I always start my preventative maintenance training with a quote from Henry Petroski, civil engineer, who said: “Success is foreseeing failure.”

It’s only four words, but it defines what every preventative maintenance (PM) program should strive for. Whether you have been in it for many years or are a new comer, your most effective weapon against breakdown is a well-organized and on-schedule PM program.

It doesn’t matter what field you are in or how large or small your organization is; the fact remains, if you do it correctly and consistently, it works. Proper staffing levels are required to stay on schedule and staying on schedule is the cornerstone of all successfully run programs.

You can still run your program behind schedule, but your breakdowns will increase and your program will become less efficient. Your troops will be doing more breakdown maintenance than preventative maintenance, a sorry situation for everyone concerned - your company, department, and customers.

New technologies have emerged to supplement the PM program i.e., infrared scanning, oil analysis, vibration analysis, etc. They are very effective and have added much more refinement to the program. You will notice that I used the word supplement to describe them. They do not take the place of the PM program, but enhance it. There is no substitute for the day-in and day-out battles that must be waged to keep breakdowns at bay.

Over the years, I have developed this chart, which I use to explain to the class how a well-run program should be organized. First, let’s discuss what is a breakdown. The dictionary explains it as “failing to function.”

It can be a complete failure i.e., a motor burn out. It can be a partial failure i.e., a motor overheats but still runs. It can be an intermittent failure i.e., a motor stops and starts for no apparent reason. It can be a calibration failure i.e., a thermostat won’t control temperature properly.

As you can see, a breakdown can take many forms. It can be major or minor, but it’s always a problem that needs to be corrected.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.


Let’s look over the chart at right. As you can see, the planning, strategy, and tactics start at the headquarters.

Planning is the first and most important step. John Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” It’s the same in maintenance as it is in basketball.

Take the time needed, months if necessary, to develop your plan and always involve your troops in the planning phase. You might ask how do I plan my particular program? My answer to that question is “know your enemy.”

Do you have 1,000 motors in your plant that you have to keep running 16 hours a day, 300 days a year? Do you have computer room air conditioners that can never be shut down? How can you schedule the maintenance these air conditioners need?

You get the idea. You have to know your plant, your systems, and their needs. You need to develop your strategy around this information. There are many fine programs out there to help you.

To give you an example, our program has 225 pumps that must have PM done twice a year, on schedule. This is part of our overall planning strategy; to do the PMs needed to keep these pumps operating at their designed efficiency. We have a planned strategy for all of the equipment in our program.

The tactics we use to accomplish this strategy is the next topic to discuss.

I’m going to assume you have enough troops to move against the enemy. If you were setting up your program in a new plant that had yet to start up, this should have been part of your overall planning. There is information available to help you plan tasks and how long they should take to complete. If you are coming into an existing plant, the troops may or may not be sufficient. If you have enough troops, good. If you don’t, you’ll have to do your best to control and defeat breakdowns working under a disadvantage.

Let’s look at the chart again - you will notice we have the enemy surrounded. He cannot break out as long as we keep pressure on him and keep him under control. Keeping him besieged is your tactical objective.

I’ve set the stage for our attack to begin. We have a sound plan, we have developed tactics, and we have enough troops to control the growth of our enemy.

Now what?

Gather your troops and explain your overall strategy. They should have been in the planning phase. Explain the benefits of the program; if they do it correctly and on schedule as much as humanly possible.

What are the benefits?

• Increased reliability and life of equipment.

• Fewer major repairs and downtime.

• Shift from breakdown maintenance to preventative maintenance.

• Fewer emergencies.

• Better customer relations.

• Less work stress = PM (Peace of Mind).

• Increased profits.

• Glory for you and your troops (Bonus).


Look at the chart - find persistence. Next to your overall strategy, this may be your most important challenge. You must, at all costs, keep your program active and vigorous. I try to see that PM is done every workday. If you are understaffed, you will have to prioritize and be willing to adapt to changing conditions. It’s your responsibility to make sure the work gets done.

Training is our next prong of attack. Train your troops both on the job and in formal settings. New technology is a blessing and a bane. It gives you an edge; it also gives breakdown an edge. Your troops must be properly prepared to meet these new threats.

Standards are the level of requirement. What brand of line starters do you prefer? Will you accept sloppy and shoddy workmanship? Will you tolerate late shipments from vendors? These are questions of standards or levels of requirements. Your PM will live or die based on what kind of standards you set for it. Set high standards and have your troops, contractors, and others that report to you rise to meet them. Don’t lower your standards to meet theirs.

The next prong is the routine, which is a course of action or schedule. Your schedule is your guide, it could be quarterly, bi-annual, yearly, who knows, only you and your troops can determine that. But its role cannot be underestimated. Without it, you are like a ship at sea without a rudder.

The documentation that you do and the level of quality and importance that you place on it will be another major factor in your success or failure. Your office staff must be involved, hopefully from the very beginning, and they must be properly trained and committed to the program and its success.

Next, I want to discuss the key role that your auxiliaries - contractors and vendors - play.  If you can’t get the logistical support to the front when you need it, breakdowns will begin to defeat you and instead of being on the attack, you will be in retreat. Sit down with your key contractors and vendors and discuss their roles in the program. Let them know what is expected of them, they are essential to your success. If they won’t or can’t conform to your high standards, muster them out and recruit new auxiliaries to fill the gaps in your lines.

The next prong is observation or paying attention. This sounds simple enough. How hard can that be?

Talk with your troops about taking ownership of their equipment, areas, and customers. They are your eyes and ears out on the front lines. Always remember that they are the troops and they hold back the “hordes of breakdowns.” Their input is essential to the conduct of the war. Always be on guard. Neil Young said “Rust never sleeps,” and it’s true.

The last assault, but not the least is ingenuity or inventive skills. This is the assault that separates the winners from the losers. Everyone in your program will contribute to this effort by presenting new ideas i.e., let’s switch to this new grease for motor bearings, it protects better and will last longer without drying out. This is one example, a basic but important one. Try to foster in your troops a climate where their ideas are valued and used. If they can improve the program, they will take ownership of it. It will be their program and they will nurture it and believe in it and its value. This is another way to make constant improvements, because if you are not moving forward, you are falling behind.

So what is breakdown doing while you are doing your best to defeat it? It’s getting older and next to neglect that is what’s going to give you the most problems. Sure all the other factors are important, but they are easier to control. The older the equipment, the more it has worn out.

If you have a 35-year-old air handler, you have to maintain it; it will take more of your resources than a 10-year air handler in good condition. Age is your enemy.

Now that you know what it will take to make you, your troops and your program a success or failure, roll up your sleeves, put on your battle gear and get out there and conquer breakdowns.

Publication date:05/05/2008