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Why micromanaging your plant's daily scheduling doesn’t work

Sept. 6, 2022
Doc Palmer says a daily schedule will focus that day’s work, but supervisors need the flexibility to react to unplanned work.

We cannot schedule to the individual day a week in advance. The first line supervisor should develop the daily schedule each day for the next day. To deploy craftspersons to jobs as the maintenance week unfolds, we must rely on the individual supervisors exercising their skills and judgment on a daily basis.

The Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, states the fifth principle of scheduling as, “The crew supervisor develops a daily schedule one day in advance using current job progress, the 1-week schedule, and new high-priority jobs as a guide. The crew supervisor assigns individual crew members to work considering personnel skills and work order requirements. The crew supervisor handles the current day’s work and problems, even to rescheduling the entire crew for emergencies. Maintenance and operations use this schedule to coordinate their efforts on a daily basis.” 

There is a lot of “churn” in a normal week of maintenance. Jobs take longer than we thought, jobs finish earlier than we thought, and operations continually calls with new work that cannot wait until next week. We could think that with “great” planners, we could estimate jobs down to the hour. Yes, we could, but only if the planner understood the job scope perfectly and if every craftsperson was “typical.” But on a lot of reactive work, we do not understand “exactly” what the execution will involve. We could say to ourselves that we should not have any reactive work and that would solve everything. But the first maintenance conference I attended in 1993 proclaimed that only three plants in the entire world were deemed “world-class” with minimal reactive work. I do not believe there are many world-class plants even today. Not even close to world-class, having only 20% of our work being reactive would make us a good plant. Most of our real-life plants are not world-class and we do have lot of reactive work with uncertain job scopes. Furthermore, even if we did know the exact scope of each job, the “typical” craftsperson does not exist. Some persons are naturally slower than others. We do not want to speed up slow persons at the expense of quality. We do not want them to hastily execute work or take shortcuts just to meet arbitrary time estimates. And honestly, some workers are faster than others. If they execute work properly, we certainly do not want to slow them down. As a result of having reactive work and different craftspersons working at different rates, we cannot say exactly what we will do every day of the entire next week.

Supervisors handle this churn. Each day the crew supervisor keeps up with the status of different jobs. As jobs finish early or late, the supervisor directs persons to other jobs that might have been originally assigned to other persons. As operators call with emergency jobs, the supervisor decides which ongoing jobs might soon finish and alert the crafts where to go to take care of the emergency. Alternately, the supervisor might decide to interrupt an ongoing job and not wait. Appropriately, the industry rule of thumb recommends that supervisors should be in the field 75% of their time (six out of eight hours)!

About the Author: Doc Palmer

Typically, around lunch time, the supervisor, considering the work in progress, starts figuring out a schedule for tomorrow’s jobs and assignments. Late in the afternoon, the supervisor coordinates with the appropriate operations counterpart to see if LOTOs (lock-out/tag-out) can be scheduled. This coordination can be informal or at a short formal meeting toward the end of each day. The supervisor then posts the schedule as “what we think we will be doing tomorrow.” (This posting really helps crew morale. Many craftspersons honestly would like to know what they will be doing a day ahead of time.) The next morning, the crew checks in, and the supervisor makes adjustments based on any absences and new jobs that came up overnight and cannot wait. The supervisor now uses this daily schedule to monitor the day’s progress and begin figuring out a schedule for tomorrow.

Whereas the weekly schedule is simply a batch of work with the craft requirements (mechanic, electrician), the daily schedule has names of individuals (Fred, Sally) for the different jobs. The weekly schedule is simply a batch of enough work for the crew for the entire week. It is mostly a soft schedule although there may be a few hard dates. The scheduler has looked through the planned backlog to bundle work for convenience of location and LOTO. A huge purpose of the weekly schedule is to focus the supervisor and crew to try to do a certain amount of work in the midst of the churn of uncertain times and operators calling. This focus increases productivity beyond the normal practice of primarily taking care of operator calls while making sure everyone has something to do. A secondary purpose of the weekly schedule is to coordinate maintenance capacity with operations needs on a weekly basis. The purpose of the daily schedule is to assign the work to the best person(s) for the different jobs as jobs and persons become available. A secondary purpose of the daily schedule is to provide for daily coordination with operations.

In their 1983 book In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman distilled eight common denominators of long-term successful companies. One of these traits was the concept of “tight and loose.” There are tight things you have to do or you are not allowed to work here. You can do the loose things any way you want. That’s why we hire talented people to make judgments. For us in maintenance, the tight is the weekly schedule. We are going to start each crew with a fully loaded schedule every single week as a focus. The loose is that the crew supervisor can assign the work just about any way he or she wants as the week unfolds. Tight and loose is similar to “Pick your battles,” Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and “Some things are past the point of diminishing returns.” 

Don’t micromanage the supervisors. Instead, manage them by freeing them up to be in the field with a fully loaded weekly schedule. Empower them to manage from there. Repeat each week. Go beyond good to great, maybe even world-class one day.

This story originally appeared in the September 2022 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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