Protect your maintenance planners!

Doc Palmer explains how to be a task ninja to keep your maintenance planners from being overwhelmed.

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

Last month we briefly identified the six principles that make planning successful and the six principles that make scheduling successful. We also identified two considerations that deal with reactive maintenance in a planning and scheduling environment. This month, we want to discuss the first principle of planning: that management must protect planners from having too many other duties.

Far too many plants establish planning by creating and filling planner positions, and then after declaring victory, they find the planners are not planning at all. This failure to plan is usually not the fault of the planners but rather of management. Management must protect planners.

Planners often find themselves overwhelmed with too many other duties to fulfill their primary role of planning. Planners generally spend about six hours of an eight-hour shift at their desks and two hours in the field. Simply because such planners are easy to find, plants usually have a number of miscellaneous tasks that they seem to assign to planners. Such tasks include participation on teams not at all limited to safety, root cause analysis, and projects. Other tasks include helping people find CMMS data and collecting CMMS data for KPIs. One plant had planners become its primary interface with IT: “If you have a computer problem, have the planner get with IT to fix it” was the M.O.

However, none of these duties is “planning,” and each takes away from planning time. Consider that a planner can help make 30 persons as productive as 47 (through the improvement of craft wrench time from 35% to 55%). Therefore, we make the case that a planner is “worth” 17 persons. But plants gain this value only when the planners are planning, not fulfilling other duties. In effect, assigning a planner to a non-planning duty is the equivalent of assigning 17 persons to something that a single person could have done. The maintenance work that these 16 persons could have accomplished goes undone because maintenance has lost its planning support.

Similarly, planners usually do not end up planning when they report directly to crew supervisors. Crew supervisors live in a very dynamic environment. Many jobs take longer than expected; many also finish early. Different craftspersons need different amounts of guidance on jobs in progress. Supervisors must continually consult with operations personnel regarding job progress and the next jobs needing support. The temptation for supervisors to use directly assigned planners to help resolve problems with jobs in progress usually keeps planners too busy to spend enough time planning future work. The urgency of today frequently overwhelms any planning.

Can planners handle some other duties? Can they provide some help for supervisors for current work? The answer is “maybe.” Planners can generally plan for 20 to 30 persons. This ratio is usually for like-craft planners, such as a mechanic planner planning for mechanics or an electrician planner planning for electricians. A planner without the specific craft background can probably plan for the lower end of the ratio: one planner for 20 craftspersons.

However, a planner planning for 20 to 30 persons can have hardly any other duties or help with hardly any jobs in progress. Such planning is a full-time position. On the other hand, a planner planning for only 10 to 20 persons can handle some other duties or help with some jobs in progress. Still, management must be very careful to provide protections that keep such planners from becoming overwhelmed.

Typically, management must provide some sort of separate department away from the crew supervisors to protect planners from being assigned too many other duties. This organizational separation can usually protect planners even if the planners physically sit near to the craftspeople. These latter planners especially need organizational leadership that sets forth their mission as providing job plans above all else.

The No. 1 problem in industry with planning is giving planners too many other things to do. Protecting planners is the first principle in helping planning accelerate maintenance productivity. We’ll discuss the rest of the principles of successful planning and scheduling in coming months.

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