Proper planning and scheduling requires an adult mindset

Proper planning and scheduling requires an adult mindset

March 1, 2024
Doc Palmer argues that it can even root out childish behaviors among both work teams and managers.

Truly great maintenance results require both adults doing the work and adults being in charge. We cannot act like children and expect spectacular reliability in our plants and facilities. Proper planning and scheduling require that mindset for success and for bypassing the common crippling frustration in industry.

Maintenance has complex technology and every day we are working on something different. The technology itself is slowly changing. That model pinch valve is not like the one we used to use. It requires a special technique to maintain or repair. Also, depending on where we use them, we might encounter different “typical” failure modes—and that’s “just a valve.” Compressors, motors, pumps, and other assets we use each change over the years and each has its own personality. 

The complexity of modern assets and ever-changing circumstances and technology requires professional craftspersons much like medical patients require doctors. Successful maintenance requires staffing ourselves with competent, talented craftspersons that “open up” a patient after triage. A doctor must have the training, talent, and skills to perform a successful operation. That’s not to say a doctor doesn’t have a standard procedure for the expected operation, but the doctor’s capable judgement during the entire operation is vital. Every patient they see and every asset we maintain is complex enough and changing enough to make a difference.

Adult management must treat craftspersons as professionals allowed to exercise judgment. Craftspersons are adults. We do not want them blindly following a job plan. To expect perfect job plans is folly. Child managers say, “Perfect job plans lead to excellence and consistency in performance and doing the job right the first time!” Child managers punish craftspersons who do not exactly follow a procedure and something goes wrong. 

However, adult managers know that almost perfect plans might work for an assembly line, yet maintenance does not perform the exact same task each day, much less each hour. Adult managers do want great plans, but know in their hearts that plans cannot be perfect. Adult managers treat the plans as head starts where planners clarify customer requests, point out O&M manuals or procedures, and otherwise prepare helpful information. Then, craftspersons (doctors) go to work exercising their skilled judgment as necessary to do the job “right the first time.”

When something goes wrong on a job, adult managers ask, “What happened and what did we learn? Do we need to update a job plan for the next time?” (Pay careful attention: I am not talking about incompetence or dereliction of duty. Adult management knows it must first hire, train, and retain competent, skilled craftspersons. Child management disastrously thinks it only needs to hire persons that can read a job plan to have successful maintenance.)

The craftspersons must also act like adults together with the managers. Child managers punish craftspersons who deviate from a job plan and something goes wrong. Child craftspersons decide after being once punished that forever more they will blindly follow an incorrect job plan even if they know it will cause the plant to burn down. Then although the plant is gone, at least they won’t get in trouble, again. “And that will show management!” Adult managers treat job problems as learning experiences and expect updating job plans. Adult craftspersons exercise judgment and provide feedback for updating job plans.

Scheduling is the same as planning, requiring all involved to behave as adults instead of children. Child managers think the goal of weekly scheduling is to achieve high schedule compliance. Child schedulers give supervisors underloaded schedules so they can achieve high schedule compliance. To help this errant mission, child supervisors underreport labor capacity and child planners over-estimate hours. 

But adult managers know the true goal of weekly scheduling is to help us complete more work than we would normally complete. They know that by fully loading schedules we defeat Parkinson’s Law (“The amount of work expands to fill the time available.”) They know that no plant or facility is perfect and things will happen next week. Nevertheless, they insist on fully loading schedules and letting the chips fall where they may. These chips reveal numerous opportunities to improve plant or facility reliability. 

Is schedule compliance above 90%? We’re probably not fully loading the schedule. Is it under 40%? Supervisors are probably ignoring the schedule. Is it between 40% and 90%? We are probably getting a 50% pop in work order completion with extra work always being proactive work. But we still have opportunities. What is the nature of the reactive work that interrupted us? Did non-urgent work interrupt us? Did scheduled jobs not have parts or tools? Did we not coordinate well enough with operations for LOTO? Did we not have the right craft skills for the jobs. The child managers think that schedule compliance under 90% means that we need to underload the schedule more. The adult managers know that schedule compliance below 90% simply helps reveal opportunities for reliability improvement in the future.

The complex, slowly changing nature of maintenance assets requires professional craftspersons and supporting management. Use proper planning and scheduling to help bring out the adult in everyone. Achieve stupendous performance. Don’t settle for good. Be great!

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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