How Proper Planning And Scheduling Complement Not Replace Craft Skills 63daaff58a940

How proper planning and scheduling complement (not replace) craft skills

Feb. 2, 2023
Doc Palmer says the unusual principles of planning and scheduling can take some culture adjustment, but will quickly increase job execution.

The standard definitions sound simple enough, but planning and scheduling give far and away the best help when understanding the unusual concepts and principles behind them. 

Simply defined: Planning is the preparatory work done before actual job execution to determine (and in some cases reserve or otherwise make ready) the anticipated scope, craft skills, estimated labor hours, procedures, parts, tools, and other arrangements that will be needed in order to avoid inefficiency in execution. Scheduling is the coordination of the execution of the maintenance jobs with the operation of the plant. 

Rarely properly understood: Planning increases execution quality by running a Deming Cycle of giving better head starts over the years with planners acting as craft historians to personalize learning for each asset. Scheduling increases productivity by focusing craft supervisors on a goal of work each week.

As for planning, most plants experience frustration with craftspersons despising job plans. Their rejection is because we introduce planning as if our skilled craftspersons do not know how to work on assets. Resentment unfolds as almost open hostility toward planners particularly when not all parts are ready. Instead, we must adjust our concept of the purpose of planning. The purpose of planning is not to provide for “perfect” execution of work. It is to provide for “better” execution of work over the years. Planners simply give head starts and save information to make the head starts better over time. 

No one is perfect and plans are never perfect. We are trying to complement, not replace, craft skills that we have hired, trained, and retained over the years. Proper planning simply applies the Deming Cycle of continuous improvement. Planners clarify job scopes and apply past learning before the same or different craftspersons start jobs. Success in planning: Job execution quality improves over the years as planners institutionalize and apply knowledge every time we work on an asset. 

The six supporting principles of planning are: 

  1. Protect planners. Plants tend to drag planners off to other non-planning tasks. 
  2. Focus planners on jobs that have not started and then run a Deming Cycle. Planners give plans that are head starts, which planners improve over the years, especially with craft feedback. Don’t help too many jobs-in-progress at the expense of not planning all the new jobs. 
  3. Make a library of living job plans over the years at the component level: valve by valve, pump by pump, asset by asset. 
  4. Don’t get bogged down trying to make perfect labor estimates. A reasonable judgment is good enough to help assign work and create schedules.
  5. Plan as much detail as possible in each plan, subject to the constraint of needing to plan nearly all the work. We can trust the skills of craftspersons to fill in the gaps and later give feedback to suggest improvements. 
  6. You don’t have to measure wrench time, but do it by statistical sampling if you do. Wrench time is a gauge of how much available craft time is actually moving jobs ahead versus finding parts and tools or other delays that might have been anticipated and avoided.

Similarly for scheduling, most plants experience frustration with detailed schedules: time spent to create them, inability to adhere to them, and hence time spent to edit them. They also have a vague sense of questioning what good adherence even achieves. Instead, we must adjust our concept about the purpose of scheduling. The purpose of scheduling is not the creation and adherence to schedules in itself. The purpose of scheduling is to help us complete more work than we would normally complete. 

It turns out that Parkinson’s Law is the main culprit of maintenance productivity. (PL: The amount of work assigned expands to fill the time available.) Humans naturally “feel busy” at about 35% wrench time. It follows that the normal productivity of a crew with a supervisor mindset of “taking care of operations and otherwise making sure everyone is busy” is only 35% wrench time. But starting a crew with a goal of a full week of work changes the supervisor mindset. The mindset becomes “trying to complete a certain amount of work while taking care of operations when they call.” This different mindset increases crew wrench time to 55% by defeating Parkinson’s Law. Success in scheduling: A crew at 55% WT completes 57% more work than the same crew at 35% WT (55/35 = 1.57).

The six supporting principles of scheduling are: 

  1. Plan enough work to support scheduling. We need the estimated hours for each work order. 
  2. Have a credible priority system. We need to know which jobs must break the schedule right now or later this week. And which jobs can wait until next week or longer. 
  3. Schedule for the next week as a goal of work orders trying to bundle same-asset, same-system, or same-area work. We do not need a detailed schedule showing exact time slots or even days for the jobs. There is a lot of “churn” in a week of maintenance: Jobs take longer or finish sooner than estimated. Operations does call. Fortunately, a simple list of jobs with a few hard dates here and there is all we need. 
  4. Load the schedule to 100% of the week’s labor capacity to defeat Parkinson’s Law. 
  5. Leave daily scheduling to the craft supervisors to handle the churn as the week unfolds. 
  6. Look for between 40% and 90% schedule compliance. Scores below 90% ensure we have loaded the schedule enough to defeat PL. Scores above 40% ensure crew supervisors are trying to follow the schedule. Do not be misled by school grades where above 90% is an “A.” Think of bowling where 200 out of 300 (only 67%) is a good score. 

The concepts of proper planning and scheduling are unusual and not well understood. That translates to opportunities for competitive edges. Run planning as a Deming Cycle of continuous improvement and challenge supervisors with full schedules. Apply the supporting principles to achieve superior maintenance quality and productivity. Don’t settle for being a good plant. Be a great plant! (Leadership required.)

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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