Planning and Scheduling

How to put your maintenance planning program at risk

Doc Palmer says great performance does not maintain itself, so watch out for these common pitfalls.

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

Previous articles have discussed the principles of implementing a successful maintenance planning program (including scheduling). Implementing a proper program should give a workforce a 50% bump in productivity. A plant completing 1,000 work orders each month should suddenly start completing 1,500 work orders. A plant with 50 maintenance persons should suddenly feel as if it had 75 persons.

However, such success, once achieved, often is fleeting because nearly all of the principles require ongoing management and attention. Such great performance does not maintain itself (no pun intended).

Of the five basic management duties (plan, organize, staff, direct, and control), never has it been so true that control is necessary for ongoing success. Proper planning is so unusual (hence the great opportunity that it affords) that it is easy to return to bad practices. A colleague, Terry Brooks, notes these three truths: “We have an amazing elasticity to snap back from great success to old habits;” “Success is fragile;” and “All it takes is one bad manager and you’re done!”

Left unattended, plants will abandon proper planning. This column examines abandoning best planning behaviors.

Planning principles 1 and 2 to protect and focus planners often requires keeping them in a separate group to stop supervisors from using them to do craft work and to stop planners from helping too many jobs in progress (chasing parts) at the expense of planning. Instead planners should be planning new work as it comes in. But if the planning manager retires, a plant might be tempted to put the planners under the control of the local maintenance teams. Unfortunately, soon the planners will be chasing parts and helping jobs in progress. As planners retire, they might not even be replaced if maintenance teams prefer to have more craftspersons on board.

Planning Principle 3 to make living job plans in the CMMS is also easy to stop one day because it requires an extra step. It’s much easier to plan steps of the work order itself directly on the job. Will planners one day simply stop going the extra step and therefore stop making plans that improve over time? They might, and that would wreck the whole Deming Cycle upon which successful planning is based.

Planning principles 4 and 5 can also both easily be abandoned. Principle 4 is to quickly make time estimates that are “good enough,” and Principle 5 is to give preference to planning all of the work with a growing level of detail versus planning work in great detail at the expense of planning all of the work. For example, a new maintenance manager might insist that planners be measured on planned versus actual work completed and identify anything bad that happens on a job as the planner’s fault. These actions make planners overestimate labor hours and spend too long planning each job. If this happens, they cannot run the Deming Cycle on enough jobs and make plans better “over time.”

Planning Principle 6 regarding wrench-time studies cautions that studies can lower craft morale even if they do not wreck planning. Why measure wrench time at all and start rumors? Everyone is at 35%, the point of feeling busy, if plants do not schedule enough work. There is room to grow.

Speaking of scheduling, it is so easy to simply stop formal scheduling altogether “because we trust the supervisors to do the right thing.” Bang, the plant is back at 35% wrench time and the plant loses its 50% bump in work-order completion rate. But even if the plant continues scheduling, there can be many pitfalls.

Scheduling Principle 1 is that there must be enough planned work because scheduling requires the hours and crafts. If the previous management’s dereliction of duty slows the production of jobs plans, then it becomes difficult to schedule.

Scheduling Principle 2 is to have a credible priority system. A simple system of four or five levels is easy to abandon if someone suggests a much more complicated system.

Scheduling Principle 3 to schedule a week at a time as a simple batch of work can easily be lost when managers insist that plants use a CMMS system that encourages complicated detailed weekly scheduling with specific daily slots for work. And Scheduling Principle 4 to load the schedule to 100% of available craft hours is downright scary. Supervisors much prefer scheduling only 60% to 70% to “allow for the inevitable urgent work that arises.” Unfortunately, when not scheduling enough work, “the amount of work assigned expands to full the time available” (Parkinson’s Law). (Scheduling Principle 5, that supervisors should create the daily schedule, is never a problem.)

Scheduling Principle 6, that the plant should properly seek schedule compliance between 40% and 90%, is perhaps the most problematic of the scheduling principles. A new manager suddenly wants a school grade of an “A,” or 90% to 100%. But proper scheduling is more like bowling, where a score of 200 out of a possible 300 is great. Insisting on schedule compliance above 90% forces schedulers to schedule less than 100% of the available craft hours, and the plant will drop to 35% wrench time. The 50% bump in work-order completion disappears quickly.

Don’t lose the great 50% productivity improvement that proper planning and scheduling gave your plant. Continue to actively manage your program to maintain its great effect. Don’t make a great plant merely a good plant.