Nut Plant Maintenance Resource Center
The Maintenance Theory Jungle
Join Now
FREE registration allows you to support this site and receive our regular M-News newsletter.

bkused120x60.gif - 3168 Bytes

The Maintenance Theory Jungle

Author : Deryk Anderson
Maintenance Management Solutions Pty Ltd


An increasing amount of attention has been paid to the subject of maintenance management over the past twenty years. Academics, industrial practitioners and consultants have proposed numerous theories connected with maintenance management during this period. This has resulted in a 'maintenance theory jungle', a region of confusion and conflict for many that are entangled in it. This paper identifies and its constituent elements. It then discusses the major areas of and proposes solutions for eliminating them.


In 1961 Harold Koontz introduced students and practitioners of management to the concept of a 'Management Theory Jungle' (1). The original jungle referred to an apparent tangle of different approaches and 'approchers' to management theory at the time that the article was written (1961).

It is argued that there are similarities between the characteristics of the 'management jungle' proposed by Koontz and the current state of maintenance management theory. These similarities pertain to environmental and the contextual characteristics of the 'jungles'. It is, therefore, proposed that there is a similar jungle of theories or approaches to maintenance and maintenance management. This is referred to as 'The Maintenance Theory Jungle'.

This paper applies current maintenance management theory to the same examination given by Koontz to the original jungle. This examination is aimed at identifying and classifying some of the arborea that comprise the 'Maintenance Theory Jungle'. It is also aimed to challenge current maintenance management theory against the conclusions of the original 'Management Theory Jungle'.


The proposal of the original 'Management Theory Jungle' was made in an environment where the development of management theory had escalated over a period of two decades. The 'Management Theory Jungle' made the following observations about the environment in which it was written:

  1. The systematic examination of management was a product of a period of the two decades prior to the writing of the article;
  2. Before this, little had been written on the subject of management theory;
  3. Before this, management theory had been based on the observation of experienced practitioners;
  4. A deluge of theories had emerged within the twenty year period;
  5. This deluge of theories had brought with it ".. a wave of great differences and apparent confusion".

Koontz saw the 'Management Theory Jungle' as a symptom of the "unsophisticated adolescence" of management theory at the time. He further attributed the emergence of the jungle to recent interest in the subject matter by a wide range of scientists and scholars and particularly by enterprise managers. This, he proposed, had resulted in the generation and development of management theory as being both challenging and profitable.

One of the most negative aspects of the jungle, observed Koontz, was that the great social potential for improved management had been frustrated by "... confused and destructive jungle warfare." This resulted as the various factions vied for acceptance of their theories as unique and "original".

The "Management Theory Jungle" thrived in the environment of a recent academic discipline with an abundance of related and unrelated theories available to feed confusion and conflict. If a similar environment exists in maintenance theory it is possible that a thriving 'Maintenance Theory Jungle' exists.


Strong similarities are observed between the environment that provided the setting for the 'Management Theory Jungle' and the current maintenance theory environment. These similarities are observed as follows:

Maintenance Management Theory is a Product of the Last Twenty Years

Visser (2) observes that maintenance management is a relatively young academic discipline. Although principles of maintenance management had been in practice since shortly after the Second World War, it has only been in the 1980s that maintenance management has been developed as an academic discipline.

Early writing on maintenance and maintenance management can be shown to predate 1975. A literature search of maintenance publications by Anderson (3) has identified over 110 publications dealing directly with the management of maintenance. This literature search shows that there are relatively few publications prior to 1975. Examples of early writing in maintenance are those of Sack (4) in 1963 and Newborough (5) in 1967. A more prolific period for publications concerning maintenance management is observed after 1975. This period commenced with works by Mann (6) and Heintzelman (7) in 1976 and Kelly and Harris (8) in 1978. Over 95% of the identified publications in maintenance management are dated after 1976 which supports the observation that the systematic study of maintenance management and its publication has occurred largely in the past twenty years.

There has been a Flood of Maintenance Management Theory Proposed in the Past Twenty Years

From the earliest documentation of approaches to maintenance management a vast number of related and unrelated ideas have emerged. Maintenance would freely admit that there is an abundance of approaches and 'approachers' to maintenance theory. The evidence of the flood of maintenance theory can be demonstrated in the results of the literature searches of Reference 3 which shows an approximate doubling of publications, directly related to maintenance management, in each subsequent five year period from 1976.

The Flood of Maintenance Management Has Lead to Confusion and Conflict Among Practitioners and Academics

The confusion created by the number of apparently dissimilar approaches to maintenance management is anecdotal, rather than documented. In the want of a universally acceptable approach to maintenance management it is not unusual to observe existing models and approaches modified and renamed or new theories or approaches developed from existing theories. This further adds to the confusion.

The conflict among practitioners and academics is discussed for individual cases in the latter part of this paper.

It is apparent that a very similar environment exists in maintenance theory to that observed for the 'Management Theory Jungle' proposed by Koontz. This environment provides ideal conditions for a thriving 'Maintenance Theory Jungle'.


Koontz defined the original management theory jungle by identifying and classifying major management theory. Six schools of thought were identified in this way, namely:

  1. The Management Process School (Based on identifying management processes and underlying principles to build theory);
  2. The Empirical School (Based on deriving management theory from a study of experience of successful managers or mistakes made in management to identify effective management practices);
  3. The Human Behaviour School (Based on the study of human relationships and leadership);
  4. The Social System School (Based on the study of cultural relationships within organisations);
  5. The Decision Theory School (Based on a rational approach to decision making and the organisations and personnel that make them);
  6. The Mathematical School (Based on identifying the logical management processes that can be expressed in terms of mathematical relationships that can be solved).

The description of the 'Maintenance Theory Jungle' in the same way challenges the direct applicability of the classifications of the original 'jungle'. Some classifications are directly relevant, namely the process and mathematical schools, and have been retained. The remaining classifications do not describe the technical aspects of the maintenance jungle and have been abandoned in favour of four alternate classifications.

The description of the maintenance jungle using the following six classifications will not acknowledge what will be regarded as all theories of maintenance management and its derivatives. It is a challenge to clearly define maintenance management boundaries because of the proximity of other subject areas such as reliability theory, asset management, logistics management and general management. It is possible, but considered excessive, to expand the 'Maintenance Theory Jungle' to include all of these subject areas. The approach, rather, has been to classify theory or approaches that are closely related to maintenance and maintenance management to demonstrate the characteristics of the 'Maintenance Theory Jungle'.

The six identified schools of maintenance theory are described below.

The Process School

Consistent with the classification of the original jungle, the Process School refers to the study of maintenance as a process or series of processes. The approach of the maintenance process school is to understand the purpose, function and philosophy of the various aspects of maintenance management and record them for further study. This approach generally attempts to model the practices of maintenance management. These models are then used to:

  • Audit the maintenance process;
  • Teach the fundamentals of maintenance management theory;
  • Research and improve maintenance management processes.

The process school pays regard to the generic or non-industry specific nature of maintenance. The maintenance process school is concerned with identifying all of the aspects of the management of maintenance. As a result its conclusions and models tend to be generalised in nature. The Maintenance Process School considers other techniques as tools to be used to achieve the outcomes of maintenance management.

An example of the Process School is early (9) and more recent works (10) by Kelly.

The Mathematical School

Also a feature of the original 'jungle', the mathematical school is concerned with defining quantitative solutions to problems of maintenance management. The approach in the mathematical school is to define a maintenance problem in logical terms and then express the problem as a mathematical relationship. The solution to the maintenance problem is then derived from the solution to the mathematical relationship.

The quantitative solutions from the mathematical school are usually aimed at some economic optimisation of the maintenance effort. An example of the mathematical school is work by Jardine (11), which describes models for equipment replacement and inspection decision making, optimising organisational structures, reliability and scheduling and sequencing decisions

The quantitative approaches of the mathematical school readily lend themselves to the development of computerised management solutions.

The Reliability School

The reliability school covers a multitude of approaches that define processes for developing maintenance strategies based on an analysis of the maintenance causing items of a facility. By contrast to the mathematical school, the reliability school is less concerned with the use of failure data and statistics and more concerned with priori (before the event) analysis and with mandatory or economic failure avoidance depending on perceived failure consequences.

One of the better-known examples of the Reliability School is Reliability Centred Maintenance (RCM) as described, for example, by Moubray (12). Failure Modes and Effect Analysis (FMEA) is another example of a technique from the Reliability School. Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) introduced the concept of 'criticality' to FMEA, based on a combination of reliability and severity. Developed by NASA for the Apollo space program in the 1960's, FMECA has found application to understanding the modes of failure for equipment in the operations phase of operating plant and developing maintenance strategies necessary to predict the onset of failure or mitigate the impact of failure. "Fuzzy Logic" (13) has more recently been applied to FMECA analysis to apply increased emphasis on failure criticality to the analysis.

There are many variations and derivatives of the RCM and FMEA themes. The data management requirements of these approaches have also lead to the wide spread development of numerous computerised solutions.

The Quality School

The earliest reference to the quality school of management emerged from Japan in the 1940's. Heavily influenced by Deming (US industrial management and quality guru, 1900 - 1993), Ohno developed systems for Toyota aimed to ensure the highest quality product and eliminate waste. These systems provided the foundation for the evolution of quality maintenance systems which were initially aimed at the application of quality tools to maintenance related problems.

The quality school of maintenance is includes Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). According to Nakajima (14), "Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) is productive maintenance carried out by all employees through small group activity. In TPM the machine operator is responsible for the maintenance of the machine, as well as its operation."

Other features of the TPM philosophy involve team-based approaches to problem solving to eliminate major losses and eliminate waste in process. TPM seeks the involvement of both maintenance and operations personnel at all levels of the organisation.

There is evidence that the quality school is particularly dynamic and mutable in its approach. The acronym TPM has more recently applied to a number of approaches with similar philosophies. As reported by McQueen (15) Joel M. Leonard, manager of manufacturing systems at the Aluminum Company of America explained that TPM could have many other meanings for manufacturing facilities. Leonard suggested that additional meanings of the acronym could be "Total Production Management," "Total Productive Manufacturing," "Transforming People's Mindsets," "Trust People More," and "This Plant is Mine!"

Moriarty (16) refers to the evolution of TPM from 1st Generation TPM with five pillars or focus areas to 3rd Generation TPM. 3rd Generation TPM is concerned with failure and waste elimination caused by all aspects of production.

The Condition Based School

Condition Based Maintenance includes reference to Condition Monitoring, Predictive Maintenance, or "Just-In-Time" Maintenance. This school is concerned with the identification and measurement of parameters that can be used to identify or predict the onset of failure. This is used to correct equipment condition before the failure actually occurs.

A broad range of techniques is supported through this school. Techniques range from the tangible look, listen, smell and touch to highly technical and specialised procedures such as oil analysis, vibration analysis and thermography.

This school is also closely involved with the subject of fault detection and diagnosis.

The Work Management School

The Work Management School regards maintenance management as a process of planning, organising and controlling maintenance work. These processes include aspects of preparing maintenance work, producing maintenance schedules, allocating work and measuring aspects of the work. The major proponents of this school are found among those closely involved with Computerised Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS).

CMMS' have been widely regarded as a vital part of supporting the maintenance management effort. It is not surprising to observe the number of systems that have emerged in the past 15 years considering the profitability of the commodity.


The existence of a 'Maintenance Theory Jungle' would not be such a problem except for the tendency to become entangled in its foliage. One symptom of entanglement is the perceived necessity of industry to adopt one school of thought. This search for an 'off the rack' solution or a panacea has resulted in maintenance practitioners being regarded as fad following. The other major symptom of entanglement is the philosophical dissent among practitioners and academics with regard to the various schools of thought on maintenance theory.

There are a number of sources of entanglement in the maintenance theory jungle. These agree specifically with the sources of entanglement referred to by Koontz for original jungle. The major sources of entanglement are discussed below.

The Semantics Jungle

Semantics in this regard refers to the definitions of certain words or terms in maintenance. There is a lack of universal recognised definitions in maintenance. British Standard 3811:1984 attempted to define maintenance terminology but was not widely adopted. Terms such as "corrective maintenance" and "preventive (or preventative) maintenance" may have different meanings among and within the various theory schools. There also exists any number of arguably redundant terms such as "proactive maintenance" or "predictive maintenance". This leads to philosophical argument and entanglement purely on the basis of terminology.

Lack of a Maintenance Management Body of Knowledge

Visser (2) makes the following observation about a body of knowledge for maintenance management. "Due to the lack of a well structured body of knowledge in maintenance management, many maintenance specialists and researchers proceeded to develop certain aspects of maintenance management which could be applied in practice to fulfil in the needs of the enterprises, specifically the production and operations departments."

A body of knowledge refers to a universally accepted series of principles and systems that define a subject area. Visser notes that there are well-defined bodies of knowledge for a range of subject areas such as Project Management and Quality Management and that a body of knowledge has developed significantly for Operations Management. A body of knowledge for maintenance management is lacking. This leads to entanglement as theories in various schools compete to fill the body of knowledge.

A lack of understanding of the principles of maintenance management among practitioners has been observed to result in some maintenance theories being cast aside as irrelevant or antiquated. Many of the early theories on maintenance espouse the very core principles of maintenance and are considered to be as relevant now as they were when first documented. A body of knowledge for maintenance management would uphold the relevant principles of maintenance management and provide systems that could either replace many of the current maintenance theories or regard them as tools to achieve the desired outcome of effective maintenance management.

Confusion Between 'Content' and 'Tools'

Koontz observes that "In defining the body of knowledge, too, care must be taken to distinguish between tools and content". 'Tools' are interpreted as the means by which certain results are achieved, 'content' is interpreted as a definition of the outcomes expected.

The confusion between what is 'content' and what is a 'tool' has been observed to result in organisations putting all effort into the use of one 'tool' at the expense of the others. For example an organisation will concentrate on the implementation of a CMMS without defining data needs for statistical analysis purposes or putting the mechanisms in place to ensure that analysis can occur. Another example is an organisation that adopts an extensive maintenance needs analysis program without implementing mechanisms for failure analysis and elimination.

A body of knowledge developed for maintenance management should clearly differentiate between 'tools' and 'content'.

A Need to be Different

There is kudos and profitability in being seen to have a 'new' or different approach to maintenance management. Continuing attempts to fill the void created by the lack of a body of knowledge and provide the 'ultimate solution' for maintenance management result in a continuous wave of modified theories. All that this ultimately achieves is a regressive environment where real improvements in maintenance management are lost in a sea of repetitive and fruitless activity.


The existence of the 'Maintenance Theory Jungle' has created both adversaries and allies among the various schools of approach. The conflict between the various schools is not evident by its wide publication but it is undeniable that it exists. A number of documented skirmishes between the various school of maintenance have been found.

A publication by Sherwin (17) describes a mathematical solution for optimising age renewal schedules based on use of system failure opportunities. Sherwin states in this paper that proponents of the mathematical approach " .. deplore the current trend toward policies with minimal data needs". Policies with minimum data needs are interpreted to refer to the techniques described in the reliability school.

The reliability school counters the attack from the mathematical school by exploiting their dependence on failure data. Moubray (18) decries the large-scale collection of statistical data for analysis due to:

  • Complexity of the data collection task;
  • Small sample sizes available for analysis;
  • Failure to apply consistent terminology in failure reporting across sites.

The "ultimate contradiction" of the mathematical school, claims Moubray, is that the collection of failure data to prevent failures requires that we permit the failures to occur that we are trying to prevent.

Woodhouse takes the perspective of the process school in his article (19). He presents the "acronym-packaged frameworks" and "academic end of the spectrum" studies as being far removed from the needs of the maintenance practitioner. These approaches are abandoned in favour of a process approach to the development of maintenance strategies where elements of the vanquished acronym framework army sit as process allies.

Other observations of allegiance and conflict in the jungle are:

  1. The process school amicably views methods of other schools as tools for achieving the broader outcomes of maintenance management.
  2. The quality school seems to have acceptance from the mathematical school, as it is generally a posteriori (after the event) approach. As such it does not discount the use of statistical data in its analysis.
  3. Proponents of the mathematical school have criticised the indiscriminate application of condition based maintenance. It is assumed that this is because prediction of failure often impedes the collection of quality failure data.


Disentangling from 'The Maintenance Theory Jungle' requires that the causes for entanglement be addressed. To this end, the following solutions are suggested for disentangling from 'The Maintenance Theory Jungle':

Accept the existence and entanglement of 'The Maintenance Theory Jungle'

Acknowledging the existence of a problem is the first step in solving it.

Develop clear definitions for maintenance terms.

A set of simple, universally acceptable terms for maintenance management is highly desirable. This is considered immediately impractical due to the lack of a universal authority to achieve this. Organisations can aim to prepare their own, but they should be kept simple and avoid the use of redundant terminology.

Develop a universally accepted body of knowledge for maintenance management

A universally accepted body of knowledge for maintenance management is required for both industry and academic institutions. To be effective as well as universally accepted, such a body of knowledge needs global input as well as input from industry and academic institutions. Perhaps a concerted effort from the various maintenance societies around the world could produce such an outcome.

In the want of a universally accepted body of knowledge, organisations or industry groups can produce their own policies and systems for maintenance management. In this case the emphasis needs to be on simplicity and clear differentiation between 'content' and 'tools'. If not, we risk adding fertiliser to the jungle and further entangling ourselves.


A 'Maintenance Theory Jungle' exists that has very strong similarities to the 'Management Theory Jungle' proposed by Koontz in 1961. This jungle carries with it the same confusion and conflict, arising from entanglement, which ultimately leads to a reduction in the potential effectiveness of the maintenance effort.

Recognising entanglement in the jungle is the first stage to solving the problem. There is a major need identified for a body of knowledge for maintenance management to be defined. A concerted effort by industry, academic institutions and maintenance societies is required to achieve this outcome.

There is also a need to accept and tolerate the cohabitation of schools of thought and theory for the wider benefit of the discipline. Koontz observed of the 'Management Theory Jungle' " the various schools, or approaches, of management theory, . are not drawing greatly different inferences from the physical and cultural environment surrounding us. ... Like the widely differing and often contentious denominations of the Christian religion, all have essentially the same goals and deal with essentially the same world".


  1. Koontz H, The Management Theory Jungle, Academy of Management Journal, 1961, 4 (3), 174 - 188
  2. Visser J K, Maintenance Management: An Appraisal of Current Strategies, ICOMS 98, Paper 031, 1998
  3. Anderson D S, A Literature Search of Maintenance Management, Maintenance Management Solutions, 1989
  4. Sack T F, A Complete Guide to Building and Plant Maintenance, Prentice Hall, 1963
  5. Newborough E, Effective Maintenance Management: Organization, McGraw Hill, 1967
  6. Heintzelman J, The Complete Handbook of Maintenance Management, Prentice Hall Trade, 1976
  7. Mann L, Maintenance Management, Lexington Books, 1976
  8. Kelly A S Harris M J, Management of Industrial Maintenance, Newnes Butterworth, 1978
  9. Kelly A, Maintenance and Its Management, Conference Communication, 1989
  10. Kelly A, Maintenance Strategy, Butterworth-Hienemann, 1997
  11. Jardine A K S, Maintenance, Replacement and Reliability, Pitman Publishing, 1973
  12. Moubray J, Maintenance Management A New Paradigm, Maintenance Journal, 9(2), 12 - 19
  13. Pelaez C and Bowles J B, Using Fuzzy Logic for System Criticality Analysis, Annual Reliability and Maintainability Symposium, pp. 449- 455, 1994
  14. Nakajima S, Introduction to TPM, Productivity Press, 1988
  15. Moriarty D, TPM - Key Lessons from Australian Implementations, 3rd International Conference of Maintenance Societies (ICOMS 98), Paper 031
  16. Sherwin D J, Age Based Opportunity Maintenance, 3rd International Conference of Maintenance Societies (ICOMS 98), Paper 043
  17. Moubray J, Reliability Centred Maintenance, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2nd Edition
  18. Woodhouse J, Maintenance Strategy - the MACRO view, Maintenance and Asset Management, 1998, 13(2): 19 - 22

Copyright 1996-2009, The Plant Maintenance Resource Center . All Rights Reserved.
Revised: Thursday, 08-Oct-2015 11:53:48 AEDT
Privacy Policy