What is the Standard?: How Lessons Learned in the Military Can Make a Difference in Business.


writing a standard

What is the standard? 

It may seem simple, but I challenge you to ask that question about a process that is causing friction in your organization. 

Was the answer as simple as the question? 

Let’s take it one step further. If there is a standard, is it understood by everyone involved in the process? 

It is my firm belief that that simple question can alleviate many problems in day-to-day operations. 

Is There a Standard? 

There I was, a young officer in the United States Army sitting in my Platoon office trying to make sense of our latest maintenance status reports. Only 40% of our fleet was operational two weeks ago, but now suddenly 85% of our vehicles are ready for a field training exercise that is coming up in a few weeks, and I assured everyone that we were “good-to-go”.

The day we were supposed to head out for training, half of my vehicles either didn’t start or had a fault that was severe enough to prevent us from taking it to the training area. This left us scrambling to figure out how to transport my platoon plus our equipment with half of the operational vehicles required. 

This obviously didn’t go over well with the boss. 

Oh, and did I mention we missed our planned movement time by THREE hours?

A Noticeable Trend

Since I had taken over the platoon, our maintenance readiness had become inconsistent with no discernable causes to justify the fluctuation. 

The maintenance readiness reports were getting filled out. However, the information contained with varied significantly depending on which of my team members had completed them.

Many of reports didn’t have the proper signatures from their first-line supervisor. They also failed to document the necessary details required to address issues. And if a team member didn’t put their name on the sheet, I had no idea who to ask about the equipment’s status. 

Identifying Where Standards are Needed

After getting ripped apart in the maintenance meeting for another week as our next field exercise approached, I finally decided I had had enough of these maintenance issues. I sat down to map out the entire maintenance process with a counterpart to find our deficiencies… and there were many! 

First and foremost, there was no standard operating procedure (SOP) for the maintenance process, only for the required checks and preventive maintenance of the equipment. 

Secondly, we didn’t have our vehicles assigned to anyone. It was first-come-first-serve on preventive maintenance. 

We also had no one responsible for overseeing the maintenance program to ensure that all maintenance activities were being performed properly, get status updates, or check the reports to ensure they were filled out correctly. 

In addition, many of our team members could identify issues but they couldn’t describe it in a way that made sense to someone with minimal mechanical knowledge, nor did they know they needed that amount of detail. 

Implementing a Standard

After we realized the issues, there were three easy actions that solved nearly all our problems. 

First, we assigned different pieces of equipment to different sections of our team so there would never be a question on who is responsible. We also ensured that each section had every type of equipment under its area of responsibility to ensure that every individual in that section would get experience performing preventative maintenance on all our equipment. Most importantly, equipment assignments were posted on our maintenance board in our office and distributed electronically every week to ensure all team members knew what vehicles they were assigned. 

Second, we assigned a maintenance manager to oversee the maintenance program within our team. We tasked the maintenance manager with submitting an SOP for the entire process as well as a process map to visually demonstrate all the steps within the process for approval. When there were deficiencies with our maintenance program, I didn’t have to run around looking for answers anymore. I simply asked the maintenance manager. 

Lastly, each section of the team would go through training to ensure they understood the standard. They would also demonstrate understanding of the process by doing a walk-through, creating a process map, or a combination of the two that would be evaluated by myself or the maintenance manager every quarter. 

Similarities Between Military and Business

At this point you may be saying to yourself, “This all sounds great, but how does this relate to the business world?” 

The reality is that, in the military, we did many of the same things that people do in business. We may have used different verbiage to describe it and key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess it, but the process map that we created in the scenario above is very similar to a value stream map (VSM) that you may create for your process. 

We identified “True North” and examined the requirements we needed to meet within our operating environment. 

A current state map was created that helped us determine our bottlenecks and constraints within the maintenance program. 

We created a detailed SOP that not only explained the process but also described the expectations for how the program would run in the future. 

We created metrics, otherwise known as KPIs, that would help us understand if our maintenance program was operating as it should. We also added standard escalation procedures to help team members decide when to escalate maintenance concerns to different levels of management. 

We even executed process validation and process sustainability steps to keep the maintenance program up to standard. 

We included our maintenance managers in all of our operations planning meetings. Our daily leadership meetings were more effective because the uncertainties of our maintenance statuses were able to be addressed immediately by the manager.

What Standards can do for You

Within six months of implementation, we were had achievd over 80% equipment readiness – the highest in our Company and more than double our initial 40%. 

We were getting our maintenance issues resolved more quickly because our maintenance reports were consistent and detailed enough to create action items for our operators. 

The military is predicated on maintaining readiness of people, equipment, and organizations to react to whatever threat presents itself at any given moment. 

Sounds like operating in today’s business environment, doesn’t it? 

Unexpected market demand, supply chain disruptions, an inconsistent labor market are all threats that can impact your company’s readiness, and without the proper standards in place, you may be struggling to react to these challenges. 

If you are having difficulty with creating, maintaining, or evaluating standards within your organization, reach out to us at Allied Logistics. We have a proven track record of experience that can help you create a standards-based culture, strengthen daily leadership routines, and move away from firefighting and stagnation.

About the author 

Justin Goethe

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