We wonder, is it okay to break the weekly maintenance schedule? Actually, the answer is “Yes” and “No.” It is okay to break the schedule while at the same time, it is not okay!
When we think of breaking the schedule, we think of a finely tuned schedule and then blame the first line maintenance supervisors for low schedule compliance. Yet, in a world of reality, the supervisors are only part of the story. The scheduler, the state of the plant, the priority system, operations, the maturity of maintenance practices, the storeroom and purchasing, the state of the craft workforce with planning, management in general, and even the weather (obviously) play roles in high or low schedule compliance. Analyzing where we have opportunities in raising schedule compliance leads us to better plant reliability, rather than just blaming the supervisor every time the schedule gets broken.
Be proactive, not reactive
Let’s first be clear that the purpose of scheduling is not to have high schedule compliance in itself. Otherwise, we would just schedule the one or two jobs we would complete anyway and achieve 100% schedule compliance. Rather, the purpose of scheduling is to help us complete more work than we would normally complete, and thus do that extra proactive work that would normally die in the backlog. The extra proactive work leads to superior plant reliability.
To begin our opportunity analysis, we must consider the scheduler. The scheduler must not underload the schedule to allow for reactive work. Instead, we fully load the schedule for next week’s labor capacity and then take our lumps. Only then can we analyze the compliance results for plant reliability opportunities. In our typical, decently performing plants, we might expect 20% of our work to be emergency or urgent, so at best we might expect 80% compliance to a fully loaded schedule. If we routinely achieve 90% or higher weekly schedule compliance, we are simply deluding ourselves into thinking we fully loaded the schedule to begin with.
Design and engineering
Next let’s consider the state of the plant, namely plant design and ongoing reliability engineering. The industry rule for purchasing says every extra $1 spent on buying an inherently more reliable asset is worth $100 in not having to do extra reactive maintenance and losing plant availability. Have we built our plant with reliable equipment? Do we perform root cause analysis to determine why failures occur? Do we spend capital funds to improve poor designs? Do we rank improvement projects to spend funds most wisely? Inherently unreliable assets might lie at the feet of low schedule compliance.
Even with reliable assets, the credibility or adherence to the plant priority system might affect schedule compliance. Do we break the schedule for work that is really not emergency or urgent? Does the plant allow work requesters to call for quick response to any and all needs? Do any requesters abuse the priority system and claim urgent priorities simply to get “their work” done? Does the priority system clearly distinguish among emergency, urgent, routine high, routine, medium, or routine low work? Do requesters know how to select different priorities for different work? Perhaps low schedule compliance results from poor prioritization practices.
Operations and maintenance maturity
Let’s consider the operations group. Is our operations group properly trained, rested, and staffed? Is the equipment easy to operate? Even with the best intent, sometimes we break things while operating. Perhaps low schedule compliance would reveal an opportunity for better operation.
Next, let’s look at our maintenance maturity. If we are poor at lubrication, we will have unnecessary bearing failures. If we do not do laser alignment, we will have unnecessary coupling, motor, and pump failures. If we do not replace filters on time…If we do not…etc., etc., we will have low schedule compliance from otherwise avoidable reactive work. Use the change in schedule compliance score to see if we are successful in improving our maintenance practices.
Spare parts affect schedule compliance. If parts are not available when expected or needed, work cannot be completed or scheduled. An unexpected parts problem on a scheduled job in progress lowers schedule compliance. A parts problem on an unscheduled reactive job might require extra scrambling and reduces time to complete scheduled work. Parts unavailability that delays scheduling proactive work leads to more reactive work. Opportunities for better storeroom support may be reflected in low schedule compliance.
The state of the craft workforce can affect schedule compliance. The maintenance planning effort is not intended to replace the need for hiring, training, and retaining skilled craftspersons. Job plans are targeted for skilled crafts. We cannot expect untrained persons to complete scheduled work on time. On the other hand, as time goes by, we expect plans to better anticipate repetitive task needs. The planning effort also affects schedule compliance, as if the planned time estimates are generally too low, this causes overscheduling and lower schedule compliance.
On the same topic of workforce, unplanned absences and morale might affect schedule compliance. Work with craftspersons to encourage advance notice of needed time off. Do not take lightly human needs for a decent work environment.
Obviously, even weather affects schedule compliance. But rather than underload the schedules for expected poor weather, try to plan for indoor work or jobs that can particularly be done in unusually hot or cold weather. Challenge our crews, but accept lower schedule compliance. Do not force unwise work practices. Take our lumps for low schedule compliance.
With all of this in mind, let’s now consider the first line maintenance supervisor. We absolutely want the crew leader to break the schedule and take care of reactive work as necessary. We also want the crew leader to take advantage of situations as they arise for other work as well. Perhaps the crew is handing an emergency in an area where a PM would be due next week. Can we go ahead and complete the PM? We honestly want the first line supervisors to exercise their judgment. We just want to know how we did each week largely to analyze for all the other opportunities we have been discussing. We generally accept the supervisors are doing the best they can if schedule compliance is above 40% for a fully loaded schedule. Nonetheless, a schedule compliance score of less than 40% may mean the supervisor is ignoring the schedule. Being concerned with the supervisors only if compliance is below 40% means it is definitely okay for them to break the schedule.
Manage breaking the schedule
Finally, let’s touch on management. Proper use of the schedule compliance score requires great management maturity. It is definitely okay to break the schedule as the week unfolds. We must break the schedule as needed. But less-than-perfect schedule compliance does mean there are opportunities for improvement in overall plant reliability. Management must not accept the less-than-perfect schedule compliance, but must actively analyze the scores for opportunities. It is okay to break the schedule to get the truthful score, but not okay to ignore the opportunities.
It’s okay, but not okay to break the weekly schedule. Achieve superior reliability by accepting the schedule compliance score as one of the best tools we have to find and quantify opportunities to improve. Don’t settle for being a good plant. Be a great plant! (Leadership required.)