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Maintenance planning and scheduling: Why bother?

Jan. 1, 2020
Doc Palmer explains how to help your plant shift perceptions about the goals and value of planning and scheduling.

Many plants implement planning and scheduling programs out of some idea that they should simply have such programs. These plants get incredibly frustrated. The crafts and supervisors ask: “Why are we doing this? Why bother with planning and scheduling?” Look: Forget about so-called wrench time and other academic reasons for explaining why a plant should do formal planning and scheduling; there are some simple reasons a plant should do planning and scheduling to help crafts and supervisors.

About the Author: Doc Palmer

Most of the frustration seen in reaction to typical planning and scheduling programs comes from plants making their program way too complicated. Even the terms can be problematic: The word “plan” conjures up visions of not encountering any problems on a job because the preparation work has been thorough and complete to the point that any possible problem has been anticipated and can be avoided. The execution itself should be problem-free. The word “schedule” makes one think of a nicely laid-out grid showing hourly assignments to individuals for throughout the next week. Operations and maintenance thus will be able to come together on each job with great efficiency and productivity, and the plant will be in control. Simple, right?

These misguided ideas are overly simplistic and make planning and scheduling way too complicated – and frustrating. On the planning side, no one can be perfect. Telling planners that job execution should be problem-free just leads to everyone complaining about planning. Why would anyone want to be a planner? Add that to the fact that most plants have craftspersons who can work on most jobs fairly successfully without having any plan in place at all.

The crafts ask, “Why do we need planning in the first place?” On the scheduling side, maintenance is not assembly-line or project work. Planned labor estimates have a great variance. They are all over the place. Telling schedulers to set hourly or even daily schedules a week in advance just leads to wasteful meetings every day to revise the weekly schedule. Add that to the fact that most plants have supervisors who generally know what they need to work on. The supervisors ask “Why do we need schedules in the first place?” Not so simple, is it?

A couple of alternative ways of thinking about planning and scheduling can actually make planning and scheduling helpful and reduce frustration. First, accept that no one is perfect and run planning as a Deming Cycle. Planners should be giving head starts and saving feedback to make plans better over the years. There is no way a planner can be as smart as the cumulative wisdom and experience of 20 craftspersons. In addition, consider that many craftspersons keep journals and records of asset information in their lockers. Sometimes, they consult each other to share such data. Planning should formalize this sharing. The crafts should ask, “Why can’t the planner save this information for us?”

Second, accept that labor estimates have a wide variance and run scheduling as backlog research. No one wants to dig through the “black hole” of the maintenance backlog to find those little proactive jobs that people have requested. Supervisors already have a general idea of what they want to work on: the more-visible problem jobs that can be addressed to keep operators happy. But often, many of the less-visible proactive jobs could be grouped together with the visible problem jobs. Scheduling should formalize this “bundling” of work orders for convenience. The scheduler provides a proper subset of the entire backlog that matches the crew availability for the entire next week and lets the supervisor hand out the work as the week unfolds. The supervisors should ask, “Why can’t the scheduler bundle other work together with the jobs we already know we want to do next week?” Simple, right?

A lot of other problems result from trying to make perfect plans and schedules. Plants trying to make perfect plans tend to start questioning whether they need to hire and train qualified craftspersons. These plants also tend to drive crafts away from exercising sound craft judgment and toward blind obedience of imperfect plans. They also kit parts to excess. If a planner doesn’t kit everything needed, doesn’t a craftsperson have to make a trip to the storeroom anyway to get extra parts? If a planner kits extra parts, doesn’t a craftsperson have to make a trip to the storeroom anyway to return extra parts? Doesn’t kitting parts outside of a well-managed storeroom add a risk of losing parts or double-stocking? In addition, the plants trying to make perfect schedules tend to underschedule to have less daily shuffling and achieve better schedule compliance. They try to allow for the inevitability of time variance and reactive work. But underscheduling tends to make crews less productive overall because they haven’t been given enough work.

So, stop with the grand ideas of making perfect plans and schedules. Plants that try to be perfect miss great benefits of planning and scheduling programs. There are some management and company wrench-time calculations and other arguments for proper planning and scheduling, but in the arena of the craftsperson and supervisor, there are other, simple reasons why planning and scheduling should help. Craftspersons benefit from planners who function as craft historians to save and share learned information. Supervisors benefit from schedulers who function as backlog researchers to bundle work orders for convenience. Simple, right? Yes, we should bother with planning 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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