How To Take Control Of Maintenance Planning And Scheduling 6407a56298031

How to take control of maintenance planning and scheduling

March 17, 2023
Doc Palmer says the keys to controlling planning and scheduling are people-related.

Surprisingly, the key methods of controlling maintenance planning and scheduling don’t have anything to do with key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics. When I think of controlling a car, I think of trying not to run into the ditch on the right or to the left. My key methods of controlling are keeping my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road. A metric or KPI that merely tells how many times I wrecked the car would only tell my parents if they should take my keys away or not. Similarly, the keys to controlling planning and scheduling are also people-related, namely: management support, a knowing change agent, and qualified planners. 

Supervision, rules and training

Within our different situations in life, we must match our primary control method with our particular circumstances if we want an effective, stable organization. If we are in a crisis, we control primarily with frequent meetings. In a fast-changing environment with low technology, we control primarily with direct supervision. (Think restaurant.) With high, but slow-changing technology and a slow changing environment, we control primarily with rules and procedures. (Think assembly line.) With changing technology and changing environment, we control primarily with hiring and training skills in persons. (Think doctors.) In a large, spread-out organization, we control primarily with KPIs or metrics. You might notice that for different parts of an organization, we should employ different primary control methods. 

Maintenance technology is becoming more and more complex, although it is not changing at a crisis rate. Similarly, the environment closely matches the complex arena of a hospital with different patients (assets) needing different attention. Hence, our primary control of effective maintenance itself should be staffing, i.e., the practice of hiring, training, and retaining effective craftspersons. 

Staffing the right skill set

Beyond that, the primary control of effective planning and scheduling is staffing as well. Not having the right persons as planners leads to failure. Planners require a threefold skill set: craft skill, communication skill, and organizing skill. We would like to take our top craftspersons who are good at telling others how to do something and like to save information in their lockers. We would love to take a top craftsperson and let them leverage their knowledge through great job scopes and plans. Yet, some of our top craftspersons are not so good at explaining things. And some top craftspersons do not stuff their lockers with help for the future. 

Surprisingly, of the three skills, planners could be relatively weak on craft skill. There is no way a single planner can be as knowledgeable as the cumulative skill and experience of the 20 to 30 craftspersons on the crews. Instead, a planner runs a Deming Cycle of continuous improvement to give head starts that become “better” over the years, especially with craft feedback. But a planner must possess good communication and organizing skills. Nevertheless, excellent craft skills do give a planner more street credibility for crew acceptance.

Leadership and management control

Beyond craftspersons themselves and planner staffing, two more roles must be considered for effective planning and scheduling. Two leaders are necessary, namely a high-enough manager and a change agent. Proper planning requires running a Deming Cycle of becoming better over the years instead of making perfect plans the first time. And proper scheduling requires fully filling schedules to defeat Parkinson’s Law instead of leaving extra capacity to handle break-in work. These concepts are so unusual that they require serious leadership. 

Remember that “leaders rock the boat” whereas “managers steady the boat.” A steady boat has good companies with management insisting planners please craftspersons. Therefore, planners mostly help a lot of jobs in progress because they cannot make perfect plans. A steady boat has good companies with management insisting on high schedule compliance. Therefore, schedulers under-schedule. But by settling for good we leave so much on the table. 

True leadership must drive us beyond goodness to greatness. The Deming Cycle of making plans better over the years mandates management maturity that it’s okay if the plan isn’t perfect. The same mandate applies to insisting on fully loading schedules that achieve lower schedule compliance. Beyond having qualified planners, a manager with enough authority must insist we implement the proper planning and scheduling concepts against the normal practices in industry. This management leader must employ a change agent, be it a planning leader or lead planner, to help everyone in these unusual roles. The management leader is the horsepower that enables the change agent who has his or her feet on the street, simply the time to go around and make it work. It will not work on its own. 

Change agent  

We cannot have enough meetings to control proper planning and scheduling. We cannot supervise the planners to do it right. We cannot make people follow procedures to plan properly. And measurements alone will only tell us we are doing it wrong. After hiring, training, and retaining skilled craftspersons, we must control from the management level. Mandate that we run planning as a Deming Cycle and fully schedule crews each week. Authorize a change agent leader that has a death grip on these concepts and is free to go around leading. Hire, train, and retain qualified planners with the right craft, communication, and organizing skills. Only then will we see a fabulous pop in craft productivity that completes the necessary proactive work to eventually stop the reactive bleeding. Only then will we see the better job execution occurring as we institutionalize and improve craft knowledge on each and every little job.

Achieve superior maintenance quality and productivity by controlling first with staffing that implements proper planning and scheduling. Don’t settle for being a good plant. Keep the car on the road. 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 www.palmerplanning.com or email Doc at [email protected]. Also visit and subscribe to www.YouTube.com/@docpalmerplanning.

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