Time to make the daily schedule

Doc Palmer explores why daily scheduling during the week is the supervisors’ task, and how to do it right.

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

The fifth principle of scheduling is having the crew supervisor create daily schedules as the week unfolds. There is too much churn in the daily execution of maintenance to create the daily schedules a week ahead of time. The first-line supervisors should create the daily schedules, assign names, coordinate lockout/tagout (LOTO), and deal with new urgent work that cannot wait.

Many scheduling practitioners and CMMS programs advocate laying out the entire next week in advance, specifying specific days for each work order, as well as technicians and hour slots assigned to them. Their reasoning seems to be that because each work order has a time estimate, the schedule should dictate exactly when the work should be performed for best coordination. In theory, operators then can have assets prepared on time for maintenance, and managers can hold operations and maintenance accountable.

Unfortunately, maintenance time estimates are not very accurate for individual work orders. Maintenance is simply not assembly-line work. Many times a five-hour job takes eight hours and often a five-hour job takes only two hours.

Further, most plants have a significant amount of new urgent or emergency work. Operators continually call maintenance supervisors for help with issues that cannot wait. As a result of this churn from imprecise actual job times and interrupting work, plants that create daily schedules a week in advance spend a considerable amount of time each day revising schedules. This time is in addition to the time spent creating such a precise weekly schedule in the first place.

A better practice is to give the entire weekly schedule as a simple batch of work to serve as a focus for the crew supervisor for creating daily schedules as the week unfolds. On Friday, the supervisor takes the batch of work and figures what to try to do on Monday. The supervisor then coordinates with operations to see if these jobs could get LOTO. Later on Friday, the supervisor posts the schedule for Monday.

On Monday morning, the supervisor might reshuffle some of the work depending on what happened over the weekend and whether any maintenance crew members are absent. Throughout Monday, the supervisor monitors how jobs are proceeding and what new urgent work needs to be dealt with and about midday starts figuring out what to try to do Tuesday. The supervisor repeats this cycle throughout the week using the weekly schedule batch of work as a guide. Management’s focus at the end of the week should be how much work is being completed on the weekly schedule.

This latter approach of letting the crews develop their own daily schedules from a batch of work does not admit failure for dealing with the churn of daily maintenance. Instead, it recognizes the churn. Plants that take the former approach and dictate precise daily schedules a week in advance do not solve the churn. They essentially lead their maintenance crews to focus on resolving operations’ immediate concerns and otherwise just keeping everyone “busy” on what they can do on the schedule. As long as items left uncompleted are rescheduled for the next day, everyone is happy.

Letting supervisors create daily schedules as the week unfolds also means letting them assign individual names for work orders. This can’t be done a week in advance because it is uncertain exactly when individual jobs will start and finish and who will be available when. Supervisors continually make the best assignments possible as the week unfolds based on criteria that cannot be presupposed by any weekly scheduler. These include such considerations as who works well together, which individuals work better by themselves, who is the best pump person available now, and who needs pump experience. Schedules that usurp supervisor authority to make assignments are bound to create dissent.

Finally, supervisors must be empowered to break the weekly schedule without seeking excessive approvals. The whole idea of productive maintenance is to work toward a goal of completing work for the week while understanding that it is necessary to attack emergency and urgent work quickly. Allow supervisors to break the schedule and the supervisors will try to meet the schedule.

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