Effective planning and scheduling

Aug. 10, 2010
David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, explains how to get out, and stay out, of the firefighting mode.

One of the most important functions of your CMMS is planning and scheduling maintenance work. Effective planning and scheduling is critical in moving from the firefighting mentality seen in many maintenance shops today to a more planned and productive environment. But as many maintenance managers can attest, this transformation isn’t easy. Here are the key elements of proper planning and scheduling, including roles and responsibilities necessary for a smooth transition, as well as some common problems and their solutions.

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Planning versus scheduling: Although some people use these terms interchangeably, planning and scheduling are very different. Planning is more strategic, referring to an overall design of the maintenance work to be accomplished over the longer term and how it will be done. Scheduling is more tactical, describing which work will be done on which date over the short term, and with which resources. The schedule flows from the plan.

For example, consider a construction project. Planning involves developing architectural drawings that show what is being built, as well as construction drawings showing specifications as to how it will be constructed. Scheduling outlines the steps, resource requirements, timeline and critical path required to implement the plan. A schedule might be in the form of a Gantt chart, calendar or table showing which jobs will be done on which dates, by which crews or individuals.

Roles and responsibilities: In light of the long-term nature of the planning function, the role of the maintenance planner is to:

  • Determine the optimal maintenance policy for assets and components — failure-based vs. use-based vs. condition-based maintenance
  • Maintain standard operating procedures on the CMMS, including standard hours to complete the work, parts required, quality standards and skills required
  • Develop a long-range plan of at least a year, but preferably spanning the life of your critical assets — for example, consider which assets will be acquired, built, taken out of service, disposed
  • Develop an annual work plan and keep it current on a rolling monthly basis
  • Balance the work plan with a capacity plan
  • Analyze adherence to plan and KPIs to identify areas for improvement.

In contrast to the planner role, a maintenance scheduler — referred to as “controller” in some industries — deals with a shorter time horizon. The role of a maintenance scheduler is to:

  • Develop monthly/weekly/daily schedule on the CMMS
  • Determine spare parts and special tools availability
  • Determine work priorities
  • Ensure maintenance technicians always have a healthy backlog of productive work
  • Maximize asset availability
  • Manage customer and management expectations through KPIs.

There are numerous variations on these themes. Some companies have developed a hybrid position called maintenance planner/scheduler that combines the two roles. Although this isn’t ideal for large maintenance operations, it’s certainly a better approach than forcing first-line supervisors to assume these responsibilities on top of their supervisory role. The role of the first-line supervisor is to:

  • Use the CMMS to ensure maintenance technicians have the right parts, right tools and right information to do the job
  • Provide quality assurance and technical coaching to technicians
  • Ensure technicians meet the daily schedule and adhere to standard operating procedures
  • Work with technicians, planners and schedulers to identify opportunities for improvement
  • Perform human resource management duties such as time and attendance, performance evaluation, career path development, succession planning and competency evaluation.

Some larger companies have not only differentiated between planner and scheduler roles, but have instituted a maintenance coordinator role as well. The maintenance coordinator’s typical responsibilities include:

  • Assist with problem diagnostics and assessing work requests
  • Liaise with and coordinate work done by contractors
  • Evaluate contractor performance
  • Assist planners, schedulers and first-line supervisors in ensuring work is properly planned, scheduled and executed
  • Work with operations, materials management and engineering to coordinate work activities, and ensure equipment and parts are available as scheduled
  • Prepare CMMS reports and analyze data.

In theory, it’s easy to delineate between the planner, scheduler, coordinator and first-line supervisor roles. However, in practice, the lines are quite blurred. Companies struggle with organizational design in terms of number of positions, mix of duties, physical location, shift coverage and so on. Factors such as company size, physical layout, number of technicians, hours of operation, distribution of trades across shifts, work environment, asset class, complexity of equipment, health/safety/environmental impact, number of assets and many other factors weigh into the decision on optimal organizational design.

There are still many companies in North America that bundled the majority of the responsibilities described above into the first-line supervisor position, even though they have 20 or more technicians and could justify a planner, scheduler, coordinator or hybrid. Typically, in these same companies, some of the longer-term planning duties are assumed by the maintenance manager. As a result, supervisors and managers are overwhelmed: it’s difficult for them to find time to train and coach staff properly, the work backlog increases and the work environment becomes increasingly more reactive.

Common planning/scheduling problems

Even with a dedicated planning function, and sophisticated planning, scheduling and analysis tools available from many of today’s CMMS vendors, companies can still experience problems.

Planner gets no respect: If a planner is ignored by first-line supervisors and higher-level management, it’s often because of the planner’s attitude, skills and experience. The planner position should be considered an advancement opportunity, ideally for one of your best front-line supervisors, not a transition job for someone close to retirement or on disability. The position shouldn’t be filled by a computer junkie or senior clerk, although the best candidates should have comfort with the CMMS. As well, because technicians report to first-line supervisors, planners need to have superior people skills to successfully influence decisions made on the shop floor.

Parts frequently not available: One of the most frustrating scenarios for technicians is to begin a job only to find parts are unavailable. An important aspect of planning and scheduling is to use the CMMS to analyze usage history, obsolescence, inventory turns and stockout frequency to ensure accuracy of vendor lead times, reorder points, economic order quantity and safety stock levels.

Excessive work backlog: Introduction of a dedicated planner should force the maintenance organization to transition to almost 100% planned work, where planned work includes assets and components deemed cost-effective to run to failure. This means critical assets/components are examined to determine the consequences of failure and plan the best maintenance policy. For example, if consequences are negligible, run to failure might be the optimal policy.

Another step in reducing backlog is to use your CMMS to run Pareto analysis each week on work order problem, cause and action codes. The planner can then work with operations, engineering, supply management and maintenance staff to determine the root cause of the top 10 problems causing the backlog. Continually taking corrective action reduces work backlog over time.

Maintainer productivity is low: If the planner is doing the job as described above, the first-line supervisors can emerge from their offices more often, and spend significantly more time on the shop floor. First-line supervisors should be raising the bar on performance by setting aggressive but achievable targets, tracking departmental and individual performance using the CMMS, and of course, supporting technicians with increased training, coaching, rewarding and disciplining.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at [email protected].

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