Why Blind Obedience Might Be Ruining Your Maintenance Program


One of the first rules we learn in the field of maintenance is: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are more colorful ways to express the same thought, but let’s not go there. In most cases, this axiom is spot on and shouldn’t be challenged. But not always.

As a general management strategy, blind obedience does not work, even if your current system is working at 110%. Blind obedience to a norm should not be confused with strict adherence to a plan. Let me illustrate the point with the following story:

Picture three men racing through a tall hedge maze.

The first man runs off and begins following paths randomly, hoping to stumble upon the exit.

The second man is more methodical. He puts one hand on a wall of the maze and resolves to keep moving forward slowly, never taking his hand off the wall. Eventually, thanks to the rules of topology, he knows he’ll find the outside.

The third man pushes and shoves directly through the hedges in a straight line, finishing in thirty seconds flat and declaring himself the winner.

Did the third man cheat?

Maybe. But he also won.

Maintenance planning and management requires that you challenge everything. Increasing uptime, accelerating return on investment, improving safety results, decreasing costs, adjusting results: all require you to evaluate a situation, make some assumptions, then set another plan in place.

“Don’t rock the boat.”

“This is the way we’ve always done it.”

“Maintain the status quo.”

These statements are all symptoms of blind obedience. Fine for some, perhaps, but unless your management philosophy is “don’t screw it up until they hire my replacement,” blind obedience isn’t for you.

Just imagine if whoever first proposed the strategy of preventive maintenance had followed, with blind obedience, the concept that the role of maintenance is strictly to repair broken, non functional things. Now that was some pretty radical thinking—don’t you think?

What’s your experience with breaking through the maze? When has not blindly following the norm benefited you and your department or organization? Feel free to add your comments below.

[Thanks to the folks at Copyblogger for inspiration for this post (and the hedge story.)]