The mother of all maintenance planners

Maintenance performance upgrades are becoming common these days. The improvements may come from several directions: Reliability is becoming better understood and respected. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is driving some of the efforts by raising expectations of equipment performance. Popularization of leading maintenance indicators and easy-to-use condition based tools are also making it clear that new levels of reliability and equipment life are attainable.

The startup of a properly planned and scheduled maintenance operation usually requires the training of a new batch of maintenance planners. Maintenance planning, as veteran readers of Plant Services know, is the science of identifying and assembling all the things that must be in place for safe, successful, cost-effective maintenance to take place. Once the planner obtains all these maintenance elements, a maintenance order may be executed without wasting everyone's time. (http://www.plantservices.com/articles/2012/05-maintenance-needs-assessment.html, http://www.plantservices.com/articles/2012/06-Strategic-Maintenance-professional-team.html)

Maintenance planning goes way beyond scheduling. The whole idea of the planning effort is to assemble the tools, knowledge, materials, skills, and information needed to do the work efficiently before pulling the actual tradespeople into the effort. Tradespeople are always in short supply and they are typically among the most expensive members of the factory staff.

When the tradespeople's jobs are done, there is another step that a good maintenance planner will perform, too. The planner will capture the information gained during execution of the work order and will enter it into the computer maintenance management system (CMMS) so that it will be available the next time a similar order must be executed.

So who is the best candidate for maintenance planning jobs? The ideal candidate might be a reliability engineer with two or three journeyman's cards and a solid background in computer-based scheduling. This kind of candidate, if we were fortunate enough to find one, would also be an excellent choice for maintenance superintendent or manager. I think we can assume he or she would be priced out of the market for the planning job.

We're looking for someone who is used to juggling multiple, complex schedules. We want someone who is willing to ask questions and make notes so the answers are recorded in the CMMS. The candidate should have some technical aptitude, but doesn't need to be a tradesperson. It is also very helpful if he or she can work amicably across a broad cross section of the plant organization.

Experience has proven that a very strong candidate can be a soccer mom or someone with industrial experience that supports the kind of juggling and scheduling that the planning job requires. Nobody will come in with all the technical background required for planning. Even a tradesperson is only an expert in one trade. He or she must ask questions to cover the other trades and then document the answers.

If a class of six or more can be gathered to take planner training, a dream team might be one recent grad in reliability engineering who will spend the time learning his or her way around plant operations while sharing reliability insights. If there is a tradesperson who is willing to learn the CMMS and planning job elements one spot might be his or hers. The balance of the group might very well be from the new demographic of schedule jugglers who have experience in the coordination of diverse groups of people while making complex tasks happen efficiently and amicably. Anyone who has ever chaired a PTO group knows exactly what I mean.

In today's economy such generalists with some relevant background and a genuine willingness to learn are widely available. Tradespeople, by contrast, are expensive and in famously short supply. That soccer mom who is ready to get back into industry just might be a winner.