Scheduling requires heaps of planned jobs

Feb. 1, 2022
Doc Palmer says in order to move from reactive to proactive maintenance, drain the backlog and leave time for new work.

A maintenance manager told me she had encountered a new problem after I left her plant a few months earlier! I felt terrible! I wondered what disaster I had caused.

She then told me that a month or so after starting scheduling correctly, they had run out of backlog! That was the “problem.” They ran out of work! Of course, that’s not a real problem. With the new higher productivity, they could now build their muscles to generate and complete more proactive work, the key to higher reliability and profits.

Scheduling provides the huge increase in productivity, but we must first have enough work ready to go. In the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, I state the first principle of scheduling as: “Job plans providing number of persons required, lowest required craft skill level, craft work hours per skill level, and job duration information are necessary for advance scheduling.”

This statement sounds like it says that plans must identify required craft skills and labor hours. Yes, but there is more to it than this relatively minor point. The major point of this principle is simply having enough jobs ready to go, the first prerequisite of scheduling. And jobs ready to go are, of course, planned jobs. And pertinent to planning, a plant that has super-high craft productivity will have more incoming work requests. Planners must keep up!

Backlog at most plants remains at a consistent level regardless of maintenance productivity. First of all, plant hiring of maintenance persons assures we take care of the ongoing level of reactive work. If things start breaking too fast, it’s easy to hire craftspersons. But when we catch up and keep things generally under control, we do not replace craft attrition very readily: We wait until things start to break again too fast. Secondly, we manage to do enough PM so that with reactive maintenance generally under control, we are a profitable plant. Thirdly, operators and others normally do not tell us about little problems that they think we will not address. They know we are busy and do not want to “bother us with some little thing” nor do they want their requests to “die in the black hole of maintenance backlog.” So, on the whole, we have a work backlog level that stays constant over time.

From reactive to proactive

But the whole idea of proper maintenance is to proactively keep reactive work from happening. Completing proactive work is the key to higher-than-normal levels of plant reliability and higher profits. We must encourage operators to tell us about the little things (proactive situations) before they become bigger things (reactive situations). Those little things that operators know about are usually proactive work.

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In addition, the plant in general does not develop other functions to generate proactive work because we do not have the extra labor available to do such work anyway. These functions might include doing root cause analysis to identify little projects to keep things from happening again. They might include doing more visual inspections of running machines to look for little discrepancies. They might include extra training to learn better repair techniques. They might include taking some craftspersons out of crews to have more in-house persons doing PdM inspections with vibration, ultra-sound, infrared, and other technologies. This begs the management question: “How can we do more proactive work when we have our hands full of reactive maintenance?”

With proper scheduling, we get a bump of about 50% in our work order completion rate. The “problem” that then occurs is this increase drains the backlog and we run out of work. We can then encourage operators to tell us about more little things and develop other muscles to generate more proactive work requests. But with more work requests coming in, planners must keep up!

The planning principles become even more important. Planners must be protected from other duties that might suck away precious planning time. Planners must embrace the Deming Cycle to make plans better over time, not perfect the first time. Planners must not get involved in helping jobs-in-progress at the expense of planning new work coming in. Planners must get in the habit of making reusable, living job plans for each asset to reduce future planning time. Planners must quickly make labor hour estimates that “are good enough” to help assign work and build schedules. Planners must balance the level of details they put into each plan with the need to plan all the incoming work. Planners must be able to cope with a great increase with incoming work. Planners must keep up with producing planned work packages or schedulers cannot fully load maintenance crews with enough work and productivity falls. The whole system works together in this fashion.

A minor part of this first principle of scheduling is not to “over-skill” a maintenance job plan. Planners should specify the lowest level of skill needed to complete the work. Consider a plant that has helpers, junior mechanics, and senior mechanics (which titles speak to level of technical ability). A planner specifying a senior mechanic on a work plan is signaling that the job probably needs a senior mechanic, skill-wise. But if the planner thinks a job could be completed by any responsible adult, the planner would specify a helper. For this latter planned job, a scheduler and crew supervisor could obviously use a helper, a junior mechanic, or a senior mechanic for the work (considering any union rules, of course). So when planning, the planner gives the scheduler and crew supervisor more flexibility in knowing who they can use for the work by specifying the “lowest required craft skill level.”

Planners must keep up! We must have enough planned jobs. We need those planned jobs ready-to-go to support scheduling. We need enough work identified, planned, and scheduled to keep highly productive maintenance crews doing proactive work. Do more proactive work than your merely-good competitors. Be a great plant with industry leading reliability and profits!

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

About the Author: 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 or email Doc at [email protected]. Also visit and subscribe to

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