As both a practitioner and consultant, I am frequently reminded of how attention to detail somehow escapes us from time to time. I vividly remember the occasions when someone forgot to add oil to a gearbox on installation or got motor rotation wrong on a motor change. I don’t know about you, but I never enjoyed trying to explain the errors to a plant manager. Words ring hollow when trying to fill the void left from losing several hours of production to events like these. The frustrating part is that a simple procedure or checklist can prevent most, if not all, of these occurrences. It’s not hard to tabulate the direct cost to the organization. Calculating the indirect loss of a customer or, worse yet, loss of life is not as easy. In some cases, you can’t put a number on it as it’s priceless. To better highlight procedures and checklists, let me share a recent experience with you.

It happens that I have been traveling to Mobile, Ala., once a month for the last several months. Every visit, the same major rental car company there has never failed to disappoint from a customer service and rental car perspective. Last week was no exception. I had high hopes for success when the counter agent informed me that my rental only had five miles and was new. That said, my checklist before leaving the lot includes inspecting the fuel level and the car for damage. When checking the fuel level, I noticed the protective clear plastic film had not been removed from the instrument panels. I speculated about their procedure to prep their cars. Did they use a checklist? It only took a 30-minute trip through stop-and-go traffic including about 15 miles on the Interstate at 65 mph to get my answer. No, no smoke, but just a smell that didn’t register well. I popped the hood, pulled the dipstick and ... no oil. In disbelief, I checked again to confirm. NO OIL!

A few calls later, the counter agent relays a message from the manager to drive the car back to the airport 30 miles away. I asked if they were serious. Drive with no oil? The dipstick was completely dry - not a drop. Then, I’m told that I can buy the oil and get reimbursed. I like how it’s now my problem (go figure). More calls and roadside assistance gets them to agree to transport another car on a car hauler to me and haul the other one back. Now that was an expensive fix. The replacement car is new as well. Applying a continuous improvement loop to my checklist, I check the oil as part of the inspection. It’s got oil and the protective film has been removed on most of the instruments. But, the fuel tank is not full.

Do you think established procedures and checklists could have prevented my misery? As the rental car location is not very large, I don’t image prepping new cars for service is an everyday occurrence. This makes having a procedures and checklists all the more important. From a maintenance perspective, we have similar issues. Much of the work we do is repetitive, but we don’t necessarily do it every day. That’s where the maintenance planning function comes into play. These checklists should be built into the job plans and task lists. Many can be generic, meaning written once and reused in multiple areas (think technical library inside your CMMS). Ideally, you want a small area beside each step for the technician to initial indicating they did the work. In the end, management has to audit to ensure the process is working and people are held accountable. You never can predict the complete ramifications of not having the checklists or following the processes. It may be ruined equipment and loss of use, or worse.

While most groups will say they have checklists (although I have seen some organizations with none), requiring their use and the accountability are often major factors for success. In your organization, what processes do you have in place to ensure that people use maintenance procedures and checklists? How do you validate their use?