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DOs & DON’Ts of Effective Maintenance Planning

Effective Maintenance Planning

Questions to Ask....

By Shane Daniel

Most asset-intensive organizations recognize that efficient and effective maintenance planning and scheduling is one of those cornerstone processes that can help ensure equipment reliability and assist with attaining excellence in operations.The benefits of good maintenance planning and scheduling are numerous and include:

  • Increased productivity of tradespeople;
  • Reduced equipment downtime;
  • Lower spare parts holdings;
  • Less maintenance rework;
  • and many more.

Why do we plan maintenance work?

Some answers may be:

  • So that our customers and production/operations get what they want.
  • So everybody knows what we are doing and how we are going to do it.
  • To minimize risk.
  • To provide solid estimates for budget and time.

Yet many organizations still struggle to make their maintenance planning and scheduling as effective as it should be. The following are a few "DOs and DON'Ts" based on years of observations and experiences that should help you if you are in this situation.

Do you have the right person as your planner?

The planner position is one of the most critical in the entire maintenance organization. Selecting the right person for this position with the right skills is essential to the success of the group. The planner is responsible for uplifting the utilization rate of the entire group.

To me, there are several key characteristics of a good planner:

  • Should be highly skilled and qualified craftspeople -- having 10 to 20 years of experience actually doing work makes them better planners;
  • Have a sound knowledge of the principles and practices of planning and the skills for implementing those theories when planning and coordinating work activities;
  • Able to establish and maintain effective working relationships with all stakeholders (maintenance, reliability and operations/process), including in general areas, such as economics, finance, local state and federal laws, and other pertinent programs;
  • Ask operators to clarify needs, deal with supervisors on a peer level, arrange materials and services through purchasing personnel and vendors, and encourage and interpret feedback from technicians;
  • An ability to take an "integrated view";
  • Able to write clear, concise and accurate work descriptions in the job plan;
  • Has a structured and logical mind;
  • Seeks order in the world and places things in a logical sequence;
  • Has a proactive nature.

Planners also must have excellent data skills. Planners can't fall into the trap of planning every job from scratch. They must not only research information for new work, but also use past feedback and files to make job plans better. In addition, they must be able to use a computer to speed the flow of information.

Is your planner trained?

Once you've selected the best person, with the proper qualities and capabilities for the planner position, they still have much to learn. They need to know how to use your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) properly. They need to know how to process work requests and plan them with the appropriate level of rigor and detail. They need to know how to extract data from the CMMS and generate reports. Give your planners the type of training that makes them both efficient and effective in their job. Remember, they are key to making the maintenance business unit effective and efficient, and increasing the crew's utilization.

Do you (and your planners) understand the difference between planning and scheduling?

A lot of so-called "planners" are not actually performing planning work. Instead, they are often acting merely as schedulers. So what is the difference and why is it important? Put simply:

Planning is determining what you need to do, how you are going to do it, and what parts and other resources you need in order to do the work efficiently.

Scheduling, on the other hand, is simply determining when you are going to do a job.

It is important to plan work first and then schedule it. Results from DuPont Chemicals and Specialties showed that scheduling unplanned work actually reduces equipment uptime - if you are not going to plan work, then you are better not to schedule it.

Do your planners ever leave their desk?

Continuing on from the previous point, planners must ALWAYS VISIT THE JOBSITE! There will always be things going on at the coalface that the planner may not be aware of and, consequently, would not be able to plan for, such as a safety issue, an access situation, etc. It is important to remember that planning (as distinct from scheduling) is NOT a desk job. Generating a weekly schedule in your CMMS is NOT planning - it is scheduling.

How much else do you get your planners to do?

Planners should be planners - ONLY. They should NOT be supervisors, logistics expeditors, go-fors, etc. You NEED to understand that a planner cannot be considered as a relief position of any kind, or be tasked with multiple job responsibilities. If a planner is doing all of the things a planner should be doing, he or she will not have the time to be multi-tasking for other positions.

Do you use your planners for emergency or unscheduled work?

Planners should not be used for emergency or unscheduled work. As long as you keep pulling them into your reactive world instead of letting them prepare future work that can be done more efficiently and effectively, you will never get out of a reactive state.

Do your planners keep repeating old mistakes?

You should never 'plan' the same job twice. Do it once, properly, the first time and each time that task reoccurs. Dig out the existing 'plan' and refine, refine, refine. Nobody should expect it to be perfect the first time around, but over time with repetition and correction, it should get close. Most CMMSs have the capability to store previously planned jobs in a library, yet few organizations use this capability. It should be a matter of habit to look in the library whenever a job arises for a previous plan for that job and only if it does not exist should a new plan be created from scratch. It should also be a matter of habit that any new plans created are stored back in the library for potential future modification and reuse.

Do your planners correctly schedule the tasks in a job?

How many times do you see technicians standing around waiting for someone else to finish a task before they can start their assigned job tasks? For example, electricians are disconnecting a motor while mechanics stand around waiting. Job sequencing must be an integral part of a planner's job plan to help minimize lost time.

Do your planners correctly resource the tasks in a job?

Planners should ensure all small losses are removed to eliminate wasted time. Technicians need to concentrate on the tasks at hand, so planners need to ensure the right tools, materials and everything needed to do the job are there on hand when needed. If everything is prepared properly, technicians should not have to search for anything. This includes information. Planners should not put jobs in a schedule without having everything (ALL materials and parts) prepared and ON SITE. They should never rely on delivery promises; that is a major pitfall to avoid.

Are the job plans or work packs complete, accurate and thorough?

Planners must ensure that technicians have enough information to do the job without having to stop for additional information. A task should be planned to the level that any competent technician can complete the required task steps, even if they have never been to the site or seen the equipment before.

Do your planners receive feedback from the tasks and act upon that feedback?

The planner should have prepared the work, providing tasks to be performed, durations, special tools, materials required, etc. The technicians must provide feedback on completion of the task. A simple 'Done' is NOT good enough. If there are any errors or omissions, the planner needs to know about them and MUST make the changes to the job plan. If the technician gets the same job plan month after month without any changes, he or she will quickly tire of providing feedback - and that is a huge missed opportunity.

Do your planners work with your operations department as partners?

The planner must build the needed partnerships, especially with operations or the planner will continue to struggle and possibly fail. Everything possible must be done to communicate with operations in order to develop a schedule to which everyone agrees. Failure to do this will result in technicians showing up for a job where the equipment has not been taken offline, prepared, cleaned, etc.

Does your operations department work with your planners as partners?

Conversely, your operations personnel must commit to doing what they say - making the equipment clean and available for when maintenance is required. They MUST understand that maintenance IS required. Get them to think of 'their' plant as being like 'their' car. If they run it into the ground and never take it in for service, it will quickly deteriorate into a useless pile of junk. What on earth would make them think that the plant is any different?

Do your planners have too many KPIs and metrics?

You can measure yourself to death, but it won't help your bottom line. Metrics should be used to tell you where you are and assist in finding opportunities for improvement. Choose only those that guide your decision-making process on how to properly run your part of the business.

Planners also need to remember that their team and managers do not have all day to sit around and read reports. Information should be concise, to the point and in an easily understood (preferably graphic) format. A manager should be able to look at the information and understand it in 30 seconds or less.

Using these steps will help you improve equipment reliability, reduce maintenance costs and operate more safely.

Shane Daniel, Senior Consultant with Assetivity, has had 20 years experience in the reliability and maintenance fields in a variety of roles and industries, which include Military, Oil and Gas, Mining, Mineral Processing and Reliability Engineering. His ability to ‘think outside the box’ allows him to provide innovative, world’s best practice solutions, while his easy-going, lighthearted manner allows him to engage and involve clients and team members, providing them with a sense of ‘ownership’ - resulting in improvements that are willingly accepted, implemented and sustained.

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