Episode 22: Coaching Maintenance Teams to the Next Level with Simon Murray
This week on Masterminds in Maintenance, we welcome Simon Murray to the show! In this episode, Ryan and Simon discuss how there is no silver bullet or magic wand when it comes to team betterment and growth. It is only through discipline, hard work, and consistent daily action that can improve your maintenance teams! Curious about what coaching entails – when your team needs it and what it’s all about? Listen today!
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00:06 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance, a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host, Ryan. I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week, I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes their idea failed, sometimes it made their business more successful and other times their ideas revolutionized an entire industry. Today I’m super excited, we’ve got the founder of Your Maintenance Coach on the show, Simon Murray. It sounds like you’ve previously held roles in reliability, project management, operations, general management. Simon, you’ve seen so many different challenges within manufacturing and I’m super excited to chat with you because you’re gonna be able to offer such a unique perspective to any business on their reliability journey. I also know in 2002, after many years of working, leading and creating high-performance maintenance teams, Simon, you also founded Your Maintenance Coach in order to help more maintenance workers achieve greater results faster. Welcome to the show, Simon. I’m super stoked to have you.
01:06 Simon Murray: Thanks, Ryan, great to be here. Looking forward to the conversation.
01:09 RC: The way that I always look to start these off is just share a little bit more about yourself and your background.
01:15 SM: Yeah, sure. So look I started with a fairly traditional background. Grew up in England, living in Melbourne, Australia now. And I did mechanical engineering out at university. But it didn’t take me long at university to realize that the technical aspects, the equations, all of that hard learning just wasn’t for me. So I was pretty fortunate in that I was sponsored through university by a global engineering company called IMI. And with being sponsored with them, what I was able to do was gain lots of internships. So every summer holidays, every Easter holidays at university, I was off in a different manufacturing facility.
02:00 SM: And by the time I’d finished university, I’d worked in probably 12 different organizations and they were making everything from copper pipe to air conditioners, pneumatic components and even my favorite one was actually a business making beer taps and things for bars and pubs. So saw lots of different aspects and what that really did for me, that’s when I started to develop a real passion for seeing how things were made. Yes, it was manufacturing, but really where my specialty started to develop was looking at a process and a system and really breaking it down to start taking the waste out of that process. Did all that in England and then now moved over to sunny Australia.
02:45 RC: All right. And you’ve started your own business. Could you tell us a little bit more about that, how it got started? Yeah, and anything else you’d love to share about Your Maintenance Coach?
02:56 SM: Yeah, look so the business started after… At about 15 years working as an engineering and a reliability manager in different businesses. And I suppose that journey, that getting into maintenance and reliability started very early on when I was thrust in as a Production Manager working in a company called Boral Bricks, which there’s lots of Boral construction materials over in America there. And I was working on the opposite side of reliability, so this is me sort of in the pain point here where we had a 35-year-old plant and we were running at about 50% uptime. So on a 12-hour shift, that’s six hours of fighting the plant. It was hard, hard work. So six hours of dealing with breakdowns, six hours with dealing with angry people. It was hot work. So after I’d been there for about six months, the maintenance manager’s position became available, and that’s when I said, “Look I’ve got to, I’ve gotta give this a go. I know there’s a better way to do it, I know there’s better things. Better things we can do to not have to work this hard every day.” So I moved over into that maintenance manager’s role. This is still very early on in my career.
04:19 SM: And at the time, we had no PMs, we had no CMMS. The store was a pile of parts in the back corner. We were a 100% breakdown maintenance, and look I didn’t even have a maintenance team because what had happened is due to a restructure, the production teams were now made up of maintainer operators. So it was actually technicians who were being asked to run the equipment. Now, this just didn’t work. These were guys who, they wanted to be fixing things, they wanted to be improving things. They didn’t want to be running machinery. So the whole thing just didn’t work, so that was really where I got started on that reliability journey, and that’s where I started realizing how can I help more people? And look about two years later, we were… We had an uptime of around 75%, which was a huge step-change from where that business had been. But more importantly, we had a really engaged team, that once I moved on to other things, they could actually start growing without me. So that’s where it all started. And then, as I said, the business really evolved from me wanting to help more people go through that journey themselves.
05:34 RC: That’s awesome. So you’re in this role, you’re able to make such a big impact and then you decided to hopefully take all those learnings and teach other people. I’m curious, Simon, was there one thing that really triggered you and said, “I’ve gotta do this. I’ve gotta start my own company. I’ve gotta help more people.” Was there one thing, one time that really triggered you?
06:00 SM: Yeah, look, it really was. It was a bit of an eye-opener for me, and it was… I did a keynote on this late last year in a big conference and it was that 3:00 AM phone call. So that was really the trigger. First of all, for me, going on that reliability journey and starting the business on my own and it was… When you’re working as an engineering manager no matter what industry you’re in, you’re used to those calls in the middle of the night, you’re used to helping the team all the time.
06:32 SM: But this 3:00 AM phone call one day, it actually came very unusually. It came with a kick in the back from my wife who said, “No. Come on, enough is enough.” There’d been calls night after night for some time. And that’s when I said, “Okay, let’s… How can I take what I know now, what I’ve implemented that improved in the businesses I’ve been in? And actually take a step back and instead of being stuck in the day-to-day with everybody, how can I go and help other people?” And the other side of that was, what I realized when I looked back and reflected was, as working as an employee, the roles I had previously, I was really going through the same process in each of those positions. So, I take on a new role as a maintenance manager, or an engineering manager.
07:20 SM: And the first 6 to 12 months was the same in every business I was going to. And it was really around resetting those foundations for future growth and sustainable reliability. So, what I realized was, “Hang on. If I’m going through the same process here, I need to take in me 12 to 18 months every time, what can I do to really wrap this up as a formal process or as a training system where I can give it to people and help accelerate that journey?” So that was the drive, it was, I can help. I realized as an employee, I could help different businesses, but it was gonna be a long and slow process, but by going out on my own, what I could really do was set this up as a program and a product and say, “Okay, this is how we can accelerate, accelerate these early stages of the reliability journey.”
08:09 RC: That’s awesome. Now you got me super curious, Simon. What is that process like? What is that six-month process? And I’m also curious, how did you turn the uptime, downtime at that plant you’re at from 50% to 75% in such a short period of time? What’s the secret there, Simon? [chuckle]
08:28 SM: Yeah, okay. So, the secret there was really a bit of hard work, and what I’d call… It was almost… We were being proactively reactive. So we started… We knew and I know it’s a strange term, but we knew we weren’t suddenly going to re-write all our PMs and launch into best practice reliability. So, what we really sat down and worked out was, “How do we claw our way out of the hole that we were in?” And we were looking here not for the big… The silver bullets or the magic wand. What we were working for was what are the things we can do today, to make today better than yesterday? That’s as far ahead as we were looking. We weren’t planning and scheduling for the next week or the next month. We were literally planning and scheduling for the next six hours. And I’ll be honest that the real thing that made the biggest difference is, we implemented something called “the daily disciplines” where what we did is we said, “Okay, for one hour every day, everybody on-site is gonna be working either cleaning the line or fixing the things that are really hurting us today.”
09:40 SM: So, it was changing the mindset of the maintenance team to really be service providers to the production team. We developed a good partnership there, but it was really around how do we work to… How do we really make things better for them? So that was the thing that started to make that difference. Every day we would really be saying, “How do we make things better for the operations team?” And that’s what really started to make that difference and turn that downtime. So from that, what came about was this sort of model that I now roll out and help people with. And the model which I call the reliability maximizer is based on three core, core pillars. And the first one is that we look to how do we engage the maintenance and the engineering team? Without a team that’s truly engaged in what they’re doing, you’re just not gonna go anywhere. So first thing I look at is, how do we really engage that team? And it’s engagement in, “Yes, we have the company vision, mission, values.” But it’s also then from the engineers perspective, how do we engage them in meaningful measures, and KPIs that drive that engineering mind? And what I find is, with a really engaged team, it takes a lot of weight off the shoulders of the leadership because they can show the direction and let the team run.
11:07 RC: Yeah.
11:08 SM: The second pillar there is… The second pillar really is then all about, how do we systemize our processes? How do we look at, are we using the right tools in the systems? Now that could be the CMMS. It could be our planning and scheduling process and system. It could be vibration analysis or what PMs are we using. What are our tactics around how we do our systems? And then the third pillar is delivering great service to our customer. And in here, we’re working on, as I say, does that mid-mindset shift around, are with the service? Who is our customer? Who’s the internal customer? We’re providing a service, but also how do we join in that partnership with operations and whoever that customer is. And within that deliver a great service, we do a lot of looking at how do we build knowledge in the team, how do we continuously improve that maintenance and reliability team? We’ve put a lot of focus on improvements and continuous improvements of the business and the equipment, but often we forget to look at our own internal processes and behaviors and see how do we improve them.
12:18 RC: Yeah. I gathered two really, really important things that I think it’s so easy for us to forget. One that I heard from you, Simon, is focus, have blocks of time so that the team can really, really focus on the most important things. And then two is having a very close relationship with operations. And I feel like from my understanding, what I’ve also seen too, is you could get into pretty nasty misalignments if the two teams aren’t super, super closely aligned.
12:50 SM: Yeah, look, you certainly can, there’s that blame game is there and the blame game, I used to dread always going in as an engineering manager, I used to dread the 8:30 meeting in the morning because you just know it’s a blame game no matter what it is. And that comes from the overall culture of the business. But what I always try and help teams with… And as I say, I do a keynote on this, that I share and it… The title of that is Maintenance Team From Villain to Superhero and what I’m really trying to help is these reliability leaders that are out there who know they’re doing great work but their whole team is seen as the villain, you know it’s always that reliability team that gets the blame. No matter what it is they’re seen as the villain in the piece. And what I found is when we put this framework in place, the maintenance reliability team can go from being seen as the villain to being seen as the super hero in the business and that’s when there is no blame game, that’s when operations and other divisions and departments come to the reliability team because they know they’re the experts in what they do. They know they can rely on them for technical support but also when you look at a reliability team, particularly in the manufacturing space where I deal a lot in, they’re probably the most highly educated, highly paid people in the business and many businesses just don’t leverage those skills or knowledge.
14:17 RC: This is a great transition into this next question of showcasing the value of a maintenance reliability team. I think you mentioned as well, it’s so easy for the maintenance reliability team to be blamed as the villain, the cause of a lot of problems, when I think about this operations versus maintenance and reliability. Operations is revenue generating for the company, maintenance reliability is cost reduction for the company, it’s cost savings, what are the best ways that you’ve seen to elevate the maintenance and reliability team to the super hero status? When most commonly companies are like, “Yeah, we want more revenue, more production versus reducing cost, reducing downtime, a lot of times?”
15:09 SM: That’s a tough, tough question and it’s a tough… It comes down to… You know what it’s really gotta be, it’s having brave leadership in there because that first step to acknowledge that, “Hey, this reliability journey, there’s no short-term wins in there financially.” It’s very difficult often to see the immediate short-term gains for somebody and we know ourselves if you roll out great, great software or you start doing great PMs or put in a great lubrication schedule, those gains are there, you can start to see the wins from a reliability perspective but unfortunately what doesn’t happen is the maintenance team don’t spend any less because usually that money just goes to be spent in better places.
15:56 SM: So what I found in the businesses that really adopt this is that they’re able to look at the impact of their reliability journey not on, is the maintenance budget less, are we spending less in maintenance but on what’s the impact to the overall business? Are we producing more? Are we getting more out of our machinery? Because really, I’ve never seen yet, a maintenance budget where the spend decreases over time. We certainly do more with our money, we get more bang for our buck but the actual overall dollar amount very rarely goes down because there’s always more things to do. And that’s I think, where lots of businesses struggle because as senior leaders, you put in this big reliability program, you put in all this focus. You wanna see the actual dollars that you’re spending go down and that’s just not gonna happen. As I say, the real good businesses, the businesses that do well they don’t look at what the dollar amount is, they look at what they’re getting for that dollar. So you know, some of the businesses I work with, the maintenance spend in some cases actually increases but there is a disproportionate increase in the amount of productivity on the production line or the morale of the team or less breakdowns. So for me it’s really that, it’s having a strong leader who’s willing to take that risk and for the first couple of months say, “We’re gonna invest in this and we know we’re gonna see the gains in other areas of the business.”
17:24 RC: Yeah, and I think what I’m also hearing from you, Simon, is the attribution, as we progress over time, as our production increases, as we get all of these productivity improvements we wanna make sure that we can look back and answer the question of why did that increase and if we can attribute that towards better maintenance, better reliability program, that’ll help showcase, elevate the importance of the maintenance reliability team too.
17:54 SM: Very much so and look, it hits now… If I can give an example, I was working with a client and they were running, it was two eight-hour shifts but it was a fresh product, it was a dairy product so the afternoon shift couldn’t go home until all of the production had been done for the day. Now, in this business, there was a couple of people on the team who liked a little bit of overtime, but there was also a large proportion of this team that were working well past midnight every night. But that was because of breakdowns and interruptions to equipment and when we dug a bit deeper what we found was a lot of the ladies working on that production line had to get up early the next day to go and take their kids to school. So for them, working an extra couple of hours overtime was absolutely horrendous for their personal life, now that led to them being tired, it was leading to accidents but what, more importantly it led to was just terrible morale in the business and this real blame back to the maintenance team.
18:54 SM: Now, so we picked up on these things and we realized, okay, if we can focus our reliability efforts on that line and clearly show the tangible benefits of less overtime. Increase morale, and then it just becomes an improvement cycle. So that’s what we did. We focused on that line, we fixed… And of course, it always comes down to the people who are working on the line knew what the problems were. It didn’t take any… It didn’t take any reliability consultants to come in and work out what needed to be done. We just asked the people on the floor. We made those improvements, and within… Again, within a couple of weeks in this case, the overtime had started to drop, the ladies on the line were much more motivated and happy, and then we started to get more ideas, and then it just became an improvement cycle that fed off itself.
19:46 RC: Simon, you’ve worked with a bunch of different companies, got to see so many different processes I’m guessing, some that worked super well and some that seem a little bit broken. Yet, I’m wondering, I’m curious, is there one project that stands out to you? That you would deem as the most memorable or maybe the most impactful?
20:08 SM: Yeah, look, there is. There’s one that really stands out for me. So a few years ago, I spent probably close to six months out in a country town with a timber mill. So we were… It was in the forest areas, and it’s [20:21] ____ right in the middle of where the Australian bush fires are at the moment. So we were… I went into this timber mill, and it’s… There’s about 400 people employed in the mill in a town of 3,000. So this mill supports the whole town. So everybody had a vested interest in this being a real success, right? I went in and I suppose the mandate was… At the time, the engineering manager’s position was vacant, so the agreement I had with them is they said, “Look, come in and do your thing, but be here full time. We really wanna accelerate this change.” So normally I would work with people either online or we’re doing some coaching and training. In this case, they said, “Come and sit here. We need to make a big change in the next 12 weeks.”
21:11 SM: So what this allowed me to do, and this is one of my first sort of real testers of the program, this is a good few years ago now, what I was able to do was be there every day, but implement everything I’d learned over the last 10 years and implement it very, very quickly. So it was almost like a super accelerated version of the program. And it was easy because I was there doing it with the team. And what we did is, we were learning again, there we were about 55% uptime, big, heavy industrial equipment, and it was a team that they were disengaged, but only because of the way they’d been previously led. So they were a good team who wanted the best for their mill and their town, so it was quite a straightforward process to help get them back engaged. And that’s where we started.
22:01 SM: So we took them through the normal steps I would take them through, which was what was our vision and our purpose for this team? What did the team actually stand for? And as one of the biggest employers in the area, it actually stood for much more than fixing the equipment. That team was really there to support the whole town. So we set up our vision and our mission for the maintenance team. We set up some really achievable goals. So for many, many years, the OEE target, the uptime target on the boards had been completely unachievable. It was a target of about 75%, the plant was running at round the 50s, so nobody looked at the charts anymore. Those KPIS weren’t being used to drive any sort of different behavior. So we reset them and we said, “Look, what are we gonna achieve over the next 12 weeks?” And we took it back to basics, we set a big goal that we put up on the board in the workshop with everybody’s photo around it as a team huddled in, and we said, “Look, over the next 12 weeks we’re gonna improve efficiency by let’s say 5 to 7%.” That was our target, nice and achievable.
23:09 SM: Then what we did is we started really pull to bits their daily huddle meeting. And so I structured a program called The Greatest Huddle, because I really believe that daily standup meeting is the most important part of the day. So we had a team of about 30 all spread out over a large area, and that’s when we brought this team together. So the daily huddle was just revolutionized. We had meaningful KPIS, we were talking about the culture of the business and the team, and we were talking about not what’s gonna happen over the next couple of weeks, but what are our immediate 24 hour actions. And that’s, again, as far as we look.
23:49 SM: So that started getting the team motivated. Then what we started to look at very quickly was, “Why is this plant keep breaking down? We’ve got all the PMs in the world, what’s happening?” And we found a real blockage in the planning and scheduling process. So the tradesmen were identifying jobs, dozens and dozens of jobs every day of broken and damaged equipment that needed repair, but the planning and scheduling was a real bottleneck. Work just wasn’t getting through. So we jumped in there, we used some Lean tools, we value-stream mapped that planning and scheduling process, we looked at how we had the CMMS set up, and we put work just saying… We put a dedicated planner in and said, “Look, your role is to just get parts kits ready. Don’t focus on anything else other than get jobs ready.” And within three weeks, we had 200 jobs kitted up ready to go.
24:44 SM: So we had a backlog in the CMMS of close to 1000 jobs, and these were things that we knew we could actually go and fix straight away, actually broken things. So with this planning process in place then, what we ended up with was 200 jobs ready to go. And then it became a very, very easy discussion for me to go and see senior management and say, “Look, we’ve got all these parts here, we’ve already spent the money. All I need is a tradesman to come in on Saturday, which is relatively a very low cost compared to the money we’ve spent on parts, and install all this stuff.” And within… As I say, within… I was there for about three months, I ended up looking after them for quite a time after that, but within that three months, they were the things that really turned the dial, because as soon as everybody saw, “Wow, we’ve got all this work ready to go,” and of course, senior management don’t see that when it’s in the CMMS, they only see it when it’s in parts kitted up on the shop floor, ready to go.
25:41 SM: Their mindset changed and then it was… They were saying then, “Okay, you bring me whatever labor you need. Let’s get this in.” ‘Cause again, it’s… And this was fortunate, we had the leadership team that could see the long-term return on investment of this program we were running because this is such a massive, massive facility, an hours downtime was tens of thousands of dollars, and we were able to prove very, very quickly that, “Hey, if you give us this time next week is gonna be better.” We could prove we were fixing things that were we were gonna… That were already broken, so people could see that immediate return on investment.
26:19 RC: So it sounds like you’re able to come in with a great team, you started with vision and make a big impact on a lot of the resources that already existed within the business. That sounds like an amazing opportunity. It sounds like you’ve made such a big impact as well.
26:36 SM: The impact’s great, the setting up the technical things are great, but the real one is seeing that team grow as well. There’s very, very, rarely that I go into a team and if does happen as it does in all organizations, where the actual people are the problem. It’s always having to look at, “Okay, what are the systems and processes that you’ve got in place to support these people? Is your training right?” Yeah, so it’s great to be able to work with a team that’s there and see them grow.
27:04 RC: That’s awesome. One thing you wish more people knew about the maintenance and reliability industry?
27:11 SM: Wish I knew. I think these are… The answer I’m gonna give you… I think people already know this, but refuse to acknowledge it, and in doing that I think they pretend they don’t know. And the first one, the first one we’ve already really touched on, and this is for… This is for the leadership of the business, and it’s to really understand, acknowledge, and know the return on investments in the reliability program. It’s really to understand and know, “Hang on. Yes, it’s not necessarily about the dollars going out the door, but we’ve got to understand where we see that return on investment, and we’ve got to be willing to spend that money knowing, at some point, it’s gonna come back to us.” So that’s one that I wish the senior leadership and the senior sponsors would actually take on board. And the second one is for is for the actual reliability leaders themselves, and that’s that, unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet and there’s no magic wand.
28:11 SM: And you’ll know this yourself, I go to a lot of conferences, both speaking and participating, and the amount of people I see there… See, they were just looking for that secret thing that’s gonna make all the difference, it doesn’t exist, unfortunately. And there’s a whole heap of vendors of different things that sorta look at me funny, “Don’t tell anyone that secret.” But really there’s no magic bullet out there. It’s disciplined, hard work and consistent daily action. And I think as leaders in particularly in this space, because we’re all very technical, because we’re all looking for the next thing we can implement, we actually forget that the thing that can make the most difference is just those daily basic habits.
29:03 SM: Talk about your culture. Talk about your team. Talk about your real basic KPIs and measures, and have good conversations every day about how can you make today better than yesterday, and if you’re doing those things all of the other tools, all of the other gizmos, they all come to you at the right time. But if you go out there looking for the… That gizmo with a little tool that’s gonna save the world and save your plant, it’s just not there without that daily discipline.
29:31 RC: Yeah, and that’s actually funny Simon, I think I asked you what’s the secret as well during this last 30 minute podcast together.
29:41 SM: Yep. [chuckle] That’s it, it’s… Yep, it’s unfortunately, it’s… Yeah, that secret is, do what you know needs to be done. It’s… And just… It’s just that… It’s that consistency. It’s that daily routine, and just building. Building, step by step.
29:56 RC: Yeah, absolutely. Simon, favorite book to read and learn from?
30:02 SM: Wow, I always go back to… I’ve got a book, and I can’t remember the name of the author, it’s called The Little Book of Business Wisdom. I picked it up many, many years ago and it’s a couple of pages on all of the great business leaders of the world and some of their little quirks. There’s a little page there, the one that stands out is… There’s one on Hilton as he was trying to grow his hotel chain, and he would always have dessert why he was waiting for his main course to come because he was always rush, rush, rush. So Little Book of Business Wisdom, it’s little anecdotes from all the great leaders over our time.
30:40 RC: Alright, I’ll have to go pick that one up as well.
30:42 SM: Yeah.
30:43 RC: Simon, I learned so much from you. This has been such a great conversation. Can you share with all of our listeners the ways that they could connect with you and follow you on your journey as well?
30:54 SM: Yeah, sure. Look the easiest way is on LinkedIn. I like to do lots on LinkedIn, always growing that network. So you can find me, Simon Murray or actually, Simon Murray LinkedIn, your maintenance coach, or Look you can also just jump on the website and download one of the free resources there and I’ll add you to the email list.
31:14 RC: Awesome, thank you so much again, Simon for joining us, thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, I’m the CEO and founder of Upkeep. You can also connect with me, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn, or shoot me an email directly at [email protected] Until next time. Thanks so much, Simon.
31:34 SM: Thank you Ryan.