Planning and Scheduling / Operational Excellence

Weekly schedule: Not what you think

Doc Palmer says weekly scheduling is about goal-setting with 100% schedule loading.

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

The fourth principle of scheduling is having the scheduler fully load the weekly maintenance schedule with 100% of the available labor hours. Fully loaded schedules are a great departure from typical scheduling practices that allow room for break-ins. Best practice is 100% loading because the weekly schedule functions as a goal-setting tool. Lesser parts of this principle provide guidance on filling the schedule with higher-priority work even if it means underutilizing the skills of some persons and considering whether to include interruptible jobs.

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of maintenance crew supervisors more than fully loaded schedules. Typical weekly schedules leave room for the break-ins that will inevitably happen. In addition, employees sometimes call in sick. Supervisors feel there is no way that they can complete all the scheduled work in a fully loaded schedule. Yet the supervisors who feel this way and the managers who have placed them in this position have missed the entire objective of the weekly schedule: The objective of weekly scheduling is to complete more work than normal, not necessarily to complete the schedule.

Saying up front that it is OK not to complete the schedule doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it? Not surprisingly, the renowned management consultant Dr. Peter Drucker said: “Management by objective works – if you know the objectives. Ninety percent of the time you don’t.”

A proper weekly schedule can accomplish the objective of helping a crew complete more work than normal by using goal-setting to defeat Parkinson’s Law, which states, “The amount of work assigned will expand to fill the time available” (Cyril Parkinson, “Parkinson’s Law,” The Economist, Nov. 19, 1955). The meaning is that if a schedule does not include enough work, the work included will take more time than it should. Crews given schedules that fill only 70% or so of the available labor hours are destined to complete less work than they otherwise might.

The normal amount of work a crew typically completes is that work of taking care of operations’ urgent concerns and ensuring everyone has something to do. But a crew started with a 100% fully loaded schedule usually completes more work even if it frequently breaks the schedule to take care of operations’ urgent concerns.

Another consideration is that only fully loaded schedules give management a standard for productivity. How much work should a crew with 400 available labor hours be able to complete? The answer is 400 hours of work. Yet, if the crew finishes all the work on a schedule of only 320 hours of work, management cannot clearly identify any productivity problems. And neither can management clearly identify productivity problems if the crew does not finish all the work on a schedule of 480 hours of work. It is best to assess and control productivity by scheduling 100% of the available hours and comparing actual work completion.

A lesser part of fully loading scheduling is choosing higher-priority work over lower-priority work even if it means underutilizing the skills of some craftspersons. For example, consider a higher-priority job in the backlog that requires only a helper, but the schedule has already utilized all available helpers. Furthermore, some welders still are available, and some lower-priority, less-urgent welding jobs exist in the backlog. Best scheduling practice would be to use welders as helpers (within union agreements, of course) to put the higher-priority helper work on the schedule.

Another lesser part of fully loaded scheduling is considering whether the fully loaded schedule should consciously include some jobs that can easily be interrupted or deferred. What does it matter if some work is deferred on a 100% schedule versus not scheduling it to begin with on a 70% schedule? As far as interrupting in-progress jobs, new urgent work can frequently wait a day or so to allow in-progress jobs to finish or at least come to a good stopping point.

The proof is in the pudding. Actual experience shows that crews given fully loaded schedules generally have higher wrench time and complete more work orders than those with schedules that are too lightly (or too heavily) loaded.