Time Zones Create Maintenance Planning Lag

Doc Palmer
Tags: planning and scheduling, maintenance and reliability

A primary reason that planning fails is that planners do not plan! They do not have time to plan because they are in the wrong time zone.

Figure 1 shows the cycle of maintenance improvement possible through maintenance planning. First, a planner plans a job. Then, a technician works the job. During the job, the technician learns something. The technician records this information as feedback. The next time the job occurs, the planner uses the feedback to improve the job plan.The next technician receives a better job plan. Productivity and quality improve each time the planner improves the plan.

For example, a pipe flange leaks and a planner plans to break the flange and replace the gasket. On the job later, the technician breaks the spool at both ends. The technician learns that the job really needed two gaskets and records this as feedback. Six months later, the same piping run has a leaking flange and the planner ensures the plan includes two gaskets. Does this matter?

Are maintenance jobs repetitive? Is there opportunity for improvement over time? Yes, yes, yes! Most maintenance jobs are repetitive. The perception they are not stems from different technicians working different jobs over the course of time. A crew might repeat a similar job on the same piece of equipment several times over the course of several years, but each time with a different technician. Yet, maintenance must take the long view and recognize that equipment needs recurring maintenance, often in a similar fashion.

Figure 2 shows the planning zone where planners live. Planners live in the future and the past (at the same time!). They live in the future because they plan work that supervisors haven’t yet assigned. They plan to head off potential delays and leverage their often-superior experience as top technicians. Nevertheless, they also live in the past as file clerks or librarians researching for helpful information. They want to leverage the experience of the 20 to 30 technicians for which they plan.

Figure 3 shows that technicians live in the maintenance zone. They live in the present. The technicians work the jobs and learn the lessons. These lessons are not the “light bulb above the head” single ideas that transform maintenance. These lessons involve special wrench sizes, recorded part numbers and unusual clearance details that make jobs better each time around. As a whole, these seemingly minute improvements, job-by-job, year-in and year-out, transform maintenance. They feed the files in the planning department.

Unfortunately, many planners do not live in the future or the past. They live in the present.

Figure 4 shows planners helping technicians with jobs-in-progress. Technicians often find they need more information after they start assignments. It would seem natural that technicians engage planners (who did not provide the perfect plan) to help. In addition, the planner is often the best suited at finding information quickly to prevent a team of stymied technicians from remaining idle.

Yet Figure 5 shows that this seemingly reasonable practice thwarts planning’s effect on long-term maintenance improvement. Many planners are overwhelmed “chasing parts” for jobs-in-progress and have no time for either planning future jobs or researching past jobs. The cycle of maintenance improvement breaks down.

Management must protect planners and allow them to stay in the planning zone.

Doc Palmer is the author of the “Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook.” He is a CMRP and has nearly 25 years of industrial experience as a practitioner within the maintenance department of a major electric utility. From 1990 through 1994, he was responsible for overhauling the existing maintenance planning organization. The resulting success played a role in expanding planning to all crafts and stations owned and operated by the utility.