Quality Strategies for the Business of Facility Operations and Maintenance

July 1, 2007
Implementing processes for quality management can help quantify the value of FM and its impact on the bottom line

Now, as never before, senior executives and facilities managers can speak the same language - Lean language! Savvy facility managers are being recognized as contributors to overall quality and profitability, and an integral part of core service delivery and manufacturing operations. Facility managers who initiate disciplined processes are in a position to spend their budgets instead of defend them, and have the data available to confirm facilities' impact on mainstream operations.

Wanted: Entrepreneurial Managers for Facilities
It is up to facility managers to think, plan, act, and communicate in an entrepreneurial fashion. Implementing defined strategies and structures to increase quality and productivity in facility operations and maintenance, and add value to the enterprise, takes a significant, long-term commitment. The call for "new ways of doing business" in the boardroom cannot remain "business as usual" on the shop floor. Entrepreneurial facility managers invest in detailed operating plans, calculate the costs of maintenance in terms of performance gains, and routinely, consistently, and professionally communicate the potential return on the maintenance investment to top management. Their success as communicators of facility management's value to the enterprise not only feeds success, but also breeds the appetite for more.

Facility Management Strategy and a Quality Policy
To implement robust practices, facility managers must first define their current business strategy: the summary of the vision (values), mission (purpose), and strategies (approaches) that frame every decision, large and small. The traditional view of the facilities function is to fix things that break, keep things from breaking, keep things looking good, and do whatever it takes.

These statements are clean and concise, but confine facility management to a reactive role. The answers to some pertinent additional questions can lead to more robust programs:

  • Who is the customer? Who are the stakeholders?
  • What is the true effect of maintenance on the performance of the enterprise?
  • What is facility management's role in the enterprise's sustainability strategy?
  • What is the present cost of operations and maintenance vs. industry standards and best practices?
  • What are the direct and consequential costs of equipment downtime?
  • How long does it take to perform routine and recurring maintenance and service tasks, how frequently are they done, and to what standards?
  • What efforts should be focused on activities to reduce breakdowns; when should equipment be repaired only after it breaks?
  • What internal and external maintenance resources, including labor, material, and technology, are available?
  • Are these resources sufficient to support a proactive, or even a reactive, approach?

These questions foster operating principles that define the value of work; the roles of management, supervision, and the workforce; the applications for technology; and the sources of waste and means of extracting it from the operation. The investment needed to develop and install the quality systems, train the maintenance workforce, and teach management how to measure the results is substantial: It requires a clearly articulated commitment and business case to develop Lean, green operations and maintenance as a core business practice. Then, facilities management can graduate from an incidental cost to a strategic element of corporate asset management.

What is a Facility Quality Management System?
The Facility Quality Management System defines the policies, standards, scope, structures, and processes for the performance of the facilities management mission, including maintenance, housekeeping, grounds, environmental, and all services (from security, mail, and food services to secure document retention). The Facility Quality Management System describes the framework to accomplish four essentials:

1. Define the work requirements and the processes and standards for meeting them.

2. Direct the resources to perform work to standards.

3. Develop the technical, material, and administrative support infrastructure.

4. Discipline the entire process for continuous improvement.

A Facility Quality Management System creates an equation between a Service-Level Agreement (SLA) and the Facility Operating Plan (FOP). The SLA defines the deal, the relationship and lines of communication between the facility manager and the client, and the decision-maker who represents the occupants and residents of the facility (this applies whether the facility manager is internal or a contracted service provider). An FOP documents the scope, standards, and processes to sustain the relationship. The FOP is a living document that underpins the facility manager's accountability to organize, perform, measure, and improve the work (plan, do, check, act) for each client location, site, or operation. The FOP articulates service-level agreements with each client and respects the client's dynamic world and the facility manager's responsibility to enable the client to respond to a brutal, competitive environment.

For the FOP to be useful and credible, maintenance managers and their customers must formulate it together. The client's objectives (set forth in the service-level agreements) determine the skills, staffing, resources, and support required for demand and productive maintenance at given response levels. If the maintenance mission is highly focused on proactive maintenance activities, then the customer must cooperate with facilities' objectives, priorities, and processes. It is important for the FOP to be as specific as possible to coordinate objectives, standards, performance measures, and costs. Collaboration generates valid expectations and mutual responsibilities.

FOPs may also set targets for qualitative goals, such as implementing Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMSs) for a specific asset to improve reliability, initiating preventive measures to reduce corrective work for targeted operations, standardizing equipment manuals or other documents to streamline information retrieval, or establishing a dedicated service team for critical operations to improve uptime. A Facility Quality Management System structures the facility management team's commitment to continuous improvement. It boosts management's confidence that investments in maintenance are spent creatively and beneficially, with full accountability. It spotlights facilities managers as leaders within the mainstream of the enterprise's quality processes and business strategies.

How Should Facilities be Structured for Business?
In a Lean, process-driven environment, facilities management relies upon defined scopes, processes, and standards to guide self-directed work teams to implement continuous improvement to reduce waste. The primary responsibility of the facilities manager is to mesh the continual interaction and evolution among processes, people, and information.

In the Lean environment, rigid skills are rarely paired with hard and fast needs; workers can no longer hide behind what the boss told them to do. Requirements are always changing, and the workforce is empowered to make decisions, take action, and assume responsibility. Processes are developed interactively by the trained maintenance trades or specialists, their supervisors, and the operations they support.

Total or partial outsourcing for building systems maintenance (HVAC, electrical, etc.) and services (janitorial, food, etc.) changes nothing in the quality dynamic. Outsourcing is often a disappointing way to pay for the "same old, same old." The requirement for defined and documented objectives, processes, standards, and accountability for continuous improvement still apply. Regardless of the service delivery channel, the facilities manager remains responsible for defining the Facility Quality Management System.

Organization of Information is the Key Success Factor
Every Lean culture is founded upon the discipline of unfailingly capturing and maintaining information that is complete, accurate, and timely; this is sometimes called a "docu-centric" culture. Facility management is no exception.

Facilities personnel, the entire retinue of managers and administrators, technical staff, and skilled and semi-skilled trade and service contractors spend 10 percent, 20 percent, and, according to one study, even 40 percent of their time searching for information. What about the hidden costs for work performed without the correct information that is 100-percent wasted (even destructive)? Incorrect specifications for parts, voided warranties, late deliveries, frustrated customers, and repeated callbacks because of incorrect or incomplete work orders are the result of communication breakdowns due to incomplete, inaccurate, or untimely information. In facilities, information management is process control.

There are three nearly insurmountable challenges for document management in facilities operations. First, there are simply so many documents (and so many types). Second, the documents are in so many formats: 80-year-old blueprints, CAD documents (originals and un-dimensioned scanned versions), legal and contract files, catalogues, contractors' operations and maintenance manuals, etc. A facility manager is now equipped with network server drives, a PC hard drive, thumb drives, and print files, with no plan for organizing any of it. Finally, facility management often lacks a document management process, especially one that incorporates (or at least interfaces with) corporate standards. Rules of the road for documentation include standards, procedures, formats, templates, and controls that provide managers with a "grammar" for communicating about quality.

Document management can be phased in gradually and applied incrementally; however, it cannot be applied haphazardly or piecemeal. If document management is a hit-and-miss affair, then the commitment to consistent, accurate, and timely information is out the window. Apply document management standards selectively and progressively; once the battle is chosen, it must be fought without compromise.

CMMSs and more ambitious Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are specialized information (document) management systems. They document building and equipment assets, work requests, preventive maintenance plans, and maintenance histories and forecast equipment replacement cycles - and more.

As an element of the Facility Operating Plan that supports the quality strategy, a CMMS refines maintenance planning, improves process discipline, and captures performance data to give better guidance to managers during decision-making.

Productivity is boosted by doing the right things - and doing them correctly the first time. Frequently, a CMMS focuses more on warehousing information and less on using information to develop successful maintenance programs. The facility manager must strike a balance in deciding how best to champion the development of a CMMS. Productivity gains result when processes for making decisions are developed and priorities that use maintenance resources more efficiently and effectively are set.

What are Business Performance Measures for Facility Operations and Maintenance?
Work quality can be measured through customer complaints, reductions in repeat work and callbacks, and audits. Auditing by supervisory and technical personnel can provide valuable feedback regarding customer satisfaction and employee skills. The objective of the audit is not merely to identify failure, but to join the supervisor and the worker in a fact-based continuous improvement process. The importance of cost is often relative to whose budget is affected. Clients hate surprises; "whatever it takes" always comes at a price.

All performance metrics share one objective: communication. Metrics drive continuous improvement, but only as a consequence of priorities, decisions, and plans, which depend upon communication among the team: the facilities manager, maintenance supervisors, the workforce, the support organization, the customer, and stakeholders. Performance scorecards and metrics are opportunities for communication; otherwise, they're just make-work.

Scorecards help facilities managers define and cultivate customer expectations to meet their priorities and elicit their support in balancing costs with service and timing. The decisions about "what," "how," "how much," and "when" are normal business decisions and must be transparent to the customer and documented in the FOP.

What Is Facility Management's Strategy for Success?
Empirically, there has been great progress over the past 10 years and there are, obviously, many variables outside of a facilities manager's control. Formal quality systems for facility management operations and maintenance are producing rewards; however, there are basic strategies that continue to warrant attention and development:

  • Pre-planning of work activities and critical-to-quality standards.
  • Self-directed work teams.
  • Improved material management.
  • Communication and collaboration with customers and stakeholders.

Wanted: Entrepreneurial Leaders for Facilities
Businesses succeed because they pay attention to their customers and create effective processes to serve them. By defining a quality strategy and implementing a Facility Quality Management System and other advanced tools, maintenance managers can define, develop, direct, and discipline core business processes for specific operating goals: responsiveness, quality, and cost. Maintenance can surpass the stale and limited metric of open vs. closed work orders when facilities managers initiate aggressive, Lean, process-driven practices to give executive management better yardsticks for measuring performance.

No matter how big or small the operation, facilities operations and maintenance can be noted for strategic business vision, specific objectives, and adroit leadership. Facilities management presents the same challenges as any successful service enterprise. A Facility Quality Management System gains recognition and rewards as a by-product of earning customers' trust.

Martin McElroy is principal at Davison, MI-based MartinCo. Management Consultants Inc. (www.martincompanyinc.com). McElroy was inspired by Rick Bolte's "Why Manage Maintenance" and gives credit to Shari Lustig, principal, MartinCo., whose work informs many of the concepts, processes, and systems described in this article.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations