1663606611957 Filledschedule

Why a filled schedule frightens plant supervisors

Aug. 8, 2022
Doc Palmer says frontline supervisors are the key to accepting that it's okay to break a fully loaded schedule.

The hardest part of proper scheduling is scheduling 100% of the available labor capacity for the next week. This principle of scheduling is not optional, but absolutely mandatory to achieve the wonderful increase in productivity available. However, fully loading schedules absolutely scares supervisors to death and creates incredible pushback. Therefore, knowledgeable management leadership is critical.

The Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, states the fourth principle of scheduling, in part, as “The 1-week schedule assigns work for every available labor hour. ... Normally, the schedule inherently contains a sufficient amount of work hours on tasks that could be interrupted for new emergencies and high-priority jobs that cannot wait ...”

We rarely see fully loaded weekly schedules in maintenance. Most plants leave room for reactive work. Their thinking is that “good plants should have only about 20% reactive work, so we will schedule 80% of the next week’s labor capacity. In this manner we will be able to handle any new urgent work and also have high schedule compliance. Such high schedule compliance while also handling urgent work fosters a good relationship with operations. We honor our commitments and take care of operators when they call.” Unfortunately, not fully loading the weekly schedule leads to completing less work than we could have completed. And that is a big problem.

The problem is that operators calling for work (reactive work by definition) means maintenance has failed to keep things from breaking. An extreme strategy of having fantastic schedule compliance and also being able to take care of operators would be to schedule only the three jobs we know we will do next week anyway and have the bulk of our workforce ready to spring into action. Voila: 100% schedule compliance and quick reaction to calls. Obviously, that is extreme, but an industry feeling that good plants should have about only 20% reactive work leads to a common practice of 80% (or less) loading of schedules with expectations of above 90% schedule compliance.

But we do not want to be merely a “good” plant. We want to be a great plant! Good plants make money, but also attract competition from other producers in our market or competition from contractors to take away our in-house maintenance. Great plants make a lot more money and stifle competition because no one can do it as well as we can!

Consider that the purpose of maintenance is to keep things from breaking in the first place. Wanting to be a great plant, let us not stop with the 20% “allowable” incidence of reactive work. We truly want to have practically no reactive work at all. Furthermore, we know that we can reduce reactive work by doing more proactive work. But how can we do more proactive work when we are only just keeping up with operator calls?

About the Author: Doc Palmer

The answer lies in a proper management understanding of Parkinson’s Law, which states, “The amount of work assigned will expand to fill the time available.” Because of Parkinson’s Law, a 100% fully loaded maintenance crew with less than 90% schedule compliance should complete about 50% more work orders each week than an 80% loaded crew with schedule compliance above 90%! The crew loaded to 80% might complete 100 work orders each week, while the 100% loaded crew might complete 150! And the 50 extra work orders are purely proactive because we would normally have completed all the reactive work! Extra proactive work soon drives down the sheer incidence of reactive work. We reduce the need for operators to call as we keep things from breaking. Voila: We become a great plant with less reactive work than a merely good plant!

Unfortunately, fully loading schedules scares our supervisors to death. For years, we have told supervisors they must comply to the schedule: “The schedule is important. You must conform.” We now tell supervisors that they will receive a fully loaded schedule, but we expect them to break the schedule when operators call. It seems like we are setting them up for failure or to look bad because we honestly have a lot of reactive work. Many of us have reactive work loads of 50% or more. Of course, they will have to break a fully loaded schedule! It seems obvious we should load the schedule much less to accommodate reactive work. Because of this scare factor, we have the opportunity to be superior plants. We can do something our competition will not do.

Management must actively lead this best practice with supervisors because fully loading schedules sounds wrong, although it is not. First line supervisors are the keepers of the culture at our plants. If they think something is wrong, everyone does. If they support something, everyone will. Do not discount securing their support!

Explain Parkinson’s Law compassionately to supervisors. Tell them a school grade of 90% or higher is not proper for scheduling. A bowling score of 67% (200 out of 300) is more appropriate. Tell them “The priority system rules after the week commences: If operators declare something is an emergency or urgent, then break the schedule.” Explain that the schedule obviously includes things that could wait, otherwise we would have stopped at loading it at 80%. So at least 20% of the schedule was extra anyway.

(The concept of becoming a great plant does lead to a bit of humor. We hear that “world class plants have greater than 95% schedule compliance,” and so we certainly will not load schedules to 100%. In fact, we become reluctant to schedule even 80%!)

Fully loaded schedules are the right thing to do. We have less reactive work. Operators have fewer reasons to call us. We make more profits than a normal company. We stifle our competitors’ ability to take our markets and our maintenance from us. They cannot do maintenance as well as we can. Nonetheless, management leadership is required because fully filling schedules scares supervisors to death. Be a great plant!

This story originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

Palmer's Planning Corner

This article is part of our monthly Palmer's Planning Corner column. Read more from Doc Palmer.

About the Author

Doc Palmer | PE, MBA, CMRP

Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook and as managing partner of Richard Palmer and Associates helps companies worldwide with planning and scheduling success. For more information including online help and currently scheduled public workshops, visit www.palmerplanning.com or email Doc at [email protected]. Also visit and subscribe to www.YouTube.com/@docpalmerplanning.

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