How to Support a Proactive Culture in Your Facilities Maintenance Department

Daniel Penn - Article

How to Support a Proactive Culture in Your Facilities Maintenance DepartmentFacilities maintenance (FM) is often treated as a weak sister by healthcare facility management and doesn’t always get the respect or funding it deserves. Is your FM department properly configured to deliver its full value to your facility’s environment of care and its bottom line?

When we make an initial assessment of a healthcare facility’s FM operation, we prefer to start with how well they manage their work orders. This is often where the FM department’s effectiveness breaks down, usually because the work order management process is too reactive.

Work order management can include such management tools as a CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System), a work request dispatch system, work order planning and scheduling procedures, work supervision routines, and performance metrics. How well these tools are developed and utilized tells us a lot about how well the facility, its patients, and its staff are being served.

Regardless of the setting, maintenance management strategies range from being reactive, where maintenance work often starts with a phone call about equipment failure and is focused on repair, to being proactive, where work is focused on reliability and is planned and scheduled in advance as much as possible.

Proactive management is better for the reliability of equipment assets and is much more economical for the facility than a reactive maintenance strategy. Proactive FM departments rely on timely, accurate information, preventive and/or predictive maintenance procedures, and compliance to effective work order management procedures to generate the greatest benefit and ROI.

A well-managed, proactive FM operation in a healthcare facility will usually have certain characteristics and “best practices”:

  • A CMMS is used to manage a balanced Preventive Maintenance (PM) work schedule along with work orders for corrective work, projects, and capital improvement.
    • Work order planning and scheduling is handled by dedicated staff instead of being handed off to the supervisors. Supervisors remain free to supervise the work.
    • There is useful, regular communication between shop supervisors and the planners/schedulers about the work plans and schedules. There is agreement about priorities and how to resolve schedule conflicts.
    • Work orders are properly coded in the CMMS to capture the details of the initial request and the final execution.
  • There is a system for promptly responding to work requests from the hospital staff. This may involve a central dispatch function with associated communication capabilities, a prioritization protocol, and a dedicated staff of prompt responders.
  • There is a set of meaningful performance metrics presented as close to real time as possible that are shared with, and regularly used by, all interested parties throughout the facility.
  • Maintenance staff are well trained; their skills align with the work demand profile of the PM program and the typical corrective and prompt response tasks requested by hospital staff.
  • The MRO (maintenance, repair, and operations) inventory is tightly controlled. Items are issued against work orders, reordering procedures are in place, and there is a vendor management program.
  • There is a well-defined mission for the FM department that is supported by the facility’s top management. FM is regularly involved in facility-wide communication and decision making, particularly regarding regulatory matters.

Want to determine if FM operation is up to snuff? Perform a gap analysis to identify where and to what extent gaps exist between the above practices and the facility’s current maintenance management behaviors. The analysis will help you develop a road map of corrective actions required to bring the FM department into alignment with the management practices that are best suited to serving the facility’s environment of care, its assets, the FM staff, and your facility’s budget.

About the Author

Steve Mueller is Director of Commercial Operations for Daniel Penn Associates, LLC (@DPALLC). He is responsible for project development, management and delivery of results for the company’s private sector clients. Steve has over 30 years consulting experience.


  1. Thanks Steve,

    Great Article – Well laid out and very much reality based. I continue to be surprised at how facilities management does not get its due respect/funding, especially when Facilities are listed as assets in every balance sheet.

    Sometimes, it is the case of facilities managers not appreciating the full business impact of facilities management and hence are not able to relay its importance to their management.

    For example, most facilities managers perhaps don’t appreciate that facilities are listed as assets in balance sheet and need to be reported to the market/shareholders? So, if Facilities Managers use the right business metrics in their discussion (with their management) then it can become easier to get the buy-in/respect/budgets.

    Do you think there is a need to discuss the direct/tangible impact of FM whilst having technical discussions with Facilities managers?

    Thanks again for the great article.


    • Steve Mueller says:

      I certainly do think there is a need to discuss the direct impact of FM as part of the context when having technical discussions. While I think it should always be made clear that FM’s goal is to keep the wheels turning and the fires lit, as it were, FM and the parent organization are both better served if FM can demonstrate that it, too, has an eye on the same objectives and is being proactive about getting there. I’m thinking out loud here that a later topic could be about the financial metrics that describe FM’s impact. These can help FM better formulate and “sell” its initiatives to the C-suite. It’s always good to be able to speak the same language when you ask for money! Which ones do you use?

      Thanks for reading our article and for the great point you made, Rob. – Steve

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