Real stories of hiring planners and what you can learn

Doc Palmer says provide the support and resources your planners need to ensure planning success.

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

The following stories of selecting planners come from some of the plants I’ve worked with over the years. They illustrate that understanding the skills required helps a company create a suitable planner position and select a capable person for a successful planning program. Generally, a planner should have good craft skills, data organizing skills, and communication skills. It’s possible to be weak on craft skills and still be a good planner, because no single person can be as smart as the cumulative wisdom and experience of 20 to 30 craftspersons. Nevertheless, being weak on craft skills makes it more difficult to gain the respect of the craftspersons. Plants should make the planner position at least at the level of the first line crew supervisor to show support and to keep the best persons as planners.

One plant started a planning program but didn’t give the planner position or program much prestige. It hired for the planner role an experienced outside mechanic who was a great organizer and communicator. Even so, the plant people never gave her a chance, saying, “She isn’t from here.” They pretty much ran her off. She quit and went to work as a mechanic in a different industry with a plant in the same town. In her new organization, she demonstrated her mechanical, organizational, and communication skills. The company soon made her a welcomed planner.

Another plant took a hard-nosed, respected mechanic who could work on anything and made him a planner. He, too, had great communication and organizational skills. He didn’t take guff from anyone, but he was always willing and able to help out and share. He led the way in developing use of the CMMS planning module to create job plans electronically. He had the confidence to plan the entire backlog quickly and aided supervisors and crews by getting jobs ready to go. He also saved “lessons learned” data to make future plans better. He hounded mechanics to give feedback.

Unfortunately, the plant had created the planner position as a lateral transfer for a top mechanic, and the planner actually lost a lot of pay from when he had worked overtime as a mechanic. He soon left and became a planner at an organization that gave him supervisor-level prestige and pay, and he made his new company’s planning program successful (even though he wasn’t “from there”).

At another plant, a young engineer who had only been out of school for a couple of years was hired as the planner. This particular person was extremely friendly and earnestly sought the opinions of craftspersons for plan content. His excellent communication skills, which included a good dose of humility, allowed him to work with the crafts and be a successful planner. He also brought great data skills to the maintenance group, which supported not only electronic job planning but also aiding all of the crafts with their computer needs. It certainly helped that the company promoted planning as a critical program and the way it was going to do business. Eventually the plant promoted the planner to be one of its maintenance managers.

Another plant had an especially old workforce. The plant started planning by hiring a 25-year-old mechanic who was presented as a “craft historian” who would save information that the mechanics thought should be saved. One of the mechanics spoke up and said “You know, we’ve been here our entire careers, and ….” You just knew he was going to say they didn’t need any young person telling them what to do. But instead, he continued: “We really think that this is a good idea. We hate the thought of everything we’ve learned over the years being forgotten.” This plant achieved victory by establishing the planner as a craft historian who could run an improvement cycle rather than someone who was going to tell mechanics how to do their jobs.

These stories show key aspects of establishing and staffing the planner position. Make the planner position desirable enough that you can attract and keep the best individuals as planners. Pick the right persons by taking into account their craft, data, and communication skills. In doing so, you’ll be on your way to making a great maintenance planning program a reality.

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