Crucial conversations on the plant floor

Oct. 1, 2020
Doc Palmer says the most important talks between planners and craftspersons should be taking place face-to-face.

We use liquid nitrogen and a torch to try to extract the bad bearing on the colossal fan. We lose time and we damage the assembly because the bearing had an imperceptible taper in the other direction. Yikes! One of the craftspersons stuffs a note in his yellow locker about it so we won’t muck it up if we ever work on this fan again.

About the Author: Doc Palmer

Soon after, the planner has the following conversation in the manager’s office:

Manager: “I thought we wrecked that fan when we worked on it five years ago. Why didn’t we know about the tapered bearing this time?”

Planner: “It’s because the planners keep getting yanked away from planning for odd jobs. And even when they are planning, they don’t have time to update job plans with what we learn, much less attach any improved plans to new jobs.”

Manager: “Maybe we ought to change what we are doing.”

Maintenance planning is the lever that puts together a powerful job plan to avoid the fan problem, but we must also talk with our maintenance family. And talks need to be face-to-face, often one-on-one. We can’t just presume that we know or they know, or even that they should know. How would they know, especially about weird stuff like what maintenance planning really is? Proper planning and scheduling aren’t what most people think they are. You doom yourself to suffer the same problems year after year, if you don’t have heart-to-heart talks about planning.

The following is a conversation between a craftsperson who approaches the planner after work in the parking lot:

CP: “Why aren’t the planners allowed to help anymore!? I went to the planners for help on a job and they said it wasn’t their job to help me. They said to ask you about it!”

PL: “Well, it turns out that we’ve actually been doing planning wrong.”

CP: “I could have told you that. The planners always mess up the job plans. I don’t know why we even need planning. The plans are never right.”

PL: “Well, actually, we don’t expect the plans to be perfect.”

CP: “Well, that’s okay because the planners have always helped me find what I end up needing after the job starts whenever I ask.”

PL: “Well, I’m really glad you asked me about that because once the job starts, the planners aren’t supposed to help you.”

CP: “Well, that’s not right at all! Back when we first started planning, the manager told us that we’d always have everything planned and never have to hunt for parts anymore. So when planners messes up the plan, it’s only right that they help us!”

PL: “I know we said that, but we were wrong. It turns out that the best use of a planner is to give you a head start and then later save information that could make the next head start better.”

CP: “What kind of planning is that?”

PL: “Well, doesn’t it make sense that a planner might clarify the scope of a work request before we waste the time of having three craftspersons waiting around? Maybe the request wasn’t clear about which pump needed attention or something like that.”

CP: “Well, that might help, but why can’t the planner help after the job starts as well?”

PL: “Well, the problem is that the planners have become so busy with helping jobs-in-progress that they can’t plan all the new work coming in.”

CP: “What’s wrong with them helping as many jobs as they can?”

PL: “The problem is more after a job is finished. A lot of times we learn something on a job and think, Next time I want to remember on which end of this particular fan the bearing has to be extracted. In addition to clarifying scopes, we want planners to remember for us the bearing strategy on the job plan for the next time. Right now most people save that information in their lockers if they save it at all.”

CP: “What’s wrong with people saving information in their lockers?”

PL: “There’s nothing wrong with people saving information themselves, but if one person saves something in a locker, it’s not available for anyone else. But, if we also tell the planners, they can add it to a job plan that everyone can use in the future. But until now the planners have been so overwhelmed helping jobs-in-progress, they haven’t had the time to update job plans. So we repeat the same problem every time. I’d rather have you crafts get less planner help once a job starts so that planners are more free to record feedback and update job plans. If crafts struggle with something today but tell the planner afterward, we can help avoid that particular struggle altogether the next time.”

CP: “I thought planners were supposed to tell us what to do and have everything ready for us.”

PL: “I know. We did, too, but we ended up just frustrating everyone. Look, I’d love to have perfect job plans always that serve as guides for new people and references for experienced employees. But we can’t start there. And we also aren’t trying to replace the skill and experience of our crafts. So now we are trying to focus planners on giving helpful head starts and continually improving plans afterwards for better steps, parts, tools, and any other area that could help us. That’s their real job. So that’s really why I am backing them out of helping as many jobs-in-progress.”

CP: “Well, that makes a little more sense about what they were telling me.”

PL: “I’m sorry it’s been such a hassle giving everyone a better understanding of that. But thanks for telling me about your concerns. Let me know how it goes. I’m going to stay involved. See you tomorrow.”

Encourage these conversations with your maintenance family so we can build a stronger program. (And next month, we’ll talk about supervisors and scheduling.)

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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