Productivity Schedule

Improve plant productivity with schedule success

Sept. 29, 2022
Doc Palmer says maintenance workers will get more work done when loaded with a full schedule and the flexibility to break it.

Schedule compliance, better called schedule success, is a critical maintenance management tool, but often misused and abused. Do famous management authorities Deming and Drucker talk about weekly schedule compliance? Of course, they do. It permeates all of their writings. They just use different jargon. Dr. W. Edwards Deming and Dr. Peter F. Drucker are all about best management methods.

“The Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook,” states the sixth principle of scheduling as “Wrench time is the primary measure of workforce efficiency and of planning and scheduling effectiveness…Schedule success is the measure of adherence to the 1-week schedule and its effectiveness.”

How to complete more work

Regarding “schedule success,” first of all, the objective of weekly scheduling is to help us complete more work than we would normally complete. This extra work improves our reliability. But many people incorrectly think the objective is to have high schedule compliance. With the objective to complete the schedule, they usually under-load the schedule. They schedule the work they know they probably can complete and leave much time open to handle new reactive work. Unfortunately, in practice, that does not increase craft productivity.

However, challenging ourselves with a fully loaded schedule where it is okay to break the schedule for new reactive work does increase productivity in practice. In turn, any extra work we complete is usually proactive that heads off future reactive work. That improves our reliability. Dr. Drucker explains that, “Management by objective works—if you know the objectives. Ninety percent of the time you don’t.” And Dr. Deming adds, “People with targets and jobs dependent upon meeting them will probably meet the targets—even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it.” We must recognize that the objective of scheduling is not necessarily to complete the schedule. The objective is to help us complete more work. Make sure we aim at the right target.

It’s okay to break the schedule

Second, demanding high schedule compliance while fully loading schedules is improper. We do not know exactly what will happen next week because our plants are not perfect. We do not know with certainty which jobs might take longer than expected, what planned parts might not be correct, what new reactive work might pop up, which craftspersons might call in sick, if operators cannot give access to all the equipment, or if any of numerous other reasons might prevent doing scheduled work. We do not know the future.

Dr. Drucker tells us, “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” We must accept that we cannot have perfect schedules because of the unknown future. We should still fully load schedules, but absolutely accept less than 90% compliance. Fully loaded schedules challenge us beyond merely reacting to events and otherwise keeping everyone simply busy. At the same time, it has to be okay to break the schedule.

Preserve job knowledge for the future

Third, we should use the results of schedule compliance to gain the knowledge of where we can improve. We must not accept the status quo. Only “failing” to complete a full schedule reveals the existence of our opportunities. “Lack of knowledge...that is the problem” according to Dr. Deming who also says “The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.”

Allow, but investigate, less-than-perfect schedule compliance. Do a Pareto Analysis of all the reasons we have low compliance and attack the biggest practical opportunities. We become better by analyzing and adjusting, not by mandating high compliance. Dr. Deming tells us “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” Dr. Drucker agrees: “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.” We must employ schedule compliance properly as a diagnostic tool for improvement.

Scheduling as a system

Finally, consider scheduling as a system rather than simply holding supervisors accountable for compliance. Dr. Deming says that “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” He also says “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” Weekly scheduling is a system that increases work order completion by giving crews enough work and that reveals reliability issues.

Dr. Drucker reminds us that “The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker but of the manager.” We must manage this system. Everyone plays a role. That’s why schedule “compliance” is a terrible term: It tells supervisors they are “bad persons” if they have low “compliance.” The term schedule “success” is superior in that it tells us we are teammates together in a system. The scheduler’s role is to load the weekly schedule to 100% of crew capacity. If schedule success is under 90%, our diagnostic tool tells us that we probably did truly load the schedule to 100%. The supervisor’s role is to focus on the schedule. If schedule success is above 40%, our tool tells us the supervisors probably did try to use the schedule. With schedule success between 90% and 40%, we achieve the objective increase in work productivity. But a Pareto Analysis of any score (even between 40% and 90%) tells management where we can further improve reliability beyond supervisor and scheduler control. System thinking is better than simply trying to hold people accountable. Dr. Deming agrees: “Hold everybody accountable? Ridiculous! When a system is stable, telling the worker about mistakes is only tampering.”

Consider scheduling as a system whose objective is enhancing our reliability through the completion of more proactive work. Use schedule success as a diagnostic tool to take advantage of numerous opportunities to boost reliability. Heed the timeless wisdom of management gurus Deming and Drucker. Manage wisely and become a wonderful plant.

This story originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

About the Author: Doc Palmer

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 on-lie help and currently scheduled public workshops, visit or email Doc at [email protected].

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