Protect your planner’s time for planning

July 7, 2021
Doc Palmer says if planners are not safeguarded, they will surely be pulled into the day’s urgent work and problems.
When McGraw-Hill published the first edition of the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, I stated the first principle of planning is to “have planners in a separate group.” In later editions, I changed that to “protect the planners.” I still believe they should be in a separate group. It’s just that the purpose of having them separate is to protect them from doing too much non-planning stuff.
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Protecting planners is ultra-critical. It’s the biggest problem I see around the world.

Increasing wrench time

I like to say a planner is “worth 17 persons.” That’s because a planner can help boost the productivity of a 30-person workforce to where it completes work orders as if it had 47 persons. How is that possible? Normal “wrench time” at a typical good plant is only 35%. Statistical studies show that only 35% of the time a craftsperson is available for the whole shift are they actually moving a job ahead instead of traveling, getting parts or tools, checking in, wrapping up, and even taking breaks, all of which are necessary activities. Proper planning and scheduling boosts the wrench time to 50-55% (which honestly also sounds low). But 55% divided by 35% equals 1.57 and explains why a 30-person force can suddenly start completing work at a 47-person staff clip (30 times 1.57 = 47).

Nonetheless, a crippling organizational arrangement is to place the planners under first line maintenance supervisors. Supervisors are under enormous pressure to handle the urgent work of the day and they cannot help but use planners to assist craftspersons on jobs already in-progress. This job has run into this problem and the planner helps find the information needed. That job has a sudden parts problem and the planner helps scramble for parts. All of this on-the-spot help makes the maintenance force more effective, but at the cost of planning all the new work coming in. Consequently, the planners are often solving the same problem today on the fly that they helped solve last year on the fly. They should have headed off the problem this second time, but they didn’t have time to plan the job in advance to give the warning. These compromised planners also cannot plan enough work in advance to support the associated scheduling activities that would have given an incredible bump in productivity. This problem is not the supervisor’s fault, but management’s fault in creating a poor organizational relationship. For this reason alone, planners should never be placed under first line supervisors. They must be separate.

But even plants that put planners in separate groups use them for all sorts of non-planning activities. They hire planners and declare victory. They have planners, but planners are not planning. Consequently, they do not get the productivity bump either. A plant needs another welder for the day and takes the planner with a welding background to fill the void. The planner-as-welder is now “worth” 1 person. Management has, in effect, told 16 persons to go home. Plants do all sorts of things to cripple planning. They put planners on root cause teams, project teams, and safety teams. Should they put 17 persons on a root cause team? Probably not, but that’s what they are doing. Even if planners are in a group separate from being under the first line supervisors, they must still be protected.

Don’t share planners too much

Another poor organizational strategy is to have planners sharing “line” duties. A planner can plan for 20-30 craftspersons. If a plant only has, say, 10 craftspersons, it might consider having a planner as half-planner and half-supervisor. But planning is a “staff” function whereas supervising is a “line” function. Line duties cannot wait. Staff duties can usually be put off. The supervising function always overwhelms the planning function and planners end up not planning. The same goes for being half-planner and half-craftsperson. The planning simply won’t get done. You normally cannot mix line and staff functions.

On the other hand, a planner planning for only 10 persons can handle a few other staff duties such as running a small storeroom or even being on a team or two. The planners simply have to be careful that the other duties do not prevent them from planning all the new work coming in. The planner to craft ratio makes a difference. A planner planning for 20-30 persons really can’t do other stuff. But a planner planning for only 10-20 persons can help with some jobs-in-progress, but should not do it at the expense of planning all the new work. And a planner planning for 5-15 persons can help some jobs-in-progress and maybe be on a team or two. Nevertheless, they cannot do any of this other stuff to such a degree that it compromises planning the new work.

The management of the planning function primarily considers if the planners are planning all the work. There are a lot of things to consider. Are the planners participating in too many other duties or meetings such as projects, purchasing, or daily meetings? Are they on too many committees? Are they involved in root cause analysis? Are they helping too many jobs in progress? Do they try to make plans too perfect? Is weekly scheduling taking too long? Are they creating new PMs? Are they doing technical research? How about handling contracts? Does it take too much time to find parts? See what the planners are doing if they are not planning all the work and take management action to better protect them.

Superior productivity = more craft time

Who will do all the other activities if the planner stops doing them? Well, it just can’t be the planner. Use someone else. (Or stop doing them. They say that the best thing you can do for your family is to cut out one worthwhile activity each week.) At stake is a roughly 50% bump or more in work order completion rate. With a 50% bump, a plant with 30 craftspersons could get 15 persons for free. A plant with 50 persons gets 25 extra persons for free. Use one of the free craftspersons you get for the extra stuff if you must. But you don’t achieve the superior productivity if you don’t first protect the planning function.

Protect your planners. Be a great plant!

This story originally appeared in the July 2021 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 www.palmerplanning.com or email Doc at [email protected]. Also visit and subscribe to www.YouTube.com/@docpalmerplanning.

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