The fallacy and danger of Maintenance Audits: Maintenance Audits do not bring You Maintenance Success

The very best monitoring and measuring analysis you can do for your company’s maintenance success is to develop the distribution curves of your range of maintenance KPI’s.

At least they will be useful in the honest decision-making you need to do to continually become a better and better maintenance performer.



Hello and welcome,

The moment you use a maintenance audit tool you start disrupting your company. You will find that in the end a maintenance audit is useless because the audit does not explain HOW to become world class. The multi-question audit tools used in a maintenance audit scale an organisation against someone’s supposed best maintenance practices. Every maintenance consultant uses them—we’ve got copies of 3-4 alternate ones to select from. But I must admit, I have never known a maintenance audit bring a consultant’s clients true, lasting maintenance success. You would not be totally wrong to say they are used just to make money for consultants off ignorant clients.

Maintenance audit results actually cause disruption to your company because when you use the audit improvement suggestions you introduce randomness into your maintenance and operating processes. The audit makes you use point solutions, when you ought to be using system-wide solutions based on your own Key Performance Indicator (KPI) distribution curves. Maintenance KPI performance distribution curves are what we really prefer to develop for clients that want certain maintenance success—they show you the true business system-wide effects.

SAP, Maximo and all other CMMS (Computerised Maintenance Management System) are not the maintenance system. They are just computerised databases of information, they are no more than a glorified document management system. They do not make companies successful—people making the right choices do that. The only time a CMMS adds value to a company is when it contains the right data. It is the data that has worth, not the computer system.

In our maintenance audit recommendations to improve a clients’ maintenance system and its maintenance results we like to add true worth by showing them the frequency distribution curves of their current maintenance KPI’s. Frequency distibution curves of company performance indicators tell you a company’s chance of future success. We base our suggestions to improve their performance on the future distribution curves they want to create and teach them how to use the curves to guide the choices they must make in future.

Sometime ago I started to develop the ‘LRS Maintenance System Audit Tool’—a maintenance audit question set—but I never finished it. I came to dislike it because of its inherent dishonesty and trickery.

One of the books that helped form my view of what creates operational excellence is ‘Out of the Crisis’ by the late W. Edwards Deming. In it he talks a lot about causing randomness; about why random behaviour happens in processes, and the subsequent negative impacts on the system in which the processes belong. He uses an example of dropping marbles through a funnel and making adjustments to the funnel position based on where each marble lands. If you move the funnel to compensate for the random variation you create havoc to the system or at best degrade the system performance. Basically Deming advises in his book not to tamper with processes. Every change you make to a process is an experiment that may not work. I want to warn you that implementing audit results creates randomness in businesses. Business owners and managers do not understand this phenomenon and why it will harm their company. They tend to rush off and cherry-pick the audit results, making changes in ignorance of the troubles they will cause to their business system.

Deming recommended you first analyse a process to understand how its design works and only then make changes to the process. It is why he was so keen on developing the distribution curves of a process’ outcomes. The curves give insight into what to do to the process that really would improve it. Auditing does not analyse processes, it compares processes with supposed best practice and finds fault with a process because its outputs do not match a list of ‘world best’ targets. Managers then try and reach those targets by changing their processes in ways they think are appropriate. But that causes randomness. When I saw that the LRS maintenance audit tool was going to cause companies the same problems as every other maintenance audit tool causes I stopped its development. I did not want to be part of creating and using an audit tool that I knew would harm our clients.

Don’t let my views on the fallacy of maintenance audits stop you getting a maintenance audit done for your company. The only proof I have of what I said above is the fact that so very few companies get better after doing an audit. Just be aware that your audit recommendations will disrupt your business when you move to implement them. Knowing what we know about the troubles caused to you by maintenance audit results, we would not let you do that. So we point out to our clients that uncontrolled changes will disrupt their business. First they need to analyse the processes they want to change to proactively check the effects of making a change. Fortunately, they can use our business process improvement services to help them do the analysis right.

It took me years to understand what Deming was telling us in his book. When I eventually ‘got it’ I looked around and saw he was right. Distribution curves are everywhere, in all that we do. Identifying process distribution curves first is the right way to improve your business’ maintenance results. You will not get much, if any, success by doing maintenance audits. Hence why I don’t believe in them and rile against their use. If a client wants an audit I’ll do it, but I’ll also show him his key distribution curves so I do the right thing by the client, even when they do not understand what I am talking about. At least I feel good in myself after delivering the maintenance system audit report.

All the best to you,

Mike Sondalini
Managing Director
Lifetime Reliability Solutions HQ