The right tools for every job: Lean and agile in maintenance

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Sebastian Heitz, Martin Maestu, Matías Marcote, and Joël Thibert for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. They discuss why tomorrow’s maintenance function will combine the strengths of lean and agile organizations. To read the complete article, check out others, learn more about the firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

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Over the past seventy years, lean management’s focus on the reduction of waste and process variability through rigorous standardization and continuous improvement has transformed operational performance in many industries. More recently, the growth of Industry 4.0 and related digital technologies has brought a new methodology onto the scene. Born in the world of software engineering, agile techniques use cross-functional teams, rapid iteration, and regular testing to improve both the speed-to-market and quality of product and service development.Industrial operations increasingly find themselves at the intersection between these two highly successful improvement approaches. As an organization looks to digital solutions to achieve further performance improvements, should it build and implement those systems within existing lean frameworks, or should it adopt an enterprise-wide agile approach?
Worries about a potential clash are overblown. Although they use different terminology, lean and agile share many fundamentals: both approaches seek to maximize the value delivered to customers while safely minimizing the resources used. Increasingly, agile methods show the potential to address longstanding challenges in many organizations, breaking down silos between different functions or groups of technical specialists, and aiding the efficient allocation of resources in tasks with varying or intermittent workloads. The challenge for most organizations is not whether they pick one approach over the other, but how they combine the strengths of the two to achieve better results.

Agile’s potential in maintenance

The experience of one mining organization illustrates the potential of agile in maintenance, where inefficiencies remain despite the considerable successes companies have had in applying lean approaches.

Much of the difficulty results from the complexity of maintenance organizations, which typically coordinate an unusually wide range of tasks with varying frequencies, objectives, and work requirements. Moreover, the timing of maintenance interventions may be fixed—or may be variable based on data extracted from condition-monitoring systems and analytical tools. Amid these uncertainties, planners juggle regular preventative-maintenance activities, emergency repairs, and intermittent upgrades or overhauls. And, working closely with colleagues in manufacturing, quality, and procurement, reliability teams design and execute improvement activities.

Yet the hierarchical structure of maintenance organizations creates a strong tendency for different functional teams, crews, and trades to work mainly in isolation, with planning, execution, and reliability teams usually operating in silos. This tendency is reflected in the organizational-health scores of maintenance organizations, which average seven points lower than those of other operations within the same organization.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Sebastian Heitz is a consultant in McKinsey’s Santiago office, where Joël Thibert is an associate partner; Martin Maestu is a senior partner in the Buenos Aires office; Matías Marcote is a partner in the Vancouver office.

The authors wish to thank Miguel Loewy for his contributions to this article.


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