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Planning a fully loaded weekly schedule at your plant

July 13, 2022
Doc Palmer says planned work should do more than keep crews busy; 100% schedule loading gets more work done.

The absolutely most controversial part of planning and scheduling is fully loading weekly schedules for each maintenance crew to 100% of its forecasted labor availability. Only with fully loaded schedules do crews reach superior productivity. But management faces an enormous obstacle of supervisor fear in enacting such an approach. Loading schedules fully makes the whole program work, but is rare in industry. Let’s make the case for full schedules being the best strategy and then talk about two of the mechanical aspects.

In the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, I state the fourth principle of scheduling as “The 1-week schedule assigns work for every available labor hour. Preference is given to scheduling higher-priority work by underutilizing available skill levels over scheduling lower-priority work. 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 until the next week.”

There are three schools of thought in loading schedules. One school says to overload the schedules, say 120%. A crew with 400 hours of available labor (10 mechanics with no vacation, training, special meetings, or carryover that works a 40-hour week) would receive 480 hours of work orders for the next week. Another school of thought says to under-load the schedule, say 80%. A crew with 400 hours available would receive 320 hours of work orders. A middle school of thought is to load the schedule 100% with the 400-hour crew receiving 400 hours of work orders.

The idea of the 120%, 480-hour schedule is to provide a “stretch goal” to increase productivity and give the crew some extra work “just in case” some of the work cannot be cleared or has other problems that cannot be resolved. The idea of the 80%, 320-hour schedule is to achieve high schedule compliance, foster a good relationship with operations from completing scheduled work, and easily be able to handle new reactive work that always surely arises at every plant. Both overloading and under-loading schedules have valid points and perhaps simply splitting the approaches and scheduling 100%, 400 hours, would make sense.

Nonetheless, both overloading and under-loading have serious flaws in accomplishing the purpose of scheduling. The purpose of scheduling is to help us complete more work than we would normally complete. Normally, crews keep busy, but crews that have a properly loaded schedule complete a bit more work than normal. (This extra productivity is because of the “sense of mission” we discussed last month.) That’s the type schedule we desire.

About the Author: Doc Palmer

Over-scheduling provides a stretch goal that is often daunting to crews. In the face of knowing reactive work will surely interrupt a full schedule, going further to overload the schedule merely keeps the crew supervisor in a mindset of keeping everyone busy. Over-loading a schedule does not increase crew productivity. On the other hand, under-scheduling does not provide any more work to be completed that could increase productivity. In fact, Parkinson’s Law (the amount of work assigned expands to fill the time available) practically guarantees that under-loading a schedule will not increase productivity.

Furthermore, over- and under-loading both obscure management analysis. “How come you did not complete the overloaded schedule?” “Because it was more than we could do.” “Did you have any problems with the under-loaded schedule?” “No, we completed all the work.” Compare these discussions with the fully loaded schedule: “How come you did not complete all the work?” “We had ten new reactive work orders interrupt us. We really need to do something about that unreliable sump system.”

The fully loaded schedule increases productivity beyond the normal “keep busy” rate. A great example is a plant in Fernandina Beach, FL, which increased its work order completion rate from 170 work orders per week to 225 work orders per week simply by increasing its schedule loading from 80% to 100%. Parkinson’s Law is real, but can be simply defeated. Imagine completing an extra 200 work orders per month, for free.

Even so, the management obstacle is huge. The fully loaded schedules result in lower schedule compliance because reactive work does exist. Yet, it is better to fully load the schedule and break it, than under-load it and meet it. But an immature culture fears “looking bad” with lower schedule compliance. (We will discuss schedule compliance in a soon to be written future article for Scheduling Principle 6.) It is very scary for a scheduler to give a supervisor a 100% loaded schedule for the upcoming week. We are not trying to make the supervisor look bad. But the fear is there. I find it helpful to refer to the scheduling as “backlog research.” We are not trying to give you (the supervisor) more than you can do. In fact, we are not telling you what to do. We are simply having the scheduler dig through the backlog to find a good batch of work for the upcoming week as a service. Supervisors should not be trapped in offices digging into backlogs.

Two mechanical aspects of building the schedule are worthy of mention. First, it helps to have a somewhat multi-craft capability. For example, can we use a welder as a helper? Consider: We have a lot of fairly urgent work that requires only helpers, but we have no more helpers. And we have little welding work and many welders. We would want to use welders as helpers for the upcoming week because completing more urgent work is more critical to plant availability and reliability than not completing it. Of course, we abide within union and cultural policies. Second, there is always work that can be skipped in a fully loaded schedule. Not doing some of the work in a fully loaded schedule is preferred to under-loading the schedule to allow labor for reactive work that pops up.

Fully loading weekly crew schedules is a critical step in achieving productivity. Such schedules require management leadership to understand the purpose of scheduling of increasing productivity. The purpose is not simply to achieve high schedule compliance. Be a great plant! 

This story originally appeared in the July 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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