The tools to success
By Brandon Battles
When I began writing this column earlier this year, it was my intention to write several articles that laid the foundation for the profession of management. I would establish the foundation by first discussing the general principles that any manager in any industry would need to possess in order to proceed down a path of successful management. Once that was established, I would then narrow the scope of my articles to the manager in maintenance. I wanted to tie the variety of situations that managers in maintenance are likely to encounter within their organizations to the basic management skills. In other words, try to give the manager in maintenance a few management tools to help them move toward the objective of becoming a successful manager.
In my first article I certainly started down the path of accomplishing my intentions. This article pointed out the different set of skills that a person needs in order to be a successful maintenance technician vs. a successful manager in maintenance. However my next series of articles deviated slightly from the original intent. I started to get more into the specifics. For example, one article discussed the importance of maintenance and the budgeting process while another explored the efficiency of a maintenance organization in terms of labor hours.
As I reviewed these articles I realized I had failed to discuss a basic area of management. I had left out an important piece of the management foundation. Although I had alluded to this important piece, I failed to discuss it in detail. So rather than discussing a specific maintenance situation, I will digress slightly to meet my original intentions.
The four principles of management
Regardless of the type of industry or the type of organization, every manager shares a common ground. While performing management tasks, each manager depends upon the same four basic principles: planning, organizing, directing, and controlling.
Many books and articles exist about management and its responsibilities. If you haven’t done so recently, visit your local bookstore or pick up any business periodical and you will see an enormous amount of material discussing management: what works and what doesn’t, how to handle one employee vs. another, and which organizational structures are more successful than others. The list of subjects is almost endless. However, if you could boil the ingredients of these books and articles down to the basics, you would be left with four – planning, organizing, directing, and controlling.
Planning – Whether you’re a manager in your organization or not, or whether it’s related to work or not, everyone has planned. Certainly, some plan more formally than others but the bottom line is, all of us plan. For example, planning can be as simple as determining your next day’s schedule. When will you wake up? When and how will you get to work? What needs to be accomplished at work? What errands do you need to run after work? What will you eat for dinner? You get the point.
If planning is such a basic activity, why do we plan? Planning helps us accomplish goals or objectives more efficiently and effectively.
In your organization, three types of planning should exist – strategic, operational, and financial. If you are a manager in the maintenance organization, you will primarily be performing operational planning. The organization will determine its objectives and goals in a strategic plan, and it will be up to you to determine how your maintenance organization will accomplish them. You may also become involved with the financial planning in the form of developing a budget. An important point to understand is that the three types of planning are not mutually exclusive. A strategic plan at one level of the organization may create strategic, operational, and financial planning at another.
A simple example will illustrate how planning might play a role in an organization. The executive level of the organization has decided that overhaul activity to outside customers needs to increase by 20 percent in the upcoming year. (By the way, your organization was included in the discussions that established this strategic objective and the planning occurred more than two days before the end of the year. I really am an idealist, aren’t I?) Let’s also assume that the overhaul shop will not have to concern itself with planning the marketing and sales of this strategic plan. What are some of the issues that the overhaul shop manager and maintenance manager might want to address as they develop a plan to accomplish this objective?
• What does the term "activity" represent – sales, number of components, labor hours charged? Get those that developed the strategic plan to define this for you.
• Do we have the capacity (physical facility and labor hours) to meet the increase?
• Do we know planned vacations so we can determine times of more or less capacity?
• How will our work for internal customers fit into the objective?
• How will we know if we are meeting the objective? What measurement system(s) do we need to measure our progress?
• How often will we monitor our progress?
• Do we have a system in place to keep our sales staff appraised of our workload so they don’t promise unrealistic turnaround times? (OK, I’m being an optimist again.)
You can probably think of many more questions or issues, but the important point is that planning is fundamental to anything you try to accomplish.
Organizing – As was the case with planning, everyone performs some degree of organizing, whether it’s at work or in our personal lives. Organizing involves three key areas – the work, the people, the work area.
The work involves the actual activities that people will perform. Using our overhaul shop as an example, what activities are performed as it relates to a component that arrives for overhaul? What activities are performed upon receipt of the component? What paperwork is required? What activities are performed during teardown, inspection, testing, and buildup? Is testing performed before release to the customer? Does a document exist that will help the technicians as they proceed through these steps?
The second ingredient for organizing involves the people. Who will be doing the work at the various stages of the overhaul? This is important because you may be able to identify bottlenecks in the process ahead of time. Ideally, you do not want a mismatch of the technicians’ skills when compared with the activities. Who will have authority to approve the various stages of the work? Do not delegate work to individuals if they do not also have the related authority.
The third ingredient involves organizing the workplace. How will the work on the component physically flow through the organization? Will it resemble more of an assembly line or remain in one place while the various stages of work are performed? Where will support activities such as spare parts be located? Inventory that is not strategically located can add time to the process. Where will technical manuals be located? Will there be access to automated work orders? Where will you locate computer terminals? Organizing the workplace can be critical, especially if your capacity was stretched prior to the new 20 percent increase objective.
While organizing, you should recognize the objective, identify the activities that need to be performed, identify who will perform the activities, and delegate when possible.
Directing – This management principle deals exclusively with people. Up to this point, we have developed a plan as to how we can implement the objective of increasing the work performed for outside customers in the overhaul shop by 20 percent. Directing, as in the movies, implies controlling the activities of others toward the accomplishment of the objective. The overhaul shop manager is like the movie director, controlling and directing the activities of the technicians that work in the overhaul shop to accomplish the overall objective. In essence, the manager wants to find the best people (if that opportunity presents itself), give them the responsibility to get the work done, communicate what activities they need to perform, explain how to do the activities if necessary, and motivate them as to the importance of the objective.
A very important point, and one that took me a long time to understand, is that the manager does not actually perform the work. The managers direct, the others accomplish the work. With that said, I also recognize that many managers work for small organizations and performing the work is necessary. Just recognize that while the manager is wearing the manager’s hat, others perform the work.
Controlling – Another term to use for controlling, and one that makes it easier for me to understand, is measuring. Once again, as with the three other principles of management, most individuals perform this function whether it’s related work or personal situations. For example, most of us budget in our personal lives, some better than others. In its simplest form, we measure our actual expenditures against available funds. Budgeting is just one of our measurement tools in the maintenance department.
Why do we employ a system of measurement? Using the overhaul shop as our example, let’s identify some of the reasons. The measurement system:
• Can highlight the progress toward the objective of increasing the shop’s activity. You should not find out in December that you are only one-third of the way to accomplishing the objective.
• Can highlight problem areas if designed and used properly. Oftentimes it is not enough to know that a problem exists, but also where in the process the problem exists. The overhaul shop manager may have a bottleneck in the process that needs attention.
• Can show trends. Perhaps one shift in the overhaul shop is performing better than another or one individual takes longer than another. In this case, the overhaul shop manager may not have determined why, but at least the manager knows where to focus attention.
• Is objective and not based upon emotion. The manager will make better decisions, thus moving the overhaul shop toward the objective more efficiently.
As a final thought, a measurement system should have certain attributes. It should contain information that is timely and relevant to assist the manager’s decisions. It should improve the manager’s decisions by flagging or highlighting problems. And it should include the total operation. Do not overlook certain portions of the operation, as it is those that are frequently ignored that can lead to significant problems.
Planning, organizing, directing, and controlling – don’t underestimate the importance of the four principles of management. In sports, another profession that relies extensively upon these four principles, many successful coaches have said, it’s the attention paid to detail that is important to a successful team. As a manager you will perform these tasks every day and in just about every function that you do. Even though it may not seem like it to you, your everyday efforts in this area are important to your organization. And, as in sports, your organization’s success depends upon these management principles.
Brandon Battles is a partner with Conklin & de Decker. He has spent more than 15 years in aviation working with maintenance organizations in areas of cost collection and analysis, systems review, inventory analysis, and management training.