Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

Time Is Money

We all know the saying, “time is money!” there is truth in that statement, especially if you are a college or university facilities manager responsible for maintenance services. ensuring our employees have the tools and systems they need to maximize efficient use of time is one of the most important things we can provide.

For the purposes of this column, I won’t necessarily address the cat-and-mouse game sometimes played between slacking maintenance employees and management, largely because those employees are mostly the exception and not the rule. They most likely have already been sent packing in the cuts and restructuring over the past few years anyway.

Establish Processes and Procedures

First, examine the culture of the shop. Do the employees come in each morning and catch up with each other around the coffee pot or do they come in, clock in, and start mapping out their day’s work? I believe a hybrid of these is a healthy model. we do not want to squelch the personal and professional morning interactions, but we certainly want to make sure that the time spent is of use to the goal of serving the maintenance needs of our students.

How are the work requests processed, converted to work orders, and assigned? Does a work control coordinator or maintenance manager/supervisor schedule them? Or are the employees simply given a stack of work orders and left to their own initiative to complete the work? We follow a combination of both practices in that preventive maintenance items are prescheduled, as are larger projects, so the employee’s time isn’t monopolized on one or two big projects without consideration given to who will cover routine calls as they come in. We are paperless; our maintenance technicians up- and download their new and closed work orders from smartphones or tablets. this automation frees up the work control person to enter and assign work requests, allowing for a seamless flow of operation in the field, as well as to pull reports to ensure completion of work requests and that nothing remains uncompleted for a period of time.

We work hard to group work orders so that employees can perform a series of work orders in the same building and area, and that they will have the appropriate stock on hand to get the job done. Time lost to searching for parts and supplies or in transit back and forth across campus is a momentum killer. In addition to grouping work orders, it is wise to work to eliminate the busy work that some of our technicians get involved with. Schedulers should be on the lookout for the miscellaneous small items and set a time for a technician to handle a stack of those all at one time, or slide them in as filler while working in a particular area.

The Time-Wasting Parts Run

I firmly believe the biggest time waster is the tradition of the parts run! Sending a fairly well-paid maintenance technician off campus to pick up a part has always made me cringe. Even the trip to the corner hardware store can take an hour, taking into account the time a technician has to put his tools away, call the office for a purchase order, get to the truck, drive to the store, enjoy coffee and a donut while chatting with the counter help, select and purchase the part, then drive back to campus, and then get back on the job. Great for the technician, but turning a 15-minute job into an hour-plus isn’t so good for our labor accountability!

Along that same line, it is important for us as leaders to provide the support the technicians need to succeed. This includes maintaining an appropriate and complete inventory of parts on hand, as well as an organized supply area(s) so they can retrieve the part(s) they need and then get on with their day. We recently began working with Grainger to create a “keep stock” program. this will ensure that we have the appropriate level of parts and supplies on hand each and every day. If you haven’t looked into such a program, give it a look. There are several supply companies providing this service and, in my view, it is an invaluable service. I greatly look forward to getting ours fully implemented.

Providing our technicians with well-conceived, customer-focused PM and routine maintenance schedules will ensure an organized workflow. Providing employees the proper information on parts required and inventory available for their areas will reduce time lost looking for inventory. In addition, providing a work environment that helps drive our technicians to produce in the field will increase efficiency and effectiveness of services. Effective services equal happy customers!

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at Stegemik@berkeleyprep.org.

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