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Trust the skills of your craftspersons when planning plant jobs

Dec. 1, 2021
Doc Palmer says the best plans result when planners and crafts work together to plan both common and uncommon work.

We can humongously simplify making super-detailed job plans for work orders. In the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, I state the fifth principle of planning as, “The planning group desires to develop detailed standard plans, but must also plan every job (except emergencies). Therefore, the planner puts as much detail as possible into every plan subject to the requirement to plan every job.”

That’s a super loaded statement!

We all want great job plans for all our jobs to the point where even a new person or the least knowledgeable, least skilled person on the crew can do the job successfully. Unfortunately we cannot start there. There simply is not enough time. It takes time to develop super-detailed job plans. A planner cannot possibly create such detail from scratch for all the jobs to support the work of 20 to 30 craftspersons.

But, they do not have to. The planners count on the Deming Cycle to improve plans for those same jobs year after year. By adding more and more detail over the years, the planners make better plans over the years. They recognize we will never have perfect plans and instead strive for continual improvement. And the only way they can have continual improvement is to plan all the jobs, almost every single one.

But we are not starting with perfect plans that can guide the least skilled, least knowledgeable person on the crew! I know that. I’m sorry. We cannot start there. But all is not lost. Planning is not the “silver bullet” that solves everything. To our benefit is knowing that the intent of planning is not to replace the need for skilled crafts.

We cannot expect to have job plans that compensate for having the newest, least skilled, or least knowledgeable craftsperson on all our work. Planning counts on having skilled crafts. The purpose of planning is to provide better help for a skilled craftsperson, not to replace a need for skills. Planning provides better and better help for skilled craftspersons. A by-product at best is a guide for a newbie.

Recognizing that planners cannot provide super-detailed job plans for all the new work from scratch, some people advocate a strategy of only planning the “tricky” jobs and leaving simple jobs untouched. The untouched jobs are considered “skill of the crafts,” not needing planner help. I disagree. All jobs could be helped by knowing that in the past a longer ladder, extra gaskets, and certain bolting was discovered to be helpful. Why re-invent the wheel?

About the Author: Doc Palmer

Other persons advocate bringing in extra planners, senior craftspersons, or retired supervisors to plan all the common work in advance at the beginning of a planning program and make a library of job plans all ready to use. My experience has shown that anticipated future work does not make for asset-specific plans, and also that such an approach does not foster the creation of a Deming Cycle culture. The first set of job plans never receives any revisions, ever.

Instead, we should trust the skill of the crafts. These craftspersons can work on most of the jobs without any plan anyway and can figure out problems they encounter. So instead of not planning, simply make the best plan you can in the time you have. If the plan is not so great, the crafts will figure it out. Give all jobs the best head start you can and start receiving feedback and make better plans over the years. Concentrate on building your muscles for running a robust Deming Cycle, our best hope for the long run.

But what about planner liability? What if something bad happens on a planned job? Is the planner responsible? Absolutely not. If we hold planners responsible for bad outcomes of planned jobs, it slows planning down.

Each planner feels they must plan each job plan perfectly. They slow down to add more detail to each individual plan and then cannot get all the work through the Deming Cycle. If we do not get all the work through the Deming Cycle, less work gets better over the years. You see how it works? By insisting planners be better on individual plans, less work gets through the Deming Cycle. We do not improve over time as much as we could have otherwise overall.

Well, who is responsible for bad outcomes on planned jobs? It’s hard to say. If you hold the craftsperson responsible for making a judgment that did not turn out well, the craftsperson forever after will blindly follow a job plan, even if they know the plant will burn down by doing so. But if they follow a flawed job plan and the plant burns down, they don’t get in trouble. Which do you want? Now, I’m not talking about dereliction of duty or outright incompetence, but we cannot mandate perfect job plans and do not want craftspersons to blindly follow job plans. No one and no plan is perfect.

Let’s do the best we can with planners and crafts together exercising proper judgment and running a Deming Cycle. Let’s work together to add more and more detail to plans over the years to have better and better guides for new, lesser skilled, or lesser knowledgeable persons and better and better references for our senior persons.

Remember the TV show where detective Colombo always asked “One more thing…” There’s always an improvement we make to any job plan. Keep asking for and incorporating feedback to make even more detailed plans that help a little bit more. Create super-detailed plans the super-easy way: bit by bit over the years.
Don’t ever stop growing. Be a great plant!

This story originally appeared in the December 2021 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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