A Guide to Building and Measuring a Lean Maintenance Strategy
Professional racing is a masterclass in efficiency. Teams don’t just dislike waste—they hate it.
Every millisecond of a pit stop has a purpose. Every component of a car is analyzed to ensure it’s functioning at its best. Strategies are designed to get from point A to point B as fast as possible.
When you translate this mindset to the shop floor, you achieve a lean maintenance strategy. Lean maintenance is the merciless reduction and elimination of waste at every stage of your maintenance program so you can go further, faster, while spending less.
This guide outlines the basics for building and measuring a lean maintenance strategy, including:
- What is lean maintenance
- The types of waste in maintenance
- A formula for creating a lean maintenance strategy
- Metrics for tracking lean maintenance success
What is lean maintenance?
Like lean manufacturing, lean maintenance is the continual process of identifying, reducing, and removing waste from maintenance activities. Waste is considered anything that doesn’t increase output, decrease costs, or otherwise boost productivity.
There are a lot of examples of waste in maintenance, including:
- Money spent on a part that becomes obsolete before it’s used
- Time spent clarifying the details of a maintenance request
- Effort spent collecting maintenance data you never use
It’s often difficult to spot waste in your maintenance program. That’s why a lean maintenance strategy can’t work without iteration. Iteration is the practice of making small changes over time to find the best way to set up processes and activities. In other words, lean maintenance is not a one-and-done project. It’s a way of thinking and acting that takes years to build.
What are the benefits of lean maintenance?
Odds are, you’ve uttered the words, “What a waste of time,” or “What a waste of money,” in the last couple of weeks. Lean maintenance eliminates those moments. And while there are a thousand things you could be referring to, most of them can be grouped in these four main benefits:
1. Cost savings
A lean maintenance strategy reduces direct costs (labor and resources) and indirect costs (the money you lose in downtime or lost production). For example, you might discover that you can reduce routine maintenance on an asset from once a week to once a month, cutting labor costs by 75% in the process.
2. Efficiency gains
Efficiency is another word for getting more done in less time. Lean maintenance strategies help you find activities and processes that take too much time so you can modify or eliminate them. Voltalia’s maintenance team is a great example of this benefit in practice. The company noticed that one of its service teams spent 40 hours a week driving from the office to an off-site facility. The solution was to build a satellite office near the off-site facility to save time.
3. Maximized potential
When machines and people are not bogged down by unnecessary duties, they can operate at full capacity and perform to the best of their abilities. Tom Dufton’s maintenance team is a perfect example. Tom, a maintenance manager, noticed his skilled maintenance technicians were spending a lot of time assisting production. He used this data to advocate for extra operators so his team could get back to maintaining equipment.
4. Employee engagement
Removing unnecessary work and administrative tasks helps employees feel more engaged with their work. It also gives them time to up-skill and do high-value work. One way this translates into real life is with new maintenance software. If technicians don’t have time to learn the system, your big investment in technology could be for nothing. Eliminating extra tasks elsewhere will give your team time to learn, ask questions, and get used to new technology.
The three types of waste in maintenance
The first step in eliminating waste is to find it. There are three main areas in a maintenance operation where waste shows up: Environmental, financial, and human potential.
Environmental waste occurs when raw materials are used inefficiently or disposed of because of inefficient maintenance activities.
Examples of environmental waste in maintenance include:
- An increase in scrap or rework after equipment maintenance
- Overuse of fuel by improperly maintained vehicles or unnecessary transportation to and from a worksite
- Overstocking parts for maintenance due to an outdated inventory purchasing schedule
The impact of environmental waste from maintenance includes:
- More pollution and trash
- Higher carbon emissions
- Low-quality products
- Increased safety hazards
Some strategies for reducing environmental waste in maintenance include:
- Frequent inventory cycle counts and just-in-time purchasing to ensure your storeroom isn’t flooded with unused inventory
- Grouping scheduled maintenance together in one time period to cut down on travel
- A mandatory check from a second technician after repairs or replacements prior to production to ensure start-ups don’t result in scrap or rework
Financial waste refers to the extra costs from inefficient maintenance. It also includes lost production from unnecessary downtime.
Examples of financial waste in maintenance include:
- High labor and parts costs from preventive maintenance tasks that are done too frequently
- Defective products from an asset that was assembled or rebuilt incorrectly
- Delayed maintenance because technicians had to wait for a part to complete repairs
The impact of financial waste includes:
- Higher labor and parts costs
- More capital expenditures
- Lost revenue
- Missed opportunities to grow the business
Strategies for becoming leaner include:
- Identifying tasks in your preventive maintenance schedule that can be eliminated or done less frequently
- Reducing downtime by finding maintenance work that can be completed while an asset is running
- Building a FRACAS to address and prevent failure on critical equipment
- Creating parts kits for critical equipment to speed up repairs and avoid stockouts
- Setting a regular meeting with production staff to align maintenance with operations and get updates equipment changes
Wasted human potential
Administrative work and unnecessary tasks wear on staff and take them away from specialized tasks only they can do. Burnout, poor morale, and turnover increase, leading to even more waste.
Examples of wasted human potential in maintenance include:
- Spending hours every day writing, reviewing, and sorting work orders
- Fixing the same component over and over again
- Inspecting non-critical equipment with low or nonexistent failure rates
- Supporting production more than once in a while
- Searching for parts and supplies in your storeroom
The impact of wasted human potential includes:
- High employee turnover and loss of organizational knowledge
- Low wrench time and big backlogs
- Decreased employee engagement and low adoption of new systems
- More pencil whipping and less accurate data
Strategies for becoming leaner include:
- Conduct frequent maintenance team meetings to discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions
- Automate activities you do frequently, like creating work orders or reports
- Eliminate or reduce scheduled maintenance that has low rates of follow-up work
- Train machine operators to do routine maintenance tasks
Creating a lean maintenance mindset
The first step in creating a lean maintenance strategy is to ask the right questions, challenge the way you do things, and be willing to change. This is a lean maintenance mindset and it’s essential to make lean maintenance strategies work long term.
There are four changes that’ll help you shift to a lean maintenance mindset:
1. From small details ? Big picture
There will always be days when your team is reacting to everything—putting out fires, getting last-minute requests, and racing to catch up on backlog.
But a lean maintenance mindset prevents this from becoming the norm. It allows you to build maintenance activities around business and production goals, and deprioritize or eliminate work that doesn’t connect to these goals.
For example, you might spend an hour every week creating a report. But if that report doesn’t help you eliminate waste, that time becomes waste itself. You can either spend time building more useful reports or do other waste-eliminating work.
2. From getting it done ? Collecting data as you go
A lot of maintenance teams operate in survival mode. Complete the task and move on to the next one. No time for any extra steps.
But a lean maintenance strategy hinges on data and taking the time to collect it. Those five extra minutes it takes to complete extra fields on a work order adds up. Having a lean maintenance mindset means building a buffer in your schedule to account for this. It also means everyone knows the importance of these extra steps and isn’t pressured to fudge the numbers to make up for lost time.
3. From big changes ? iterative improvements
Everyone wants to see big wins as quickly as possible. Our brains crave a finish line and tangible results.
But that’s not how lean maintenance works. Instead, it depends on making small, consistent improvements. If done right, it’s a process that’s never truly finished. The best way to tackle this shift is to give yourself and your team small goals and milestones, track progress, and celebrate success.
For example, you might want to cut out unnecessary steps in your scheduled maintenance. In lean maintenance, you’ll examine your work orders once a month to reduce delays and increase wrench time by 10% to 15% across the entire year. It’s crucial to track progress, celebrate it with your team, and get suggestions from technicians on how to keep winning. Technicians will feel a sense of ownership over this metric and will be invested in making progress.
4. From “that’s the way it is” ? “Is this necessary?”
It’s easy to accept the status quo. It’s uncomfortable to change. And it takes a lot of work.
But lean maintenance is all about challenging business as usual. You need to look at everything your team does with a critical eye and make changes if something no longer makes sense. This requires you to adopt a win-or-learn mentality instead of a win-or-fail mindset. Your team will be able to question things without blame or punishment.
For example, you might have done a PM at the same interval for a decade. But everything has changed in that time, from the equipment to the technician doing the work. You need to question how the PM is done as well. Should it be done more or less? Is it even necessary anymore?
Building a lean maintenance strategy
Building a lean maintenance strategy follows a three-step formula:
- Understand what you’re currently doing and how you’re doing it
- Find areas of waste and eliminate them
- Create processes that allow you to do steps one and two over and over again
Step 1: Mapping your maintenance process
This step is about knowing how your team currently operates so you can find the work you’re doing too much of and work you’re not doing enough. This stage involves documenting your maintenance processes, including:
- Key information about equipment, like criticality and failure modes (this FMEA template can help you collect this data)
- What inspections and repairs are done, and how often
- What an emergency looks like and how your team reacts
- How follow-up or corrective maintenance is created, assigned, and tracked
- Team meetings and what happens in each one
- Goal-setting, metrics creation, reporting, and data collection
- Health, safety, and compliance activities
- Parts purchasing and storeroom management
Then think about business needs:
- Production levels by season
- High and low sales periods
- Reactionary needs to previous emergencies
- Organization goals and resources
Step 2: Identify opportunities for improvement you can act on now
The next step is to find out where you’re spending too much time, money, or energy. Here are a few ways you can spot waste hiding in your processes:
- Look at specific processes with members of your maintenance team. Ask them what part of the process takes the most time or where they face challenges when completing work. Use this insight to make activities easier and remove roadblocks.For example, something as small as misidentifying lubrication can lead to wasted time, breakdowns, lost production, and buying too many supplies. Colour-coding lubrication and bearings can eliminate this waste altogether.
- Identify tasks that consistently take more time or money than planned and conduct a root cause analysis to find out why. This is more helpful than slashing costs, which can do more harm than good and doesn’t address the real reason for the waste.For example, labor costs for a weekly work order are twice as high as you’ve budgeted. An RCA might find repair times are longer than expected because different technicians are doing the work. You might tweak the schedule to put the same technician on the job so they can familiarize themselves with the work and do it faster.
- Audit your planned maintenance work to make it more efficient. We outlined the steps for auditing your PMs in a separate article, but the main takeaway is to question the need for all regular maintenance and the frequency, timing, and resource for each task.For example, a PM might be triggered every 10 days, regardless of how much the asset is used. That can be a waste of time and money. In this situation, try triggering maintenance based on usage, like after every 100 hours of production.
- Develop KPIs and metrics around the growth and success of your team. This data will allow you to find wasted potential on your maintenance team.For example, you might track turnover rates or knowledge-sharing opportunities on your team. These stats can uncover complex processes or areas of low productivity that you can correct. The end result is better morale and a higher-performing maintenance team.
Step 3: Build a long-term vision
The core vision of your lean maintenance strategy will always be to improve maintenance bit by bit so it supports business goals. But those goals may change, as will the things you need to improve.
This step is about documenting what you’ve iterated on, the impact of change, and what might come next.
If your iterations produced a negative result, don’t immediately jump back to the way things were. Instead, think about what caused the negative result and see if there’s another iterative improvement. It can take a few tries to get it right.
Choosing metrics for a lean maintenance strategy and tracking success
While every project will have different KPIs and metrics based on your desired outcomes, here are some best-practice metrics to start with:
|Environmental waste||Financial waste||Human potential waste|
|Idle times||Maintenance costs (by asset, type, task, etc.)||Wrench time|
|Raw material usage||Equipment downtime (planned and unplanned)||Employee turnover|
|Carbon emissions/energy use||Rate of corrective maintenance after inspections||Time spent on production support|
|Travel times to/from sites||Response rates to breakdowns/emergencies||Time spent on administrative tasks|
|Raw materials disposal (ie. oil)||Clean start-ups after maintenance||Number of steps in a maintenance process|
While this isn’t a comprehensive look at lean maintenance metrics, it does give you a good foundation. And you don’t need to track, measure, and improve every metric. Choose metrics you can realistically collect and ones that connect to production and business goals.
There are two ways to create success plans around each metric and push your lean maintenance strategy forward. The first is to go small. Pick a few metrics and focus on improving specific areas of your maintenance operation. For example, if you want to reduce maintenance costs, choose your top 10 most expensive tasks. Focus on reducing waste in these activities.
The other method is to go broad. Aim for a goal that includes improving several metrics. For example, the ultimate target might be increasing efficiency through better standardization across sites. As part of this project, you can standardize the processes for work requests, reporting, and parts purchasing. There are several metrics you can use to build your project and track its success. This includes the number of steps in a maintenance process, time spent on admin tasks, response rates to breakdowns, and raw materials usage.
It’s essential to share your wins, regardless of your approach. The whole point of lean maintenance is to make small gains that add up to big ones over time. Showing off your success keeps momentum high, increases buy-in, and helps you advocate for more resources to expand your lean maintenance program.
Lean maintenance is ongoing
At its core, lean maintenance is about tying maintenance practices to business needs. This will likely ruffle feathers, but it’s a critical step to move maintenance from a cost center to a value driver. And when you do that, the world begins to open up for the maintenance team to be seen as a true business partner.