Eight powerful reasons to plan, then schedule

Ask Jeff Shiver Plan then ScheduleQuestion: At our site, we have two planning meetings each week for the planner schedulers. The first is usually on Tuesday, and along with other stakeholders, we determine what work we want to schedule the coming week. At that point, we will plan the work and get the materials on the way if not stocked. In the second meeting on Thursday of the same week, we will revisit the schedule on Tuesday to finalize plans for the coming week. We call both meetings “planning” meetings. Having listened to some of your videos on YouTube, I don’t know if we are following the correct approach based on the best practices.

Sean, Maintenance Planner, Michigan

Answer: Sean, I find this approach used in different industries from time to time. Switching the planner scheduler’s title to “scheduler planner ” is an indicator of this too. Use of the approach is driven by a few reasons that include:

  1. Inexperience or limited education with planning and scheduling best practices
  2. Money - Desire to control budget windows, expenditures, or tight cash flows

The first reason is the most common.

Here are eight problems with the approach:

  1. Planner schedulers are reacting to the work.
  2. Ample time is not allowed for planning work.
  3. The scheduling forecast window is too short as we may not know parts availability until in the scheduled week.
  4. You are anticipating materials delivery in time to do the scheduled work. When parts don’t arrive as forecasted, work is delayed, sometimes for weeks. The purpose of planning and scheduling is to eliminate avoidable delays.
  5. The inability to execute timely corrective work causes downtime when work cannot be accomplished as scheduled.
  6. Expediting parts and materials to meet the schedule window costs more since less than one week is allowed to procure and receive the items.
  7. Backlog levels are increasing over time since work is not prepared in advance, or materials delivered in time, so delays occur.
  8. Schedules remain fluid, so metrics like schedule compliance are often not calculated correctly and mislead the organization into believing things are better than the reality.

Let’s further this explanation by stepping through the business process.

Planning

  1. Identified work is entered into the CMMS.
  2. If the work is routed through an approval process, the work is either approved or rejected. From a work status perspective, the notification may be labeled “awaiting approval.” If rejected, then the requestor is notified of the reason for the rejection, i.e. duplicate in the system, or will be covered in an upcoming project. If approved, the status is set to “awaiting planning.”
  3. The planner sees the work in the “awaiting planning” queue, and then, pulls it into their planning queue. At that point, the planner changes the status to “in planning.” The planner plans the job and determines the parts requirements. They can “reserve” storeroom parts or prepare the requisitions for direct purchase. At this point, the planner changes the work order status to “awaiting materials” if parts are needed. If none are required, then the planner changes the status to “ready to schedule.”

If budget constraints prevent the ordering of materials as the jobs are planned, then the “awaiting materials” status provides a bucket to hold them for later review in order to determine when to purchase based on the needs of the organization. I’ll add that having the planner plan the job allows you to better understand the labor and materials costs for the work, along with better anticipating lead times for scheduling purposes.

Key point: Regardless of either scenario, the planning portion of the planner scheduler’s role is complete at this point in the process.

Notice how we have created these ‘buckets’ to hold the work (either awaiting materials or ready to schedule). We also have a planned backlog that can be pulled forward should equipment and resources be available to execute the work if the parts are in stock. Having ready-to-execute work is handy if you have unexpected downtime that gives access to the equipment. Remember another goal of planning and scheduling, to get more work done.

At this point and if you don’t have funding issues that delay the purchase of materials, the storeroom buyer procures the direct purchases. Work kits are prepared and stored ideally in the storeroom. As the direct purchases are delivered, the parts go in the kit. Reserved storeroom parts go in the kit. Once all parts are kitted, the MRO Storeroom changes the work order status from “awaiting materials” to “ready to schedule.” This “ready to schedule” status is a segmentation of your backlog which you should be trending regarding “crew size” to understand the forecast of labor required to execute the work. Notice the partnership at play with the different functions?

Then, scheduling

The scheduler should be aware of production schedules, priorities, and "requested by" dates. They should slot a draft schedule using the “ready to schedule” backlog. I don’t find that this takes a separate meeting. Email the draft schedule before Wednesday morning to the stakeholders. If the stakeholders identify changes they want, they can contact the scheduler before the weekly scheduling meeting and suggest swapping one job for another one. It helps to have individuals assigned to this task such as a production gatekeeper, who understands that function’s priorities. Now in the weekly scheduling meeting, we can perform a final review and make any necessary adjustments before committing the schedule for the coming week. Ideally, you should be looking forward two weeks, not just one week as the minimum.

I like to hold the Weekly Scheduling Meeting as close as possible to the start of the next scheduled period. For example, if the schedule starts on Saturday or Monday, hold the meeting late Thursday or early Friday. Notice that I called this the weekly scheduling meeting, not the weekly planning meeting.

It’s amazing what a simple one-word change from “planning” to “scheduling” can have on people’s understanding of the activities. If the planner is planning jobs as they come in, we don’t need a separate weekly planning meeting.

What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree? What are the constraints? Please post your comments or questions.

Talk soon,
Jeff Shiver, CMRP

If you have questions in the fields of maintenance, reliability, planning and scheduling, MRO storerooms, or leadership as examples, please contact Jeff Shiver with your question(s) here.