Job plans: Is success in the details?

Doc Palmer says the pursuit of perfection is the enemy of progress when it comes to job planning.

By Doc Palmer, PE, CMRP, Richard Palmer and Associates

This month we will talk about the proper level of detail for a planned job. This issue is a major impediment to implementing a proper planning program.

The ultimate problem is that we want to have our cake and eat it, too. We want job plans with a great level of detail to provide for correct execution of the work and for consistency of execution across different times and by different persons (even a new craftsperson). The problem is that planners cannot plan all the work quickly enough to support timely maintenance if they try to include such great detail.

What to do, then? If planners rely on the Deming cycle to improve job plans over time, they can meet both objectives. Planners should put as much detail into a job plan as possible, subject to the constraint that they must plan all of the work. To meet this principle, planners must recognize the skill of the crafts themselves.

To begin with, planning is all about running a Deming cycle in maintenance. Planners give head starts and craftspersons give feedback. Planners are craft historians who save and use actual job feedback to make future plans better. However, two issues keep planners from planning most of the work in time to support productive maintenance crews. One is the issue of making time estimates (which we discussed last month, see Principle 4 below) and the other is this issue of how much detail to put into a job plan.

Some people advocate simply making their planners provide very detailed plans for each job. These companies send their planners to classes that teach what great job plans look like. Approaching or even exceeding original manufacturer step-by-step instructions, these plans are customized for the specific plant and equipment application. A problem here is that such job plans take a lot of time to create. A planner supporting even 10 craftspersons, much less 20-30 craftspersons, cannot plan enough jobs in such detail to stay ahead. Plants could compensate by using more planners, especially at the beginning, until a job plan library that can be reused is established.

In contrast, some people advocate having planners not plan all of the work, at least initially, in an effort to allow planners to stay ahead without requiring the use of too many planners or an up-front project to develop a bank of plans. The idea here is that planners should plan only the more-complicated work and leave the less-complicated jobs to the skill of the craftspersons. By saving the plans that are created, the planners can reuse them later when needed and gradually have more time to plan the other work. Eventually, advocates of this approach contend, the planners will be providing plans for all the work by having a library of great job plans to reuse. But a problem here is that by not initially planning most of the work, plants will not quickly have a backlog of planned work from which to schedule. These plants miss the quick return of increased productivity that comes from fully scheduling maintenance crews.

The larger issue is that no one can ever plan the perfect plan. Expecting perfection (by trying to start with great job plans) is the enemy of making better plans over the years. Instead, the best use of planners is to position them as craft historians from the start to run a Deming cycle to improve plans continually. Planners from the beginning should create the best plan they can, subject to the constraint of having to plan nearly all the work. In this manner, a single planner can manage the creation and improvement of the best job plans through the cumulative wisdom and experience of 20–30 craftspersons over the years.

It is important to realize that planning is not trying to compensate for having poorly skilled craftspersons. Eventually, the plant will hire new persons, but planners can make less-than-perfect plans by recognizing that the current skilled craftspersons will be able to execute the work and give great feedback to make the plans better over time. Eventually, the plans will be fine for new workers.

The level of detail that planners should put in a job plan is a controversial area of planning. However, remember that the purpose of planning and scheduling is not to be creating perfect plans and perfect schedules. The purpose of planning and scheduling is to help the plant complete better work and more work.

Getting all of the work through the hands of a planner before execution helps the plant complete better work because planners help avoid mistakes (especially repeating past ones). It also supports scheduling that helps the plant complete more work. Eventually, and properly, we will have the best plans for correct and consistent execution of work.

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