A Property Managers’ Solution, Part Two: Maintenance

Property managers and operators of multi -family housing properties face many obstacles in today’s challenging economy. From finding qualified tenants, to coordination of maintenance projects, to accounting for rental transactions, there are so many moving parts and pieces to successfully manage a property. To make sure all of the pieces fit together (or just to manage the chaos), companies have to put in place processes to accomplish specific tasks. Ineffective processes can further complicate matters by creating bottlenecks, eliminating accountability, or just creating extra work. Conversely, effective processes can provide a competitive advantage and boost the bottom line.

In a three-part series we address three challenges that the multi-family housing industry faces in markets with large student populations, and propose why those that have decided to apply Lean Six Sigma methodologies have solved each challenge.

A property manager’s facilities department receives maintenance work orders, generated by office staff based on requests received from tenants during office hours or generated by on-call staff fielding emergency calls after office hours. Typically, a maintenance ticket is generated through a management software system, and those tickets are forwarded to the appropriate maintenance personnel for the respective property. Inventory is checked to determine whether it is on-hand at that property’s maintenance shop and, if not, appropriate materials are purchased. On-site maintenance personnel complete the request.

Receiving routine and emergency maintenance requests, responding to requests, managing inventory related to requests, and completing requests.

Maintenance requests are completed by staff only based on what tenants tell them. Staff do not see areas needing repair themselves and, as a result, work orders may lack necessary detail pertaining to the problem, including what is required to fix the problem. The lack of details can delay the process and may result in redundancy when determining what the issue is. Also, plans may be made to resolve a problem that is not the ultimate problem. Poor communication between maintenance staff , office staff , and tenants can result in the tenant making multiple repair calls for the same problem. In addition, there is no mechanism for the maintenance management system to cancel false alarm calls.

Further, maintenance shops that are on-site lack standard processes for inventory and purchasing. This leads to additional storage costs due to inventory not being used. Additionally, poor management can lead to additional problems, including shrinkage and customers not being properly charged.

In addition, extensive approval requirements for purchased materials can also delay repairs when the right materials are not readily on-hand.

Lean Six Sigma methodologies are focused on building efficiency into and improving qualities of a process. One solution that will close some of these process loops would be to provide tenants with an online account accessible through the property manager’s website. The tenant can log in and make a maintenance request online that will automatically set up a ticket in the maintenance management software system. Fields for completion by the tenant will enable the tenant to provide details of the repair needed, indicate urgency of the problem, and even provide photographs as evidence, to better allow maintenance staff to plan for the repair. The system will automatically email the tenant with a confirmation that the maintenance ticket was received, and enable the tenant to provide status change updates to that ticket rather than creating additional requests. Once the request has been received and evaluated by maintained staff , updates will be emailed to the tenant regarding the timing of when the request will be addressed. If the maintenance staff does not understand a request, they should consider whether it is necessary to perform an observation of the repair needed before ordering materials. Additionally, time tracking for maintenance personnel helps to ensure their time is billed accurately. By automating the process and allowing the ticket to be originated by the tenant, this will cut out the
unnecessary step of involving office staff , who can be better utilized attracting prospective tenants or taking better care of completing lease documents.

Inventory should be organized and accounted for electronically, set up based on materials required for each specific property managed. This will ensure that proper materials are linked to appropriate properties, and that properties will not be accumulating costs of storing materials not needed at that location. As inventory is needed, the system should be checked to see if any other maintenance shops for other properties managed have capacity before making inventory purchases. Tracking of inventory will also provide a control mechanism to discourage shrinkage or theft of items. As a maintenance ticket is completed, the maintenance management system can automatically remove the item from inventory in the system, and the system can alert the maintenance department when new orders are needed. Lastly, development of training programs, both for staff and for tenants, is crucial to ensure that the systems are properly utilized.

Are you ready to learn more about how Lean Six Sigma can improve your processes?