Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is Your Maintenance Organization Centralized Or Decentralized?

During a recent conversation with a group of clients we were discussing the idea of centralized and decentralized maintenance or in other words should maintenance report to a maintenance leader or an operations leader by area. Based on that conversation I wanted to share my thoughts on how I see the two and why you might want one over the other based on your maturity as an organization and then solicit your opinions on the subject.
If I were to discover an organization that was very reactive and lacked reliability maturity I would recommend a centralized maintenance structure where all of the maintenance organization reports up through a mature maintenance and reliability leader. Reason: if you are trying to improve reliability you need a strong central leader to drive the message early on and then build a coalition that moves the understanding out into the organization and ingrains it into the culture. As the organization reaches a higher level of maturity where operations understands the guiding principles of reliability that will help the organization to continue to improve then we can look at decentralization.
If you make the move to decentralized maintenance too early then you risk the craftsmen being stationed by operations next to a machine "to stand guard". Of course they would do this to facilitate faster reacting to failures and reduction of their set up and down time. What we want to occur instead is for those crafts to identify and eliminate the failure modes and prevent re-occurrence through root cause analysis, improved craft skills, precision maintenance and other tools not just learn to react faster.
What are your thoughts?


  1. Shon,

    You are allowing logic to prevail. :-)

    Many companies have shifted back and forth between centralized and decentralized maintenance (many times) for other reasons (re-oganization, politics, power struggles, etc...) that are not as result-focused as the criteria in your article.

    Great advice. Thank you, you provide a nice simple decision criteria for maintenance structure here.

    I hope some others will chime in for a better discussion on this topic.

  2. Hi Shon,

    I totally agree, and have found that strong leader that is also not a great teacher, mentor and coach, never really improves the culture and maturity of the organization. Good tools and techniques may require a strong leader to make happen, yet the plan should be for the day when that person leaves the building - will the program and culture remain?



  3. Maintenance and operations have different goals that must both be addressed so I see a modified centralized set up with dedicated area coverage a good place to end up. Operations is a very short term view with the focus always on the schedule while maintenance has the responsibility to safeguard the value of the owners' assets. The longer view has to prevail for that so you need a mix to address both time views. A strong central organization addressing long term activities and a skilled area coverage for the fast response and line ownership that operations needs would be the goal but you have to start with a strong central leadership group that builds methods and processes to keep it going even when the original group of leaders moves on. Training has to be regular and continuous to meet both needs, including basic maintenance philosophy and methodology for the operations leadership so they understand their part in the picture and know that their needs are going to be addressed. It's like in 5S, the Sustain part is the hardest.

    1. Maintenance people should never report to operation, with the exception that some organizations place maintenance technicians on night shift to accomplish various duties such as lubrication, next day task preparation, and addressing unscheduled downtime issues.
      Centralized maintenance always work better however the requirement remain that maintenace management and operations management should always work together in order to faciitate proper operation and scheduled downtime planning issues.
      I work in Mining and do centralized maintenance with the different trades being under a dedicated supervisor ie: mechanical, electrical/plc, welding etc. further we split relaibility/planning/plant/mobile equipment/auxilliary equipment/light vehicle and power generation into separate maintenance areas but remain with superintendents or area supervisors reporting to a central Maintenance Manager... Conflict of interest with De-Centralized Maintenance exists.

  4. Shon,

    I think the theory of having organizations mature enough have maintenance run by operations sounds good but it is extremely difficult to execute. I have yet to encounter such an organization that has such maturity to execute such an approach. Even top companies that we hold up as world-class lack the discipline and culture to pull this approach off effectively.


  5. The centralized and decentralized maintenance organization set up also depends on the geographical spread of the organization. Like a steel plant spread over several acres with each section of the plant being a small organization by itself, a centralized maintenance department will be an unworkable idea. It will have its own management issues with resources spread very thin on the ground. In a situation like this, it will be sensible to have each section wise maintenance setup under the control of operation to ensure homogenized approach to asset care. The other services that are central in nature could be centralized for common access on nee basis. If we are talking about medium sized companies having 100-200 equipment being looked after by COO then the engineering/maintenance function should be centralized for better effectiveness.

  6. Hi Shon,

    I absolutely agree with you and the reason that i have seen why "un-mature" organisations can not make de-centralized work is often that they have too short of a vision. That is they focus too much on delivering the next weeks production goal rather than maybe exceeding the yearly goals, i.e. lack of understanding that Reliablity really is a endless marathon... not a 100 meter sprint!

    Best regards, Bjarni

  7. Regardless of maturity, when each area of a plant manages its own Maintenance organization, each area individually has the same issues that every plant has: how do you get and maintain a strong focus on reliability -- on doing the right things rather than just the expedient things?

    There are at least two reasons for a centralized organization: (1) consistency of philosophy and practices across the company/facility, and (2) efficiencies of scale. Neither of those goals are achievable when each area in a plant, regardless of size or maturity, tries to staff to achieve reliability leadership and focus.

    I support Bob Schindler's comment above: "Maintenance and operations have different goals that must both be addressed. ... A strong central organization addressing long term activities and a skilled area coverage for the fast response and line ownership that operations needs would be the goal...."

    A blended organization -- centralization for consistency plus lightly staffed area coverage -- can meet the short- and long-term needs of facilities of many (all?) sizes. No matter how "mature" the organization is, as soon as the central function disappears, consistency starts disappearing, as well.

    Per CSG's suggestion that a centralized approach can't work in a large facility spread out over several acres: I've seen a blended approach work very well in a large integrated steel mill.

  8. When I first started reading this I thought I was going to stand alone in defense of Centralized Maintenance Management. Production and Maintenance DO have completely different agendas. The kind of culture you have to foster to drive a high efficiency, reliability centered maintenance department full of engaged and motivated technicians cannot be maintained, much less created, by production shift supervisors. Not they they aren't bright or good at their job, it is just not what they do. Safety, Operations, Maintenance, every department, should all butt heads every now and then, if they do not, they are complacent. It takes someone above them, who sees the bigger picture, to balance all of the needs of each department to the organization's best interest.

  9. in addition, both are particular functions and effective in their need but should be performed through right decision,
    if the company is huge and holding many giant working departments the Decentralized maintenance would be efficient enough with respect to production targets, costs etc.
    but if the facility is small scale industry then Centralized maintenance is preferable and beneficial for time saving, cheap in cost and minimum utilization of man power.
    i suggest centralized maintenance because its effective, in minimum man power utilization and time consuming approach.