potential breakdowns. If they are bought into the result of that effort – profitable production, then they will inherently do a better job and help to identify areas for improvement.

Why do customers come back to you?

Customers come back for repeat business because they value what you provide. Do they have options – buy from you or from someone else? If the relationship is healthy, there is no desire to change suppliers and the two parties work together in harmony. It is not a master and slave relationship, even though the “golden rule” applies – he who holds the gold makes the rules. The one holding the gold is usually the one who is closest to the customer of the business, but it does not preclude those who may be one step removed, from also caring about those outputs.

All too often, production acts like the master. It has urgent priorities and may not release equipment for maintenance. That prevents maintenance from doing their job and then production has the audacity to blame them when something fails. Pointing a finger doesn’t fix anything – we learn that as children. Production may also run equipment beyond its limits and degrade it rapidly to failure. By ignoring warnings that equipment is in distress (predictive maintenance) they avoid quick and easy repairs (usually unconsciously) in favor of much bigger repairs driven by the equipment failing. Invariably those failures take longer to repair, are more difficult to do because of secondary (avoidable) damage, and they happen when least convenient (in the middle of some frenetic rush to make up some production quota that was probably missed because of a previous failure). It’s a toxic cycle and it is entirely under the control of production.

So who is responsible for results? What results do you want?

Businesses want to profit by delighting their customers. If you want production, revenue, and profit, then maintenance has no direct control over any of it. Maintenance contributes by providing capacity, but only indirectly and if “allowed” by operational schedules. How the capacity gets used, determines much more. Operational departments control output to a large extent and hence control revenues. If they do it well, they contribute, directly and indirectly, to keeping costs contained and hence to profitability. If they run assets within their limits and they are well maintained, they can expect long and steady production runs with little variation in quality, quantity and few if any breakdowns. If they run the assets too hard, beyond what they are truly capable of, then they will experience more frequent and likely more severe breakdowns, more downtime and less output in total. Slow down to operate within limits and you will find that the longest uninterrupted runs produce more in total, albeit at a lower rate. You end up with more as a result.

Are you a provider or partner?

Is maintenance truly a service provider or a partner in production? I believe it is a partnership. The two departments need to work together, not like master and slave. Working together as a team they can achieve far more. Collaboration to make schedules for maintenance and production fit well together will produce the least scheduled downtime at the most convenient times and far less unexpected breakdown downtime.

Bottom Line –

No, maintenance and production do not benefit from a customer and supplier relationship because it doesn’t work that way in real life. They can, however, benefit from a partnership relationship.