2023 industry wrap-up: The best of Palmer’s Planning Corner

2023 industry wrap-up: The best of Palmer’s Planning Corner

Dec. 27, 2023
In this year-end wrap-up, we shine a light on Doc Palmer's best articles of the past 12 months.

Palmer’s Planning Corner is a monthly column exploring the productivity piece of maintenance. Planning and scheduling allows a plant to complete extra proactive work even when it has its hands full with reactive work. In this column, Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP, author of "Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook," and a managing partner of Richard Palmer and Associates, explains different principles and issues to make successful what should be a rewarding endeavor for maintenance. In this year-end wrap-up, we shine a light on Doc's best articles of the past 12 months.

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

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 towards 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. Success in planning: Job execution quality improves over the years as planners institutionalize and apply knowledge every time we work on an asset.

How to take control of maintenance planning and scheduling

The primary control of effective planning and scheduling is staffing. 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.

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! 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.

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.

KPIs that count: How and why to measure planned coverage

Planned Coverage is simply a measure of how much of the maintenance we performed was planned maintenance. With more purpose in mind, we could say it is a measure of how much of our work had the benefit of a planner giving helpful information first, rather than the craftsperson starting the job from scratch.

We should plan each job with as much detail as we can, subject to the constraint we must plan nearly all the work.  It is better to plan all the work and plan on collecting feedback from the craftspersons as they work the jobs to suggest how that work could be planned better in the future. We want all jobs to go through the Deming Cycle of continuous improvement. We can do that if we expect our workforce to have good skills and not be at the minimal level. Do not expect planning to replace the need for hiring, training, and retaining skilled crafts. Instead, we want to leverage the cumulative wisdom and experience of the whole workforce over the years by having the feedback go back into the plans. 

Why the most common maintenance planning KPI is hurting your department

The most common maintenance planning KPI, Plan versus Actual (PVA), is actually counterproductive. By using it, we cripple maintenance. PVA is commonly used with maintenance planning. This KPI compares the estimated labor hours for a work order to the actual labor hours charged. A work order estimated for 5 hours has 10 hours charged to it. Should we deduce from PVA that the crafts take too long, or that the planner was not good at estimating? Therein lies the rub.

The PVA KPI is popular for two reasons. First, it seems obvious that planners should accurately estimate labor hours for jobs. Second, it is difficult to imagine another measurable planner KPI. But hyper-accurate labor estimating is not needed. It does not help us complete more work than normal. It does not help us do higher quality work.

If we must measure planners with KPIs, grade whether they are using the job plan portion of the CMMS to make living plans. Thereby planners make “better” plans over the years to improve work quality. Also grade whether schedulers fully load schedules to 100% of the next week’s labor capacity. Such schedules defeat Parkinson’s Law to improve productivity. 

Build a workflow process that helps you better manage your maintenance team

People sometimes miss two major purposes of planning. First, planning is like a manufacturing line, but instead of producing widgets, planning produces jobs ready to execute (WSch, or jobs that can be scheduled). Beware of any “backlog management” that wants a certain amount of unplanned backlog. We do not want unplanned jobs sitting around. The Planners cannot merely be busy planning work. They must finish planning work. Otherwise, we risk having to execute unplanned work because proper scheduling soon empties WSch backlogs. Management monitors any unplanned backlog encouraging Planners to use “excuse” statuses such as waiting for parts or management of change for why the work cannot move to WSch status. (Note that most PMs should come out as WSch without needing Planner attention.) 

Second, and in support of quick planning, Planners run a Deming Cycle of continuous improvement. They accept that “no one is perfect” and concentrate on giving the best head start they can in the time available. In fact, the time constraint mandates that it is better to plan more of the work imperfectly than less of the work “perfectly.” Embracing the Deming Cycle, Planners plan as much detail as possible subject to the constraint that they need to plan nearly all of the work. 

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