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Knitting Agile with Asset Maintenance - a perspective on Agile Asset Maintenance

"Agile", a very well-known business jargon in the software industry has changed the way software development was executed in the modern times. This new methodology has paved the path for delivering software within schedule and with exceptional quality adopting agile practices. Software community has seen a paradigm shift in the product development life cycle after following 'Agile' methodology. Visualizing the benefits of various new techniques such as Just in Time, Business Process Re-engineering, Kaizen, Lean, Six Sigma, ISO 9001, etc., in the relevant industries, experts in other industry segments have tried to adopt the philosophies tailoring to their line of businesses and have reaped phenomenal benefits. Agile is one such philosophy which has got traction in recent times and business functions such as Marketing, Human Resource, Operations, Management and Customer Services have all seen the transformation on incorporating the frameworks from the techniques interwoven into their processes.

Agile in Maintenance:

Walking through the analogous victory lane, in a perspective view, "Maintenance" - one of the vital support business functions in any organization stands on the podium as a potential customer to adopt the best practices offered by Agile Methodology. As a precautionary note, I am not introducing a new Maintenance approach. Rather, it is a radical thought on a maintenance execution methodology resulting in a paradigm shift. Let us analyze why we need Agile in Maintenance.

Agile Maintenance - a Need or Fantasy:

Agility, in simple terms is response to change. Things are changing in all quarters of business organization in recent times. Maintenance business function is no different. As we analyze the factor of change in maintenance, we face two major components - things which are changing & things which need change.

Things which are changing:

As maintenance is closely linked with Operations, things which are changing rapidly over time are

• Focus on improving equipment productivity with less resources
• Urge for Automating equipments to reduce manual intervention
• Reducing Equipment downtime to increase equipment availability
• Reducing Maintenance Cost by optimizing resources and reducing downtime
• Reduce maintenance budget to increase margins

Things which needs change:

Whenever we discuss about maintenance, the main topic focused is 'Reducing Maintenance Cost'. Widely accepted argument is that cost optimization is achieved by following proactive maintenance approaches like Predictive Maintenance and Reliability Centered maintenance. These maintenance approaches provide the strategy on 'When' to execute a repair - scheduled / predicted. However, there are certain aspects which are hidden behind the screens of these philosophies, without which maintenance optimization is least realized - such as:

• Equipment usage - Underutilization / Over utilization / improper operations
• Knowledge levels of Maintenance Technicians
• Improper execution of maintenance procedures
• Quality of spares used
• Effective Test runs / load runs before sending for operation
• Retro fitments, Enhancements, Design changes during operation
• User satisfaction on the operability of equipment

Agile as a need:

From the aspects which are changing and which needs change, we could clearly understand that change is inevitable at People, Equipment and Support resource levels. To cope up with the change, focusing on maintenance approaches alone is not sufficient. We need a cultural shift on turning our focus on the aspects discussed above. As Peter F. Drucker says "If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old",  I feel that renovating the Agile principles suiting to changing facets of Maintenance business function will 'turn the lights on' to look through the possibilities to extract significant insights and knitting them appropriately to bring in the benefits. I would like to formulate the principles for maintenance business function as follows:

1. Giving prominence to Individuals and group interactions (Workforce oriented initiatives - providing platform for Innovation from the team) OVER focusing only on implementing Maintenance philosophies

2. Driving primary objective to improve Asset availability (by improving % of wrench time) OVER time spent by employees on intensive paperwork

3. Improving collaboration among working force OVER following a structured protocol for asset maintenance (operations & maintenance teams working in silos)

4. Responding and adapting to customer requirements (mainly internal customer - Operations department) OVER adhering to traditional maintenance procedures.

5. Introducing a collaborative platform for the operations, engineering and maintenance teams using technology tools such as Troubleshooting guide, Online Chat, etc.

As agility is implemented using various tools, EAM applications are shaping up themselves to make the shift to support agility in Maintenance. It is a long journey to fine tune the above principles in line with agility and I am eager to get opinion on expanding this to a reality.

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