How to create maintenance routines that field staff actually follow

Published: 2022-03-08
Written by: Linn Björklund

If your company relies on industrial machinery or a fleet of heavy-duty vehicles, you’ll have a number of maintenance routines and checks that need to be carried out at certain intervals to ensure safe and efficient operations. But is every one of your frontline employees really carrying out these checks correctly?

Regardless of whether you’re still using pen and paper, or if you’ve already invested in a digital maintenance system: your maintenance routines are pointless unless your frontline staff is both willing and able to perform the checks to the correct standard.

8 best practices to successfully implement a new maintenance routine

1. Accommodate your entire workforce

There’s a big array of ages and skillsets in the workplace today. Some are already used to working with tablets and smartphone apps, while others quickly find themselves out of their comfort zone. You need to select a system that’s user-friendly enough to suit everyone – regardless of their previous digital experience. Because let’s face it: even the most modern and advanced platform or app won’t provide value unless your frontline staff is actually able to use it.

2. Allow enough time for training

If staff fail to perform your maintenance routines correctly, it’s often down to lack of training. Managers tend to underestimate the time it takes to implement a new system or work method. There’ll always be a ‘teething period’, but you’ll want the roll-out to be as quick and easy as possible, with minimum disruption to the everyday production. The best way is to set up the training in stages and start simple. Don’t introduce more than one new check or feature at a time, and make sure to wait until everyone can perform it correctly before adding another one.

3. Customise every maintenance checklist

The maintenance routines that need to be performed vary a lot between different industries and companies. In a large business, the needs also vary between different sites. When investing in a new maintenance system, make sure it enables your admin users to create customised checklists. Give your plant managers enough time to set up checks that are specific for the units or sites where they’ll be carried out.

4. Include pictures

As the saying goes, a picture says more than a thousand words. With clearly illustrated step-by-step instructions, even a person who’s never been to the site before will be able to carry out a maintenance check correctly. By including photos in your digital maintenance checklists, and highlighting key points, on-site staff can easily compare the pictures in the app to what they see in front of them. Words like “clean” can be interpreted differently by different people, but with photos of what an acceptable and an unacceptable standard looks like, the employee can assess the current status more accurately, and decide whether action is required.

5. Make communication a two-way street

Lack of communication is a common problem when implementing a new routine. Successful communication is a two-way street: inform staff well in advance about the upcoming change, and give them plenty of opportunity to provide feedback on how the new routine is working for them. In the early stages of the rollout, let the local manager catch up with staff weekly or bi-weekly to see how things are going. A fifteen-minute check-in at the end of the workday is often enough. Frontline staff can express any problems they’ve experienced with the routine, if anything needs to be changed, or if there are steps missing that should be added to the checks. With a customisable maintenance system, you can easily tweak your checks to make sure they work for everyone. Because as soon as they don’t, there’s a big risk your employees will simply stop following the new routine and go back to the old way of working.

6. Keep the checks relevant

For staff to stay motivated enough to keep carrying out the maintenance routines over time, it’s crucial that they see the point of the checks. If they feel they’re just filling the system with documentation for its own sake, motivation will soon drop. Make sure to only include checks that are necessary and will be followed up on. By connecting maintenance routines to the actual running time of your fleet or machinery, instead of fixed time intervals, you’ll increase the accuracy and efficiency of your checks.

7. Set clear goals

When implementing new routines, think about what you want to achieve with the change. Don’t just transfer the same old checks to a new system, but take the opportunity to structure your work processes in a better way. Utilise the data you’re collecting and set clear goals that you can follow up on, and communicate back to frontline staff.

8. Follow up on defects and deviations

Again, documentation for its own sake will hardly motivate your field staff. This goes for defect reporting too. A big advantage of a digital maintenance system is that defects and deviations are reported directly from the field straight to the responsible manager. Let your frontline staff grade the seriousness of the issue when creating the defect report. This way, minor deviations can be sent to the local manager, while more serious issues will trigger a notification to the operation manager.

Frontline staff will be much more motivated to follow the maintenance routines, and report any deviations they detect, if they know there’s full traceability and accountability throughout the organisation – including management. And with maintenance routines running smoothly, managers can prioritise incoming issues in real-time (or at customised time intervals) to make sure defects are rectified before they lead to an unplanned breakdown.

Do you want more best practices on how to optimise your routines and minimise unplanned downtime? Download your free copy of the guide 9 keys to maximise the availability of your assets through frontline digitisation.

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