Autonomous Maintenance in the Office

We are going through some design change tests at the Gemba blog as long-time readers may have noted. While testing the various functions and features to send back fix requests to our developer, I came across some reader comments and questions that were posted but somehow missed (not addressed). One of them was, “How does Autonomous Maintenance apply in the office?” How indeed.
With the number of people in the world spending hours each day doing their work using office automation, one would think that knowing how to use these tools (computers, software programs, printers) would be a core skill taught and tested by employers, like any other. Yet not long ago I found myself introducing the feature of e-mail spell check for the very first time to a colleague who has functioned at a very high level for many years without it.
If we’re not trained and skilled operators of our office machines, it’s not such a surprise that we don’t see many examples of autonomous maintenance in the office. Autonomous maintenance is the first pillar of TPM (Total Productive Maintenance or Total Productivity Management, depending on your school of thought). Autonomous maintenance involves the operator in early detection and prevention of deterioration of equipment, with the aim of improving quality, performance and availability of that resource.
The seven steps of autonomous maintenance are:
1. Do initial cleaning. Look, listen and learn to detect signs of abnormalities while you clean your equipment inside and out. While it may not be practical or even advisable to disassemble a laptop, daily clean & checks on other types of office hardware are certainly possible.
2. Eliminate sources of contamination. Open up the equipment to get at the sources of filth, and eliminate them.
3. Create a checklist for cleaning. Once you’ve cleaned, checked and found things likely to get dirty or break again, put them on a checklist. This checklist typically includes simple maintenance actions like lubrication in the case of factory machines with moving parts and friction generating heat. What would be the office equivalent for this?
4. Do general inspection. Typically an operator will conduct a full an comprehensive inspection of a machine in a factory while a more skilled technician observes and gives advice. In the case of a personal computer, this is where the skilled IT person or MS Office power user points out the shortcuts, dos and don’ts while supervising the routine cleaning and checks. Make sure the spell check function is turned on.
5. Do autonomous inspection. As you do inspections daily on your own, track data on changes to the performance of your office equipment. How long should it take for an application or machine to perform a certain operation? Under what conditions does this operation slow down? What special causes can be identified (human error, method, material, environmental conditions, etc)?
6. Organize & clean the workplace. This is what is called “5S” for sort, straighten, sweep, sanitize / standardize and sustain. The idea is to keep the workplace around your equipment organized so that autonomous maintenance is easy to perform (all tools, etc. are there) and nothing about your work environment contributes to equipment deterioration. The importance of good workplace organization and 5S on office work safety, quality and productivity should not be underestimated, as one Dell laptop at our house with a fried motherboard due to soaked in coffee, will attest.
7. Implement fully. This usually means “do 1 through 6 for next machine” or the obligatory “improve continuously” that is the last step of any type of kaizen.
Equipment subject to autonomous maintenance in the office could include among others things printers, copiers, coffee machines, refrigerators, phones, shredders, lights and of course computers.
More and more we trust software to tell us if there is a new version and if should upgrade. With the proliferation of software viruses, a daily check of firewall versions and settings, as well as scans and sweeps (if not automated) would be a good part of autonomous maintenance. If you keep your e-mails are records instead of deleting them, archiving these every few months may speed up your e-mail program. Autonomous maintenance for the office can be extended to software, and even on less tangible things like work procedures.
TPM for Information Systems seems like a great idea. It’s fast-changing world of hardware and software, but it seems like the basics of autonomous maintenance for office equipment would not change so much. When we say “that’s IT’s job” just like you would say “it’s maintenance’s job to fix the broken machine” excuse or “it’s the plumber’s job to fix the clogged drain” you are choosing to most expensive option – breakdown maintenance. Try autonomous maintenance in the office, and turn on your spell check.