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The greatest benefit of planning is its ability to boost productivity

Sept. 8, 2020
Doc Palmer says don’t give in to the temptation of using planners as extra craftspersons – keep your planners planning!

To a large degree, the purpose of planning is to give a great boost to productivity, as much as 50%! Your facility completing 1,000 work orders per month could be completing 1,500 per month. A bump that big is hard to believe! But most folks, even with existing planning programs, don’t get the bump because they didn’t even know the purpose of planning! That’s amazing.

About the Author: Doc Palmer

Dr. Peter Drucker, the great management guru, explains the obliviousness in one of his most famous quotes by saying, “Management by objective [MBO] works - if you know the objectives. Ninety percent of the time you don’t.”

MBO means that you should know where you are going before you get in the car. But most of us simply ride around in the car wasting gas. You can’t get a 50% bump in productivity through planning if you didn’t know you were supposed to get one.

A lot of plants start maintenance planning because the industry recognizes it as a best practice. But that doesn’t mean they are doing it right. These plants create and staff planner positions and then proudly declare, “Now we have planning.” Management presumes they are now following industry best practices, and so, of course, they are “okay.” Ha-ha. I’ve talked with many plants during the COVID-19 crisis that have started using planners as extra craftspersons. They reason that “because we are now short-staffed, we can’t afford to have people tied up doing planning.” What could be funnier? But they had never gotten any productivity bump and so they can’t now afford to waste time doing something they had never understood in the first place. They reassign planners to the crafts to increase their labor resource.

Let me be clear, if you are not getting a huge bump in work order completions, then you are not doing planning correctly. A big bump tells if you are doing it right. A 30-person workforce could be doing the work of 45 people. In effect, planning gives an extra resource of 15 people (for free!) to do proactive work. Making the application to a COVID-19-crippled workforce, consider 30 workers crippled so the effect is like having only 20 workers. Proper planning bumps their productivity back up to 30 people. Planning is the productivity piece of maintenance. In times of labor resource scarcity, don’t take the planner away!

So how does planning bump the productivity? That’s a great question in that it implies you know why we are doing planning. Long story short, planning (including scheduling) increases labor productivity from the keeping-everyone-busy rate of 35% wrench time to the mission-driven rate of 55% wrench time. The new 55% divided by the old 35% equals 1.57, call it a 50% increase.

That wrench time or time on tools directly corresponds to work order completion rates. Normal wrench time everywhere is only about 35% because at that point everyone honestly “feels busy.” Supervisors keep everyone busy and “take care of operators,” but they are mostly doing “enough” PM and otherwise have their hands full quickly fixing breakdowns. But, a proper planning program giving a 50% bump would then allow doing a lot more proactive work to keep things from breaking in the first place.

The bump comes through planning because a fully 100% loaded weekly schedule gives the crew a “mission feeling” that drives up the productivity. The over-simplistic nature of the whole thing helps explain why most folk miss it. So what we need out of planning first is job labor hour estimates for work orders in the backlog. Then at the end of the week, the planner performs a scheduling service in the form of backlog research to gather enough work for the crew’s mission the next week. Each week the planner repeats the service, given that the mission of work and the plant gets the superior productivity.

There are certainly other benefits from planning. Planners clarify job scopes to avoid wasting craft time. Planners develop procedures for senior craftsperson reference and new craftsperson guidance. Planners institutionalize our knowledge every time we learn something on a job through planners getting craft feedback and continually making plans better over time.

Pumps and motors start lasting longer after repairs. (Hey, wouldn’t that quality aspect alone improve plant reliability and justify planning if we formally remember what mistakes to avoid?) Planners help identify parts and tools and check on their availability before crafts start jobs. Planners also help us use and save work orders so we can make better reliability decisions. For example, is our biggest problem corrosion in tanks at our waterfront during the spring? How would we know without data from a work order system? Many benefits come from having a planner help us with work orders.

Nevertheless, the greatest benefit of planning is its ability to boost our productivity. If you didn’t know that, you probably never got a boost because you didn’t make it work right. And ironically in a labor crisis, you would abandon planning to put the planners into craft roles. I don’t mean to take any of you to task for this. I view all of you as good friends in maintenance. But we must talk very plainly and bluntly about planning. Planning is one of the most helpful aspects you can add to your maintenance strategy, but one of the most difficult concepts to put into practice. It’s a difficult matter largely because we don’t understand its purpose. That purpose, to boost our productivity, must guide its proper implementation. Don’t waste gas. Go back in the house if you don’t know where you want to go.

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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