What is a Procedure-Based Maintenance Organization?

When I was 19 years old I joined the Navy. I was assigned to work on submarines and spent much of my time in the service under water. Floating under the water in a hopefully airtight vessel will focus your mind on the importance of maintaining equipment. I was assigned to the Attack Submarine USS Snook (SSN-592).  During my time onboard I was forced to become familiar with the  “Submarine Safety” (SUBSAFE) program.  In fact , the Navy taught me a few things. First, I learned  the importance of  check lists. Second, I was introduced to the need for standard operating procedures. Finally, I was made to understand  the vital role of  detailed written procedures.

The Navy did not end up with lists, procedure sand instructions by accident. The SubSafe Program was instituted as a direct result of the loss of the USS Thresher (SSN-593) on April 10, 1963. The loss of 129 lives was, to say the least, a very sobering event for the Navy. The investigation board concluded that the ship was lost due to flooding caused, most likely, by the failure of a seawater system component that was probably reinstalled improperly during shipyard overhaul. There were no real instructions for the installation and no real procedure to check it.

The Navy concluded that failures in maintenance were typically caused by a lack of procedures and/or failure to follow and learn from procedures. The more detailed the procedures and the more insistence on compliance with process, the more effective a maintenance program will become. This reliance on instruction, procedure and routine was shown to greatly improve the odds that a vessel  would  be ready to perform at a  higher level , much closer to it’s design limits.  The Navy did the study and decided that in order to succeed they needed to become a  Procedure Based Organization.

A Procedure Based Organization produces or receives and complies with detailed written instructions for conducting not only maintenance, but also operations and routine checks.  To not only declare a company is a Procedure Based Organization, but it has to back it up with a working process for procedure and checklist origination, dissemination, feedback and follow-up. Users must have on-going evidence that their ideas for improvement are being received, considered and acted upon properly.  Otherwise, enforcement of a policy requiring compliance will quickly become impossible, because of a perception that management support for the process is weak or non-existent.

As with any program, once procedure based maintenance is established, it is imperative to continuously monitor its effectiveness and modify as required. Changes in technology and/or knowledge about maintenance best practice should also be incorporated into your procedure-based maintenance program to keep it up to date. Without the ability to dynamically manage change, maintenance practices are likely to become obsolete as technologies evolve and the program as a whole becomes incomplete as new equipment is brought in and old equipment is modified or mothballed. Without ongoing dynamic management of change, what may be best practices maintenance program today may become obsolete in as little as 3-5 years.

There is really no valid excuse, today, for not moving towards procedure based maintenance.  For the Navy, this involved creating checklists for each system on the vessel. There had to be sufficient inventory of key parts available to quickly work through problems and there needed to be training that taught people how to follow the checklists and how to manage the part inventory.

As a result of the Navy’s strict adherence to their SubSafe program there have been no more submarines lost due to maintenance problems. Thousands of lives have been saved and many disasters averted, simply by clinging to and learning from simple routine of constant maintenance. At Asterion, we help our clients develop the same checklists and maintenance logs to avoid plating problems and keep their lines producing finished parts and strong revenue.