Planning and scheduling – The cornerstone of the reliability excellence strategy

If a fully functional computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), robust operator driven reliability, and craft skill proficiency are the building blocks of your reliability strategy’s foundation, then best practice planning and scheduling is the cornerstone on which many of the remaining program elements rest.

For years, our planning and scheduling effort was not delivering the results we expected. To achieve best practice, one must use a strategic approach. I firmly believe planning and scheduling is one program element which benefits from the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) action cycle I discussed in a previous post.

Take the time to identify the key steps necessary to develop a “best in class” process and you will improve the odds that you will deliver the desired result. Do not short change this program element; it will take time, effort and patience to bear fruit. The results will be well worth the effort.

There are six primary stakeholders in the planning and scheduling process; each plays a key role and is essential to overall success. While you might use different titles to describe each position, the roles and responsibilities needed for a successful program are essentially the same. A generic position description, and the roles and responsibilities each stakeholder assumes, are shown in Figure 1.

I would like to emphasize several points. Personally, I believe planning and scheduling are two distinct functions. I realize in smaller organizations, dividing these responsibilities between two positions might not be practical. But if it is, I encourage you to do so. One of the primary reasons planning and scheduling programs do not deliver the desired results, is that the planner is often asked or required to perform duties that interfere with the more essential work that they are uniquely qualified to do. If you are unsure whether your planner is being utilized to best effect, ask yourself these questions.

  1. Does the planner often get pulled into day to day activities?
  2. Is the planner responsible for planning, scheduling, and executing the jobs they are assigned?

These other duties are best given to your maintenance supervisor or scheduler. We were guilty on both counts, but have since put a stop to both practices.

If your CEO asked you tomorrow how the planner position adds unique value to the organization, what would you say? My answer would include the following:

  1. A planner’s cost estimations can be used to determine projected weekly spending against budget. This is essential for operations to manage their maintenance costs effectively.
  2. The planner creates the precision work instructions, encourages the craftsmen to utilize the maintenance plans they create, and solicits craft feedback, thus engaging them in the process.  This allows essential work to be performed to best practice; ensures rework is held to a minimum and maximizes equipment mean time between failure (MTBF).  

And most important, work planning increases wrench efficiency. In most reactive organizations wrench efficiency is somewhere around 25-30%. 55% is an accepted best practice number. For large organizations, this wrench efficiency increase can be a seven figure savings.

NOTE: CEOs pay attention to seven figure numbers.

You will notice I used the word “essential” in my description of planner position responsibilities. Planners cannot and should not plan every job. Unfortunately, when you get your program started, operations will ask the planner to plan jobs which have little production impact.

In reactive organizations, jobs which do have a production impact need to be scheduled immediately, giving the planner little time to plan the work. The organization’s reliability program is not mature, and the incipient level failure modes which occur early on the PF curve, have not been identified.

If you want to get your program off the ground quickly, figure out your organization’s essential work, and have the planner create maintenance plans, or “Task Lists” as they are referred to in SAP, before the work requests are written. In this way, the task lists are created before they are needed, and you will get a jump start on the process, (i.e., you will have an instant ready backlog).

Be careful to select work requests which will be implemented quickly, or it will appear as if your planner is doing little to help operations get work scheduled.  Look for repetitive jobs which occur often enough to be used within weeks or at the outmost months form creation, or the initial maintenance plans you create will sit on the shelves of your task list library gathering dust. We created our essential list by using the following process.

  1. Select a list of your most critical equipment and review work order history. If you do not have failure modes (or cause codes as they are referred to in SAP), use keyword searches such as bearing, seal, or belt to identify the most frequent tasks associated with this equipment.
  2. Once you have narrowed your search, use parts charge-outs to confirm the validity of the description.
  3. Prioritize the maintenance plans based on criticality, frequency, and cost impact. Place special emphasis on those jobs which, when done correctly and early, will reduce costly collateral damage
  4. Repeat the process for your high cost equipment which is less production critical.  

In most organizations, pump, seal, and motor change-outs are as good as any place to start.  

Doc Palmer, author of the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook is a friend of mine. I remember something he told me over lunch one day that really resonated with me. He said too many people worry about putting together the perfect plan, detailed down to the Nth degree. This approach is too time consuming and keeps organizations from planning the volume of work necessary to keep up with production work requests.

Doc is an advocate of what I would paraphrase as a streamlined approach: get the essential information into the maintenance plan and move on to the next job. As the tasks are performed, use craft feedback to refine the plan. (both labor estimates and work instructions). This is great advice and I encourage you to follow this approach. Doc’s book is filled with a wealth of practical knowledge; if you have not read the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, I encourage you to do so.     

Another cardinal mistake that many organizations make is asking their planners to plan work requests that are on the more immediate horizon. Establish “ground rules” at the beginning of your program defining which jobs go to the planning department and which ones are handled by your maintenance supervisor. For us, any job that needs to be scheduled within two weeks, is routed directly to the maintenance supervisor for what we call streamlined planning.

Here is where creating a task list library that is searchable, really pays off. In a previous post, I discussed the importance on using virtual assemblies, or IBAUs as we call them, to group materials. We also use these virtual assemblies to link to our task lists to our equipment; (or in SAP lingo our material assemblies.) By doing so, it becomes much easier to identify whether a given task list exists.

Let’s use the example of a centrifugal pump. We have six task lists associated with this type of equipment.

  1. Replace the back pull-out unit.
  2. Replace the impeller.
  3. Replace the casing.
  4. Replace the mechanical seal.
  5. Change the oil.
  6. Troubleshoot the pump for performance issues.

By linking only the relevant task lists to the specific material assembly, the search is narrowed considerably. The link and search function used to find relevant task lists in SAP is shown in Figure 2.

We create both general tasks lists and functional location specific task lists. Let’s say you have a general task list for a 100-hp motor change-out, but have a remote location such as a roof which requires a crane to stage the part. Your planner can copy the general task list for the 100-hp motor change-out, and add an operation to schedule and stage the crane for the motor pick. This functional location specific task list can then be added to the equipment which requires the crane to remove the motor.  

Recognizing that planning and scheduling work are two distinct functions increases the likelihood that your program will be successful. We use administrative personnel to handle the bulk of work coordination, freeing up the planner and maintenance supervisor time for tasks which require their expertise.

I was once told by a member of my team that the administrative personnel could not schedule work because they did not have the experience and knowledge the supervisors and planners possessed. I agreed with him, then asked why the planner could not write down the specific instructions for each job in a document and attach these scheduling instructions to the operation or maintenance plan in question. He had to agree with the logic of this approach. 

By creating these scheduling instructions, we give our administrative personnel a working knowledge of who is qualified to do the work, who is the preferred contractor, and what instructions and bid documents to send them. Questions about the job are still answered by the planner. Offloading the administrative duties from the planner’s job responsibilities, frees up valuable time and allows our planners to concentrate on tasks which require technical expertise.     

We use the system and user status radio buttons in SAP to move our work requests through the process. The operations maintenance coordinator is responsible to validate notifications and move them on to planning or the maintenance supervisor when the requests cannot wait to be scheduled.  Figure 3 shows an example of a work notification validated by production, assigned and agreed to by the maintenance supervisor.

Keeping track of outstanding notifications, total, and ready work order backlog allows you to monitor the status of your workflow and determine whether you are maintaining the backlog at a healthy state.

Another key metric is wrench efficiency. Measuring delay codes and reasons scheduled work is not completed allows you to attack the root cause of inefficiencies.

Finally, do not forget to involve your operators and craftsmen. They are the front line warriors in the work execution model.  Operators who are actively involved in the process and can see the daily schedule will have the equipment down and locked out, clean and in a ready state to work on. Craftsmen who are actively involved in the work execution model will provide the necessary feedback to improve job planning.       

Using a strategic approach and involving the six key stakeholders in the planning and scheduling process, will greatly increase the likelihood that your program will achieve best practice results. Do not forget the importance of using the CMMS correctly; correct use improves workflow efficiency. Sprinkle in a few key metrics to monitor program performance, and you have a recipe for best practice performance. As always, enjoy your weekend with friends, family and loved ones as your plant hums along on the road to reliability excellence. See you at mile marker 80.