Expand your workforce for free!

Doc Palmer says you can finish 50% more work orders per month with your existing staff.

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

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I tell plants that they can start completing 50% more work orders per month starting in two weeks with the same size workforce. This huge improvement is possible because of wrench-time realities and the concept of Parkinson’s Law. A plant has to do only four things to make the change.

Why should a plant want to complete more work? Plants have adjusted the size of their maintenance staff by hiring or by attrition over time largely in accordance with operator calls and backlog growth. But staffing according to operator calls is essentially doing reactive maintenance. The true path to being a great plant with above-average profits lies in doing more proactive maintenance (that operators do not call for) to reduce the need for reactive maintenance. A plant should want to complete more proactive work while it currently has its hands full of reactive work.

At most plants, so-called wrench time for available staff is only 35%. Only 35% of the time that persons are available to work is spent actually moving jobs ahead and not in other tasks such as getting parts, tools, or instructions or traveling to jobs. Parkinson’s Law (“The amount of work assigned will expand to fill the time available”) holds that if plants do not give crews enough work, the work that it gives will take longer than it should. Giving crews enough work can increase maintenance wrench time from 35% to 55% – an increase of 57% (55/35 = 1.57). This means that the same maintenance force currently completing 1,000 work orders each month could be completing 1,570 work orders per month.

The four things a plant must do to achieve this gain are have active management, run planning as a cycle of improvement, fully load schedules, and let everyone know what is going on. These four things tend not to be a given in plants. That is why the opportunity exists.

Let’s start with fully loading schedules. A plant needs to start off every crew each week with enough work to fill 100% of its available hours. Then, the plant should expect between 40% and 90% schedule compliance. In other words, it is OK to break the schedule, but not to ignore the schedule. The crew will complete as much work as it can while also freely taking care of operator calls for work that cannot wait. Overall, even with low schedule compliance, the crew will complete more work than it would normally have.

Next, a prerequisite of scheduling is having enough planned jobs to know planned labor-hour estimates. Planners must plan enough work orders to stay ahead of 20–30 craftspersons for scheduling. Planners can plan this much work only if they don’t try to make each plan perfect. Instead, they should count on skilled craftspersons to provide feedback to make plans better over the years. There is not enough time to plan each new job as if the craftsperson has never worked on that type of job before. So the plant must set up planning as a Deming cycle of improvement where craftspersons are not going to receive perfect plans but will give feedback to help improve them. In this manner, planners can plan enough work generally from starting with no plans to have enough work planned in only about two weeks to start fully loading schedules.

Additionally, successful planning can only come from a willing and active management team. Running planning as a Deming cycle of improvement where craftspersons receive imperfect plans doesn’t quite seem right. Fully loading schedules and telling supervisors they are free to break the schedules is weird. It’s crucial that management demonstrate support of the maintenance planning effort, as by creating a planner position at or above the supervisor level.

Finally, management must explain (as often as necessary) what it’s trying to accomplish with planning and scheduling – again because the Deming cycle of imperfect plans and full schedules that are OK to break seems so unnatural.

A plant can improve its work-order completion rate by 50% in only 2 weeks with an active management and informed participants who run planning as a cycle of improvement and fully load schedules. Further, the job plans that continually improve over the years will contribute to ever-higher quality of maintenance work.

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