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The Planner: The Heart of the Maintenance Process

Planning and Scheduling Image

1. Selection of the planner:

The right person at the right place

Planner is not the job to be assigned to just any one of the crew. You will need to develop selection criteria that assure that the right people are chosen. The criteria are both technical and personal and may include:

  • A good maintenance background, such as one of the maintenance crew of the plant would have, regarding specific crafts, mainly, mechanical, instrument, and electrical. The advantage of this is will be that the planner will be familiar with the plant hierarchy structure, equipment history, execution constraints, and special needs. Such a person also will be aware of the maintenance policies and procedures that are implemented by the company. Specialization in a specific craft is a core skill, but as a support skill the planner will need to have knowledge of multiple crafts. Promoting a maintenance foreman to a planner is recommended over hiring a planner from the outside.
  • Good communication and teamwork skills. As one of the maintenance crew, the planner will have open communication channels with other parties of the process (e.g., operations and maintenance teams). This will ease building partnerships with other stakeholders.
  • Computer literacy. This is a support skill and will add more quality to the planner's deliverables.

Introducing planning concepts and philosophy to such a person will be much easier, and getting immersed in the planning and scheduling process will be effortless and handy.

2. Development of the planner:

A few exercises are necessary to keep your heart fit

Now, as you have the person who is ready to serve as a planner, it is vital to start developing his or her skills to get maximum efficiency and quality product. Developing the planner's skills will go in two parallel directions: one will focus on technical competencies, and the other will improve interpersonal skills. Both types of training are critical for the planner to do the job in an effective manner.

  • Technical competencies development:
  • The planner must be aware of the expectations for planning and scheduling, which are the return on investment for that job.
  • Planning and scheduling best practices are the core of the job, so the planner must have a comprehensive knowledge of the best practices on how to perform the job. This training should be linked to the implemented processes and work flow within the organization.
  • CMMS training: CMMS is the main tool used to support implementation of the processes. The planner must have advanced training on that software and be aware of the system functions, features, and capabilities. The planner should not only know how to enter data on the system but also how to enter useful, accurate, and complete data. Much more important than data entry is how to get information from the system: how to tailor and produce reports that give a clear picture on current work status and bottlenecks in the process. Data reporting and analysis are vital in maintenance planning.
  • Interpersonal skills development:

The work environment and job description of the planner dictates some essential interpersonal skills that will help the planner to perform the job effectively. The planner's job is a technical job that requires coordination between different teams, starting from receiving operation's request for a specific job; through planning, scheduling, and follow-up execution with maintenance; then final reporting and feedback. This scope requires the following skills to be developed and sustained:

  • Communication skills: the planner should be able to communicate clearly with all parties, sending and receiving messages with visible contents and objectives.
  • Teamwork / coordination skills: the planner will work with operations, maintenance, warehouse, engineering, safety, and other departments that may be involved in a specific job; this will require a high caliber of teamwork and coordination.
  • Meeting management skills: in preparing and conducting weekly and monthly scheduling meetings, these skills will be of high value to the business.
  • Conflict resolution skills: in many situations, where clashes between operations and maintenance occur, the planner should be able to intervene within a specific authority level to resolve those conflicts in a way that makes the work run smoothly without affecting the production and maintenance targets.
  • Time management skills: working between site visits and the office, planning multiple jobs with different priorities, and handling some coordination issues require good time utilization and management.

3. Using the planner:

  • Use the planner only to plan (Your heart doesn't digest food)

If you have a problem with your stomach, would the doctor recommend using your heart for food digestion? Of course not! The same goes for the planner, whose duties should be limited to those in the planner's job description. I recommend that each planner write a reminder on his or her office board or hang a sign on the office door, to remind everyone in the maintenance organization:

  • I am a planner
  • I am NOT a maintenance foreman
  • I am NOT a maintenance supervisor
  • I am NOT a secretary
  • I DON'T run after a rush job

Efficient utilization of the planner's time is fundamental. The advantage of having a planner within your team will be smashed by utilizing the planner in other jobs that take his or her focus out of planning. Using the planner in other jobs rather than planning and scheduling is a short, effective message that you can live without a planner. Planning is a full-time job for the planner; if it turns to "let the planner do planning when the planner has time," expect a collapse of the maintenance planning function.

  • Get the benefit of the planner's craft skills (Your heart can't circulate blood to a neighbor's body)

When it comes to the planner's assignment, the question that rises is, "shall we assign planners by area or assign planners by craft?" Or, if we have group of planners with different craft skills (e.g., mechanical, electrical, instruments) working in a plant with different functional areas:

  • Would you assign each planner to a different area to plan mechanical, electrical, and instrument jobs irrespective of the planner's technical background?
  • Or would you assign each planner to multiple areas to plan only jobs that match with that planner's technical experience?

To answer, let's think back to what I mentioned in the introduction of the interpersonal skills section: the planner's job is a technical job that requires coordination between different teams. A maintenance planning job requires experience with performing maintenance, so we recommend selecting a planner with a maintenance execution background. To get benefit of the planner's past field experience, the second option seems more practical and efficient.

In the first option, if it is not a simple job, the planner will need to consult many partners to reach the final perfect job plan. This will mean interruption to his other craft planner colleagues and to maintenance performers who are expecting the job to be planned and ready for execution without deep involvements as they are focusing only on performing jobs at site. Jobs will consume more time and effort to be planned than expected, and accuracy also is not completely guaranteed.

In the second option (recommended), the planner will use his or her own work experience to plan the job with minimal interruption to others. We all concur that a planner should be skilled in multiple crafts but be an expert in a specific technical field, and the planner would use this additional knowledge for minor or simple jobs that are different from the planner's main background.

We try to employ the planner in the best effective way that makes the job expectations visible and achievable. Simply, it is the same as with a general practitioner doctor and a specialist doctor; normally a general practitioner doesn't do surgery but can give first aid until the patient is seen by the specialist.

4. The planner's role within the maintenance organization:

The heart is integrated with other body functions

It is very important to recognize the value of the planner in the process and give more attention to the planner's role, starting from selection through development to employment. More important is to realize that planner is not working alone but is part of the maintenance organization. Any defect in the organization will have negative impacts on the planner's deliverables. Expectations from planners are achieved with the following:

A solid planning and scheduling process:

    Developing a clear, firm, and solid maintenance planning and scheduling process and related procedures is essential to the planner's job. Although most parties may say the rules are clear, documentation is extremely valuable. This process must focus on achieving the maintenance planning objectives, ensuring proper function performance, monitoring, and reporting. The processes must have clear assigned responsibilities for all participants to ensure that maintenance activities are correctly initiated, planned, executed, and reported.

    Developing a RACI matrix as part of this process is advantageous, in addition to job flow charts. Management must show support and commitment to the process and enforce the adherence of all maintenance workforces.

    A proper work load for the planner:

      It is very important to assign the proper number of planners in your maintenance organization. Your heart can effectively serve only your body, so maintaining the proper ratio of planners to maintenance workers (planners control span) is crucial to the process. This ratio is governed by many factors. The level of planning details required and the skill levels of planners' maintenance personnel are two key factors. The structure and strength of the planning process, applied maintenance strategy, CMMS implementation and utilization, the nature and criticality of the industry, and your targets of planning and scheduling performance are other important factors. Normally the ratio ranges between 15-20 craftspeople for each planner.

      The planner's role in the organization structure:

        The planner must fit within the maintenance organization in a way that allows the planner to do his or her job in effective way. The planner must report to the maintenance manager or the maintenance engineering manager, or a planning engineer layer may be introduced

        The planner's position must be given high rank to send the message to staff that planning is an important function. The planner should not report to maintenance performers; the planner has to work freely away from the influence of performer authority in order to avoid using the planner in jobs other than planning and in order to prevent using performer authority for data manipulation to show that maintenance performance is in good shape.

        Ideally, the planner should be equal in rank to the maintenance supervisor in order to create authority balance and maintain work stability.

        As a final tip, the planner is an important role in the maintenance organization. The planner must be selected, developed, and utilized in the best effective way to secure the expected output from the job. Management is requested to support the whole planning process and assure that the planner is recognized within the organization.

        Tarek Atout Image

        Tarek Atout, CMRP, is currently a maintenance planning engineer in Qatar Gas in their new expansion project. He has 20 years of experience in maintenance planning and scheduling in oil and gas industries. Tarek has worked with many international organizations as a consultant in maintenance planning, work management, and inventory control, and he has worked in many countries in the Middle East.

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