What is the right ratio of planners to craftspersons for my manufacturing plant?

What is the right ratio of planners to craftspersons for my manufacturing plant?

June 25, 2024
Doc Palmer says the answer depends on factors such as additional duties, multiple crafts, geography, and planner personalities.

“How many planners do I need?” is a great question! A ratio of having one planner for every 20-30 craftspersons is a great benefit to a company, but better ratios of having one planner for even fewer craftspersons makes sense as well. We should consider exactly what we are doing with these planners and think about new work, jobs-in-progress, project teams, dual roles, geography, and even planner personalities.

Planning and scheduling, properly done

Planning properly done is making the best job plan possible subject to the constraint that we must plan nearly all the work. We all want fantastic plans as a guide for new craftspersons and a reference for senior craftspersons, but we simply cannot start there. Instead, we set the planners up to run a Deming Cycle of continuous improvement over the years, especially incorporating craft feedback.

Scheduling successfully done is starting each crew off with a full week’s worth of work that increases our work order completion rate by about 50%. Planners challenge each crew with a “mission” beyond simply taking care of operations and otherwise keeping everyone “busy.”

A good question is, “why don’t we want the planner to make a fantastic plan to begin with?” Well, for one reason, planners simply do not have the time to make a perfect plan for each and every job from scratch. We also need to admit that no plan is ever perfect anyway. Instead, we set our planners up from the start to get all the jobs through a cycle of continuous improvement, forever looking for opportunities for plan improvement. This approach leads to better job execution over the years as we utilize learned knowledge.

Another good question is, “why do we need to increase our work order completion rate if we are a good, profitable company?” Simply put, good companies still have a fair amount of reactive work whereas great (more profitable) companies have hardly any reactive work. Good companies cannot get to the extra proactive work to keep things from breaking in the first place. Fortunately, the addition of a planner makes 30 persons as effective as 45 (the 50% increase), with the extra 15 persons doing purely proactive work.

So, how many planners do I need?

A single planner can keep up with 20-30 craftspersons, considering that the planners do not have to make perfect job plans and they make weekly schedules simply as a full list of work to challenge supervisors. This 1:20-30 ratio assumes that about 30% of the work being pre-planned is PM work that does not need much planner attention.

Some persons advocate having a planner for every 15 craftspersons. Certainly, this 1:15 ratio allows making better job plans. However, do not lose sight of the ultimate value of planning as a system of improving plans over time. And do not waste extra planner capacity making overly complicated schedules. (I wonder if some value of advocating for a 1:15 ratio is to make sure that management gives us at least 1:25 ratio.)

A planner-to-craftsperson ratio of 1:10-20 is certainly a benefit. With the extra planner capacity, the planners can also help craftspersons with jobs-in-progress find information on the fly as problems pop up. Generally, planners cannot spend the extra time to help jobs-in-progress when trying to stay ahead of 20-30 persons. Fully loaded planners must count on skilled craftspersons owning the job once jobs go into progress. But the planner is a great resource to help resolve unexpected field conditions and could help some jobs if planning for fewer than 20 persons. Helping jobs-in-progress, of course, should not preclude planning all the new work coming in. The exception would be that on-the-fly help for a true emergency job always trumps everything else.

Going further, a planner to craftsperson ratio of 1:5-15 is still a benefit. For the 50% productivity bump alone, 1:2 is a break-even point: one planner plus two craftspersons are as productive as three craftspersons. But the advantage goes further. The planner can stay ahead of planning the new work, can help jobs in progress, and can be on some teams such as for projects, safety, and root cause analysis.

The human aspect of planning

Ratios of 1:5-10 also allow planners to have dual roles. Perhaps the planner can also run a small storeroom or do predictive maintenance analysis. Nonetheless, the dual role should be a staff role. Try not to combine a planner role with a supervisor or craftsperson role. Supervisors and craftspersons perform line roles that cannot be put on hold. Combining such staff and line roles frequently result in the staff role of planner being neglected.

Other considerations for optimizing your planner ratio include geography, multiple crafts, and planner personalities. The planner ratios generally depend simply on numbers of craftspersons regardless of asset quantity or value: “For so many craftspersons we need so many planners.” But a single planner might be planning for several geographically close facilities, each with only a few craftspersons. Planner travel might justify planning for fewer than 20 persons. Also, a single facility might have only 10 craftspersons, but several crafts being mechanics, electricians, and instrument techs that would keep a single planner busy. We also cannot forget the human aspect – some planners are simply faster than others. One planner may be able easily to stay ahead of 30 craftspersons while another planner might be better planning for only 10 persons.

Finally, adding an additional person is a major (painful) step at almost any company. But we are not doing that! If you have 20 craftspersons, promote a craftsperson to a supervisor equivalent role as a planner. Voila! With planning, you get 10 persons for free out of your remaining 19 craftspersons. You have 29 persons for the same cost as 20.

The more planners the merrier. Planners help us save and apply knowledge for better job execution. Planners help us complete more proactive work to eradicate failures. Our plants become more available, more reliable, more environmentally responsible, and safer. We better accomplish our mission. We grow beyond good to great! Don’t settle!

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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