Planning versus scheduling

Sept. 2, 2009
David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, says think of it as "what" as opposed to "when."

Planning and scheduling are two words that produce considerable confusion in the world of asset management, especially the former, which can be coupled with many other words such as strategic planning, capacity planning and so on. The key difference between planning and scheduling is the scale or time horizon involved. Typically, planning — and any word combination ending in planning — refers to the longer term, the big picture, whereas scheduling usually is relevant to a shorter term and can be more detailed.

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For example, you might “plan” to adopt a preventive maintenance program for your car, including changing the oil every six months or 6,000 miles. However, you would “schedule” to change the oil next Tuesday at 3:00 pm at your local lube shop because it will have been six months since the last oil service.


Thus, planning shows intent — it is the “what.” A plan is in the form of a master list or description. There are many different types of planning relevant to asset management, some of which are described below. On the other hand, scheduling is a call to action — it is the “when.” A schedule generally is in the form a calendar or Gantt chart. Scheduling is what eventually transforms the many types of plans we conceive into realities.

Strategic planning: The highest level of planning relevant to asset management is called strategic planning. A strategic plan provides a vision for the asset management function, complete with strategic goals, objectives, performance measures and targets, and a high-level, long-term action plan outlining what projects are necessary to achieve the performance targets. The strategic plan for asset management drives every other plan, establishes the focus of the asset management function, and prioritizes the allocation of scarce resources.

Business planning: A given department’s business plan often is thought of as synonymous with a strategic plan, but the two aren’t identical. After drafting an asset management strategy, the next step is to develop a business plan that provides greater detail. For example, a strategic plan might identify many long-term projects needed for meeting three to five-year targets, but a business plan focuses primarily on which projects might be launched during the coming year, with what results relevant to strategic performance targets. Furthermore, a strategic plan wouldn’t include a detailed budget, whereas a business plan provides budget detail for at least the next year cycle. Similarly, the business plan might outline resource requirements, key issues and risks, and other details that would provide guidance for a given department during the next planning year.

Capacity planning: Another planning element especially relevant to asset management is understanding what capacity is required to fulfill the goals and objectives in the strategic plan. For example, what new plant equipment, vehicles, computers and other assets should be purchased during the next few years? What new resources will be necessary, with what skills and experience? Will the existing plant have adequate capacity to handle any growth or changes implied by the strategic plan? The capacity requirements for at least the next planning cycle would typically be included in the business plan.

Facilities planning: One form of capacity planning is sometimes referred to as facility planning or facilities planning. This is especially relevant for asset managers in municipalities, universities, hospitals and manufacturers with multiple offices, plants and warehouses. who are responsible for numerous buildings or structures. Anyone managing one or more facilities needs to understand the implications of the strategic plan on their facilities.

For example, if there is expected growth in one location, can we move people and assets to make better use of our buildings to accommodate the growth? Do we need to purchase new facilities? Other decisions must be made as part of facilities planning, including lease versus buy for new buildings, add to an existing building versus move to another building, centralize versus decentralize functions, and so on. At a more detailed level, space planning and facilities layout also would fall under the umbrella of facilities planning.

Capital planning: Asset managers know only too well how poorly capital planning is done, especially during recessionary times. Capital planning requires an understanding of what assets you have, their condition, life expectancy of the asset, book and replacement value, and ultimately, what dollar expenditure is necessary when to ensure the asset continues to provide its intended function in a cost-effective manner.

Whether you track major capital requirements on a spreadsheet, a CMMS, an ERP package, or specialized capital planning software applications, make sure management is well aware of the consequences of not spending the money on major repairs and capital replacements. For example, determine the effect of waiting another year to replace your roof, or overhauling a back-up generator that might not be fully operational during the next major power failure. The key is to manage senior management expectations so they might make an informed decision around capital expenditures, aligned with the strategic plan.

Maintenance planning: Maintenance planning provides a pragmatic approach to maintaining your company’s assets in light of the strategic and business plans. Maintenance planning ensures the most cost-effective use of capital and operating budgets to meet your performance targets. This includes the following elements:

  • Ensuring the most cost-effective policy for each asset and component, encompassing failure-based, use-based or condition-based maintenance
  • Establishing efficient and effective job plans for planned or repetitive maintenance work
  • Determining resource requirements to implement this year’s maintenance program, including identifying any training needs
  • Ensuring adequate spare parts availability to meet this year’s demand, balanced with a healthy turnover rate and low obsolescence
  • Optimizing processes and making full use of supporting technology such as your CMMS, mobile devices and analytical tools
  • Tracking results and modifying plans in order to meet or exceed priority performance targets

Maintenance scheduling

Despite the clever plans that might be drafted as described above, nothing really happens unless work is actually scheduled. Maintenance scheduling is the process of matching the work backlog that results from the planning cycle with available staff, contractors, materials, equipment and other resources. This includes committing to a calendar date.

The CMMS is an excellent tool for both maintenance planning and scheduling. Sophisticated features abound such as:

  • Ability to sort and filter a schedule by type of work, craft, time period, priority, required date, percent completion, etc.
  • Drag and drop capability on a graphical schedule, for more easily balancing workload by moving work orders from one day or crew to another
  • “What-if” analysis to play with various schedules in simulation mode, and select a schedule only if optimal
  • Tools to assist with turnarounds and major overhauls

To maximize resource utilization and efficiency, there always should be more work in backlog than resources available to accomplish it. Schedules need constant revision as work is completed, new work requests are received, and priorities change. As well, CMMS analysis tools allow maintenance planners to detect trends and anomalies so longer-term maintenance plans can be updated, such as switching from a policy of failure-based to condition-based maintenance for a given asset to avoid a costly recurring failure.

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

(Editor’s note: The Plant Services CMMS/EAM Software Review, at, provides a side-by-side comparison of more than a dozen popular software packages.)

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