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Planning and Scheduling: 2 Questions for Management to Ask

Management's jobs are to plan, organize, staff, direct and control. Maintenance management plans to create a maintenance effort that keeps assets functioning to produce production capacity. It organizes to have both an effective and efficient maintenance program. Proactive maintenance strategies, such as preventive maintenance (PM), predictive maintenance (PdM) and project work, perhaps with a reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) program, provide effectiveness. Planning and scheduling provide efficiency or productivity. The need for efficiency is simply embodied in the common problem of correctly identifying the proactive maintenance to execute, only to see that work sit in the work order backlog until it's too late to head off reactive maintenance. Planning and scheduling help ensure correct and timely completion of the proactive work. Furthermore, maintenance management staffs these elements of the organization. It hires and trains personnel for the various roles.

However, after somewhat easily planning, organizing and staffing the maintenance workforce, management typically has more difficulty with the concepts of directing and controlling. Instead of directing toward the goal of assets functioning to provide production capacity, many plants become bogged down with the reality of reactive maintenance. Directing tends to be how to handle the latest reactive maintenance and settle for good, but not great, maintenance results. Management has put into place a PM program, a PdM group and some project work, yet the busy maintenance force does not complete all the PM work, PdM results do not form a considerable portion of the executed work, and the plant still has a certain amount of failures that, while not overwhelming, is significant. Planners are in place, but frustrated. Controlling seems to be simply an exercise in making key performance indicators (KPIs)) look good. These results are common because typically management is better at specializing (planning, organizing and staffing) than at coordination (directing and controlling).

In light of these results, management instead can focus on persistently asking a couple of simple questions to greatly increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the entire maintenance program. The first question maintenance managers should ask themselves and others each week is, "How did we do on the weekly schedule?" This question deems schedule success as being "the ultimate measure of proactive maintenance" (as put forth by John Crossan of Clorox Company in 1997) and driving a lot of good maintenance behavior. The "abstract" idea of keeping assets functional by not letting them break quickly drowns in the heat of the reactive maintenance environment. When something does break, the maintenance workforce must become a service organization to restore service. Obviously, this continual effort to restore service as quickly as possible can creep into the mindset as the very objective of maintenance. This false reasoning is common because there is a sense of busyness and mission when maintenance takes care of all the reactive work and most of the PM's. Other low priority work in the backlog is seen as "fill-in work" and enough does not get completed. Proper management attention to schedule success helps correct this reasoning. The proper reasoning should be that the backlog is "the work," and if completed in a timely manner, will reduce reactive work. Even so, the idea of the "whole backlog" as "the work" is daunting. Instead, management should focus the workforce only on the amount of work it can do in a single week. The scheduler picks the work in the best interest of the plant out of the backlog to match the labor hours available for the next week. With this reasonable and focused goal, productivity actually increases for the typical maintenance workforce and it completes more proactive work beyond the normal reactive and PM work, enough to make a difference. The concept of schedule success being the ultimate measure of proactive maintenance is this: the degree to which a maintenance workforce can complete a weekly schedule is the degree to which it is getting control of the plant. The question is really, "Did we get control of the plant last week or did the plant get control of us?" The question, "How did we do...?" refocuses the workforce on the real objective, doing the backlog work that increases production capacity. Management wants to get control of the plant by having at least a week's notice of any maintenance required.

The question also drives a lot of good planning and scheduling behavior. The only way to actually measure schedule success is from the prerequisite of having started the week with a schedule. The only way to have a weekly schedule is to have enough planned work orders. The only way to have enough planned work orders is to have planners in place to plan and also have the plant generating enough proactive or lower priority work orders. The only way planners can plan enough work orders is they must manage the time they can allot to placing time estimates and the level of detail in each plan. All of these good behaviors stem from having a clear and simple objective: the weekly schedule.

With this focus and good behavior directed by the first question, the second question maintenance managers should ask themselves and others is, "What is the biggest issue we had where I can help?" If there is low schedule success, something went wrong. There is a gap. Management's job is to control the gap between desired and actual performance. Did the schedule success suffer because of a high incidence of emergency and reactive work that could not wait a week? What is the most prevalent reason for the work that could not wait? Are there not the proper proactive work orders in the schedule? Why not? Did the schedule success suffer because of other work that could have waited? Why was that work done? Was there low schedule success without other interrupting work? Was this gap because of job plan problems or work execution issues? Having the right first question to help direct maintenance easily guides management to the right second question to properly control and help improve maintenance.

This consideration seems like a lot of semantics, but it helps focus the maintenance workforce and makes a difference. With two simple questions, management is directing maintenance toward its correct objective (functioning assets to produce operational capacity) and controlling to improve the effort. Seriously ask these two questions and get to work. How did we do on the weekly schedule? What is the biggest issue we had where I can help?

Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP is a Managing Partner with Richard Palmer and Associates. He has over three decades of industrial experience as a practitioner, primarily within the maintenance department of the Jacksonville Electric Authority, a major United States electric utility. He is the author of McGraw-Hill Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook.

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