Planning and Scheduling

Maintenance planning best practices have evolved. Has your planning program?

Here's how to fine-tune your maintenance planning and scheduling, according to Doc Palmer.

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

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook. I remain grateful that publisher McGraw-Hill asked me to author the handbook, which remains McGraw-Hill’s best-selling reliability book, according to the company. The handbook has gone through a number of editions as I have continued learning about best practices and have witnessed numerous success stories from applying them. The fourth edition was released this March.

The handbook originally debuted in 1999 and came from our success at JEA, a large municipal power system in Florida. I supported JEA’s ongoing maintenance management improvement program, specifically by assisting with maintenance planning. We had experienced great frustration and little obvious benefit. There was not much information available on planning best practices – either in industry literature or from other companies I talked with, which seemed to share the same frustration. We had thought that planning was about making great job plans to reduce execution problems. But no plan is ever perfect, and craftspersons complained about the faults they perceived. Consequently, no one wanted to be a planner. We eventually redirected planners to become craft historians for skilled craftspersons and to concentrate on improving plans over the years, primarily with job feedback. This Deming Cycle allowed us to plan much more work.

We then fumbled with scheduling, going from no scheduling to overly complicated scheduling. We finally settled on starting each crew with a full bucket of work each week without specifying days on which specific work should be completed. Amazingly, the 100% scheduling approach emptied an entire backlog of mechanical work orders, many up to two years old, in only six weeks. We had achieved a phenomenal improvement in productivity.

The second edition of the handbook, released in 2005, included a change to one of my principles: Instead of maintaining that planners should plan the “what and why, but not the how,” I urged planners to plan the “what and why before the how.” Jack Nicholas (the PdM guru, not the golfer) had patiently for five years explained to me about “procedures-driven maintenance.” From his U.S. Navy background, Jack had great experience with the consistency and direction of detailed procedures. I think we both felt that no one should ever “blindly” follow any job plan. Nevertheless, I improved the wording to say that planners should plan jobs with as much detail as possible, subject to the constraint that they must plan nearly all the work. Planners should improve plans over the years as they have time to do so and not only if and when they receive job feedback. Plans should eventually help even new craftspersons have a good chance at succeeding at the work and provide a good reference for experienced craftspersons.

The second edition also further developed the CMMS discussions, particularly with advice in surviving software implementation projects. Maintenance people understand maintenance better than IT people and should not surrender the ability to make key decisions regarding necessary features. I also added a chapter on outsourcing maintenance. Whether a company prefers to do maintenance in-house or use the services of a contractor, there are a lot of pros and cons of both to consider. I added a special section that looks at union arbitration judgments for contract maintenance. You must follow any contract wording, especially words such as “must consult with the union before…”

The third edition, released in 2013, showed explicitly where the timeless management advice of Dr. W. Edwards Deming and Dr. Peter F. Drucker supports nearly every chapter. The handbook essentially applies Deming in continual plan improvement and Drucker in knowing the objective of scheduling. (Hint: The objective of scheduling is to do more work, not to complete the schedule.) Finally, although the handbook remains primarily about routine maintenance, a new chapter applied the handbook principles to planned outages, especially in making them more efficient and productive over time.

The fourth edition adds new success stories that vividly show the great benefits of planning and scheduling. It also softens the previous insistence that a planner must be a senior craftsperson and brings most of the advice on hiring a great planner from throughout the book to a single appendix. I have seen a number of otherwise qualified persons with superior data-organizing and communication skills become successful planners, especially in a proper craft historian role. The chapter on KPIs gives better examples and adds several KPIs, including having a minimal unplanned backlog (to guide planners away from trying to be too perfect on any one plan at the expense of not planning enough work) and measuring stockouts (which the storeroom cannot track because crafts often simply do the job another way).

Speaking of stock: The fourth edition adds a chapter on best inventory practices to help maintenance leaders better understand and therefore work with the storeroom to support better planning. Next, a number of persons have asked me to “judge” their planning programs and so (perhaps against my own better judgment) I added a numerical audit scorecard with which planning leaders can grade themselves against the handbook’s best practices. Finally, the conclusion of the handbook has expanded to help planning leaders “sell” planning to gain the support of management of staff. This chapter includes some of the sound bites and elevator speeches you have seen recently in Plant Services.

Per the Deming Cycle, the art and science of planning thinking can never stop evolving for the better. Thank you to clients, readers, and practitioners who have allowed me to share my ideas and who have shared their ideas with me over the years.