By Steve Lindauer
Published in the August 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
When the subject of “improving plant life” comes up, most people probably start thinking about their gardens. But to facility managers, this is not necessarily a horticultural matter; it is a complex and timely issue that consumes almost every aspect of their working lives.
In the facility management world, improved plant life typically means getting scheduled maintenance work done quickly and efficiently to minimize downtime and maximize productivity. Unfortunately, this goal is compounded by other issues—streamlining operations to increase long-term value without sacrificing output; keeping things moving so work is done smoothly with minimal disagreements; and preventing burnout among employees. Needless to say, this can be a daunting task, but there are organizations and entities that can help.
The National Maintenance Agreement (NMA) is one such organization. The NMA is a labor management arrangement that brings 14 different building trades together under the same set of work rules. It also serves as a mediator when contractors and building trade crafts have questions or disagreements concerning work rule applications. Since the inception of the NMA, workers have performed more than 1.9 billion hours and completed more than $270 billion worth of projects.
Whether a project involves maintenance or new construction, the NMA is designed to increase productivity and keep everyone—owner, manager, and labor—focused on the successful completion of the project. The NMA exists to allow facility owners and managers to devote their time toward the project itself—instead of juggling the cumbersome task of arriving at a myriad of different agreements for what can feel like countless different entities. A unified agreement helps resolve specific issues involving shift start and finish times, overtime, holidays, crew size, and much more.
“The NMA brings depth of skill and productivity to the workplace that is not possible any other way when dealing with new construction or maintenance projects,” says Dan Hereda, division manager of services, logistics and railroads for Mittal Steel USA of Chicago, IL.
The key to the long-term success of performing work under an NMA is the concept of tripartite, where owner, contractor, and labor representatives sit at the same table to communicate with each other from a project’s inception through completion. A discussion of this nature helps to establish a culture for success from the beginning of a project.
“In every instance,” recalls Hollis Johnson, director of procurement for worldwide utility giant, BP Oil, “our pre-job meetings result in a clear objective on where we’re headed and how we’re going to do it. I’ve never walked away from a meeting where there wasn’t full understanding from all parties.”
One of the primary reasons behind the longevity of the NMA is the third party concept provided by the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee (NMAPC)—administrator and facilitator of the application of the agreement. Because this communication platform is the core of the NMA, problems are the exception rather than the rule.
Problems that do come up, however, are solved in hours, not days, because of the Book of Decisions, a compilation of interpretations that has been logged over the history of the NMAPC program and encompasses work performed under the agreement. It is extremely rare to find an issue that hasn’t come up in the past, and the Book of Decisions provides an independent precedent to address questions or provide clarifications quickly and effectively.
To many facility managers, the standardization of rules and the history of real world work performed under the NMA make it a viable alternative to going it alone. While many facility managers across the country understand or have at least heard of the NMA, many still don’t use it.
Why? Part of the reason is perhaps in the name of the agreement itself. The use of the word “national” in the NMA may imply it is a rigid document with no room for local interpretations or rules. It is this lack of familiarity regarding who is running the show that scares many managers away.
In truth, the NMA merely provides a framework for work agreements and consistency of rules. There is plenty of room for local addenda to satisfy the specific characteristics of any project, leaving the final document up to local decision makers on the project.
“The NMA helps me increase my profits by allowing me the flexibility I need in maintenance, while still providing me with the best craft personnel available,” Hereda explains.
Yet, it is the standardization of many management procedures, while still allowing room for local interpretations, which allows so many facility managers to repair, restore, rehabilitate, or renovate effectively. The use of the NMA has proven itself to be a viable solution for on time, on budget work done right the first time.
Such is the case for BP Oil. “We were able to conclude after the very first project that the NMA was absolutely the way to go when we saw how smoothly the project ran. Problems normally associated with contractors, owners, and labor disappeared. So did delays. There’s too much value to bypass it,” says Johnson.
The NMA is easy to become familiar with and easy to implement. It could result in unsurpassed levels of quality, productivity, and safety and should contribute to untold nights of sound sleep for facility managers who are interested in improving plant life in more ways than one.
Lindauer is CEO of the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee, Inc. (NMAPC), which is headquartered in Arlington, VA. He has been actively involved in the construction industry for over 27 years. For more information on the NMA, visit www.improvingplantlife.com or call (703) 841-9707.
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