Reactive And Proactive 636552d481677

How to do planning and scheduling with reactive work

Nov. 4, 2022
Doc Palmer says Reactive maintenance that isn’t an emergency will benefit from a quick plan and a day or weeks head start.

Don’t let reactive work bypass planning and scheduling to a fault. The fear of not quickly dealing with urgent work keeps some of us from gaining the full value of both planning and scheduling. Yet, we can apply some of the simple planning and scheduling principles to reactive work without compromising rapid response. We can quickly plan some of the urgent work without making supervisors wait, as well as create more credible schedules for next week.

Reactive vs. proactive maintenance

What is reactive maintenance? Reactive maintenance is work to remedy a newly discovered situation that should not wait until next week. The emergency or urgent plant situation is already (or will imminently be) compromising plant performance for profitability, safety, or the environment. Most plants let reactive work bypass planning and scheduling because there is little or no time for delay. The plants see the possible inefficiency of unplanned work execution as much smaller than the possible impact of the crisis. This risk evaluation might be appropriate for plants with only, say, 10% of their work being reactive. However, many plants have 20% to 50% or even more of their work being reactive. In contrast to reactive work, proactive maintenance is work to prevent reactive situations from developing in the first place. (Technically, proactive work “maintains” a system’s proper function, and reactive work is not even maintenance, per se, but work to restore a system’s proper function.)

The real management issues are (1) the plant could be more competitive if it had less reactive work in the first place, (2) the plant could reduce reactive work if it did more proactive work, and (3) planning and scheduling could help a plant complete more proactive work while it has its hands full of reactive work. In effect, if we do have a lot of reactive work, we really need planning and scheduling to help us dig out of the pit. 

Some urgent work can wait

Let’s consider handling reactive maintenance. First, not all reactive work is an emergency needing immediate response today. Some of it is urgent that might start today but could start tomorrow or perhaps later in the week. The urgent work that does not start today could benefit from a planner checking on the job to provide a head start. Perhaps the planner could quickly attach a plan from the growing job plan library. The head start might remind the craftsperson to take a certain gasket this time because not knowing it was needed caused a delay last year. The head start could also help the supervisor assign the work, e.g., one mechanic for five hours. 

The key to planning such reactive work is never telling a supervisor to wait on planning. Planners abide by this rule by checking with the supervisors as new urgent work requests show up in the backlog. The planner simply calls the supervisor and asks, “Are you going to start this job today?” If “Yes,” then don’t bother planning the job. If “No,” plan quickly, today. This quick, but helpful, planning is possible because of Planning Principles 2, 3, 4, and 5. The planner does not try to make a perfect plan, but simply gives a head start (PP2). The planner might already have a plan for that exact asset and problem from the library (PP3). The planner does not have to take long making a labor estimate (PP4). And the planner does not have to plan the job with excruciating detail (PP5). 

Second, not all urgent work even starts this week. Most companies have “urgent” work that is over a week old. Let’s not say that the requesters abused the priority system, but rather that sometimes it is difficult to determine the plant risk: Does the situation really need addressing this week or could it possibly wait? The requestor declares it to be urgent to be on the safe side. But later as the week unfolds, that urgent work order ends up not being started after all. Let’s accept that this scenario plays out every week. The declared urgent work that does not start this week can be included in the schedule for next week, but only if it was planned! Planning Principle 1 and Scheduling Principles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 all help schedule this leftover urgent work for next week. The planners can plan some of the urgent work because they are protected from too many other non-planning duties (PP1). The plans might simply have craft skill and estimated hours, but that allows them to be scheduled (SP1). The priority system helps the planner quickly identify any urgent requests (SP2). The bundling inherent in the scheduling process is amazingly effective if we can bundle some non-urgent proactive work with reactive work on the same asset or in the same system (SP3). The schedule must be fully loaded to 100% with as credible a schedule as possible. Don’t break the schedule next week for something that was known about this week (SP4). Supervisors are the on-the-spot resource to handle the daily schedule. If they want to start a new urgent job today, let them (SP5). And finally, we are not looking for greater than 90% schedule compliance. We are expecting that supervisors break the 100% fully-loaded weekly schedule. Planners should simply check with them to see if they plan to break it today for a new urgent job before wasting time planning something about to start.

No blanket work orders

A final note is that we must use work orders for nearly all work. Do not allow blanket or standing work orders for small requests for two reasons. One reason is that people abuse the privilege. They do not write work orders for work on assets where later we need the history. The other reason is that blanket work order usage makes scheduling ineffective. Schedulers that leave an “allowance” for blanket work and, hence, under-schedule crews.

By planning some of the reactive work, we get the great job quality improvements possible through continuous improvement on some of the reactive work and we better support scheduling. It greatly helps the credibility and acceptance of fully loaded schedules if we include the un-started reactive work from last week. From the first week of fully loaded schedules, we see an increase in work order completion rate. We complete more proactive work when we had our hands full of reactive work. Best of all, we can do it without making supervisors wait! Just plan the ones they are not about to start. Success!

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

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 or email Doc at [email protected]. Also visit and subscribe to

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