Everyone accepts that in maintenance, job prioritisation is important: do the most urgent stuff first, right?
Many facilities teams use a simple scale to prioritise job requests such as one-to-five or low-to-critical. These approaches have the benefit of being simple and, apparently, intuitive. But how do you ensure consistency in applying that scale? How do you know that the priority rating of an issue takes all the relevant factors into account to ensure delivery of best value to the organisation?
Once you look a little closer, these ‘simple’ scales suddenly seem to be rather blunt and somewhat arbitrary tools that may actually serve to obscure a true appreciation of underlying risk and severity.
Adding influencing factors to prioritisation
Multi-criteria analysis is a widely used weighting technique that can be adapted to use ‘influencing factors’ to give a better, more nuanced response to risk; one that takes account of all the factors in play, not just the most obvious, and which sees the whole picture. Influencing factors will vary across industry sectors but will often include some or all of the following:
- Delivery of a service or product
- Health and safety
- Business interruption
Different maintenance issues will impact these influencing factors to varying degrees, and this impact will also be shaped by the nature of the organisation. So, using this technique, you can separately weight each issue by its impact on an influencing factor such as business interruption and also take into account the overall relative importance of each factor to the organisation. This leads to a nuanced asset-risk-weighting (ARW) for each type of issue rather than a simple priority.
Let’s look at an example in a school: three influencing factors you might want to consider are:
- impact on the ability to deliver teaching – the school’s main ‘business activity’;
- the risk to health and safety (H&S), and
- the environmental impact.
In the table, I’ve assigned a standard priority using the familiar 1-5 scale for a number of issues so we can contrast that with the ARW in our school setting. I’ve then separately rated the impact of each issue on a series of influencing factors – teaching, H&S and the environment. Each of these influencing factors is also assigned a weighting according to its importance to the school as a whole. Combining these two – the rating and the weighting – using some not-very-complicated maths gives us an ARW. The ARW is our new prioritisation ranking.
Better priority ranking
Because ARW uses a combination of influencing factors and the weighting assigned to each, it enables you to rank priorities in a much better way. In the fire alarm examples above, I’ve assigned ratings of 5 to both the ‘inoperable’ and ‘always-on’ defects using the traditional priority scale. However, the alarm which is always on has a greater impact on teaching owing to the disturbance it causes and the noise itself also has an environmental impact. The inoperable alarm, while clearly important, has less impact on both teaching and the environment. So, in my example the ARW priority ranks the always-on alarm over the inoperable alarm. It’s worth pointing out, in case anyone is alarmed (no pun) by the idea that an inoperable (and therefore dangerous) fire alarm might be regarded as less urgent than one that is always on, that an alarm that is constantly ringing is also inoperable. It’s both faulty and creating a major disturbance.
Using the ARW approach, allows you to see not just the priority of the issues but also their ‘relative importance’ against each other. In our fire alarm examples, you can see that the always-on fire alarm isn’t just more important, it’s much more important. The effect of this is illustrated in the graph below.
Highlighting differences across assets or asset classes
By taking a more nuanced approach, ARW is also more likely to highlight differences in priorities across assets or asset classes – and this is where it can really add value in maintenance planning.
In my table, the most serious fire alarm and water pipe issues are both rated as priority 5 in old money. But, as you can see in the graph below, an ARW approach shows the relative priorities of the two assets. At the lower end the fire assets take priority but towards the top end the water-related issues take priority owing to the higher risk rating on the environmental impact influencing factor and the weighting this attracts.
Better information for FM
From a facilities management (FM) perspective the ARW approach provides qualitatively better information. It helps us to decide how to allocate our FM resources to best respond to the organisation’s objectives and priorities. Of course, an SBM or bursar choosing to prioritise a water-pipe contamination over an inoperable fire alarm might have to answer some questions from colleagues who took a different view – but the ARW approach would give them the ammunition to respond authoritatively, especially if the wider school community had been involved in establishing what the influencing factors are and how they are weighted.
Better organisational engagement and buy-in
The opportunity to engage the wider stakeholder group in setting the organisation’s priorities is another potential benefit of using an ARW approach. Creating a common framework that everyone understands and can work to can help to bridge the gulf that often exists between the ‘users’ of an asset and the people who ‘fix’ it when it goes wrong.
Users tend to assign every issue a high priority, often because it directly affects them personally. But with an ARW approach – especially where they have been involved in setting the parameters of the weighting – users inform FM of the issue and the software determines the priority based on agreed criteria. Even if that priority changes later, it will do so according to agreed rules and decisions will be taken on a more informed basis. So, a system for helping to fix things that are broken can actually help to bring an organisation together.
But the real beauty of the ARW approach is its relative simplicity and its flexibility: you can make it as general or as specific as you need in terms of the influencing factors, issues, assets, asset classes and even the location of individual assets. For example, defects on assets that impact on visitors’ perceptions of an organisation might rank higher than those that don’t: a faulty information screen in a reception area might be given higher importance than one in a back office – so you could collectively decide that location is another influencing factor to be included and weighted.
Key takeaways of using asset-risk-weighting in job prioritisation
- Greater alignment between FM and the organisation’s priorities
- Reduced friction between users and fixers and greater buy-in to maintenance activities
- Improved transparency and consistency across facilities staff
- Better decisions using more objectively agreed criteria
- Better outcomes in terms of focusing resources on what’s important, doing jobs at the right time and minimising risk to the organisation.