For ongoing maintenance, a single week is best for creating a schedule to pop our productivity. The weekly schedule is not the only one we use. The yearly schedule, the monthly schedule, and the daily schedule as well each play a role. But the weekly schedule gives us that great boost in work order completion. Not only that, but the weekly schedule is merely a batch of work that is okay with maintenance and operations supervisors for next week. The simplicity of the batch creation and effect is surprising.
In the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, I state the third principle of scheduling as “A scheduler develops a one-week schedule…The schedule is more of a simple batch listing of work than a day-by-day, hour-by-hour schedule. The one-week period is long enough to group together enough work to smooth out the lesser accuracy of individual job time estimates and allow grouping together of multiple jobs for the same equipment, system, or area. The one-week period is short enough to provide a reasonable goal of work that can be protected against the majority of new maintenance work that should be able to wait a week and avoid interrupting the schedule.”
On one side of the weekly schedule, consider yearly and monthly maintenance. The yearly schedule is about looking at budgets, projects, and staffing including any use of contractors. We do the yearly fairly well. The monthly is mostly looking at PM completion balanced with the use of overtime. We want high PM compliance and might judiciously use overtime if we are getting behind. We do this fairly well as well. On the other side, the daily schedule is about handing out work orders and coordinating lock-out/tag-out (LOTO). We also do this fairly well.
The weekly scheduling horizon is the right timeframe for maintenance productivity because we boost productivity through goal setting. A goal should be RUMBA (like the dance). A goal should be Reasonable, Understandable, Measurable, Believable, and Achievable. The week helps meet these terms by being long enough and short enough. First of all, it’s long enough to smooth out the planned labor estimates. Individual jobs have a very wide statistical variance of time accuracy. A job estimated for five hours might well only take two hours or it might take eight. The planner has no idea whether the eventually assigned technician is slower, faster, less knowledgeable, more knowledgeable, less skilled, or more skilled than the “typical” technician. The planner also does not have perfect knowledge of exactly what is wrong with the pump. Nevertheless, even with the wide variance, jobs estimate versus actual typically have a normal enough statistical distribution. Even though individual jobs are wildly inaccurate, a week’s worth of work estimated for a crew really is a week’s worth of work. Four hundred hours of work estimated for a crew of ten persons working five eight-hour days is probably about 400 hours of work.
Secondly, the week schedule is short enough to lessen swings in the general plant priorities. In other words, the crew supervisors have a chance at getting operations to wait a week for execution of much of the new stuff that continually comes up.
In addition, the week is long enough to provide an important benefit for crew supervisors, namely “backlog research to bundle work orders for the convenience of maintenance.” With the large amount of time for an entire week, the scheduler can match up other work with work that first appears in priority order. If we are going to work on the condensate polisher next week, is there anything else we can do while we are there? Often there are several other jobs lower in the backlog that would make sense to go ahead and do if we are going to LOTO the polisher anyway and have technicians there with tool boxes. We are not trying to micromanage and tell supervisors “what to do.” We are helping free up supervisors to be more in the field by having a scheduler dig through the backlog to look for bundling opportunities. The scheduler is providing a service. The bundling benefit to the plant is we accelerate the completion of proactive work because work lower in the backlog is normally more proactive. We are going to isolate a system to fix several large leaks. While it’s down, let’s go ahead and fix minor leaks.
The wide variance of jobs taking longer and shorter coupled with the significant amount of operator new stuff that cannot wait until next week also means we cannot make daily schedules much more than a day in advance. That’s why supervisors must create daily schedules each day to hand out work orders and coordinate clearance with operations. The weekly schedule is not five daily schedules set a week in advance. The weekly schedule simply needs to be a batch of work orders, a list if you will, that focuses the crew supervisor. The weekly schedule is merely the “fruits of backlog research for the convenience of the supervisor.” The scheduler assembles the list near the end of the preceding week to have the best idea of the current state of the ready-to-go backlog.
Do not let this simplicity beguile you! The simple list changes the mission of the supervisor. Without the list, the supervisors have a mission of “taking care of operator new stuff that cannot wait and otherwise keeping everyone busy.” That’s not a bad mission and helps our plants be profitable. Yet the list instills a supervisor mission of “trying to complete a certain amount of work, but it’s okay if we do not get it all done because of operator new stuff that cannot wait.” This second mission yields a fifty percent (50%!) gain in work order completion rate. We become more profitable because we start doing more proactive work on top of the existing reactive work load. The extra proactive work then heads off future reactive work.
The weekly schedule is the right timeframe for productivity because it gives the supervisors a better mission. The week doesn’t even really look like a “schedule.” It is just an easily assembled batch of work to focus the crew. It is the fruits of backlog research. Go simple and be great! Get that bump!
This story originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.
This article is part of our monthly Palmer's Planning Corner column. Read more from Doc Palmer.