Creating a Planning and Scheduling Standard with Intelligent Automation

John Reeve
Tags: planning and scheduling

Creating a Planning and Scheduling Standard with Intelligent Automation

Planning and scheduling (P&S) has always been a hot topic. Books on this subject sell well, and conferences always have presenters discussing the concept. But it’s my observation that the details of P&S are often overlooked.

These authors and speakers primarily center their discussions around planning, or they prescribe a solution based on their company’s solution and ignore the overall requirements needed to effectively manage the data, critical roles, and processes.

Typically, the maintenance community recognizes the importance of scheduling but lacks the resources to perform the task. One such resource is scheduling software – this is often underutilized due to a lack of awareness, operational knowledge, and adoption of its automated features, such as resource-leveling.

Types of Maintenance Work Scheduling

There are two types of work scheduling:

  1. Daily and weekly
  2. Major projects

While similar in their end goals, the two have significant differences.

Major projects include shutdown/turnaround/outage (STO) scheduling and software implementation. A daily or weekly scheduler typically doesn’t know how to create an STO schedule, and an STO scheduler wouldn’t normally be assigned daily or weekly scheduling duties.

While almost every industry can benefit from daily or weekly scheduling, STO scheduling is typically only useful for the oil and gas industry or large power plants (e.g., nuclear) where operational downtime must be minimized to avoid a devastating loss in revenue.

Major projects scheduling is best performed using advanced software capable of creating:

Daily or weekly scheduling can be created manually – a planner/scheduler creates the schedule by referencing backlogged work and assigning a technician to complete the job. This schedule can be documented by hand or entered into an Excel or Word document. The act of scheduling identifies the craft (or person) doing the work, the estimated craft hours, the craft availability, and the day of the week. This process also requires that work in the backlog be properly ranked or prioritized.

Despite its straightforward nature, many find weekly scheduling the most difficult to execute. In fact, up to 90% of organizations do not have an automated scheduling practice or rely on subjective selection (from the backlog). There are many reasons for this, but the point is if they trusted the automation process to create a “first pass”, they would dramatically increase workforce efficiency and optimize backlog reduction.

Further, with true automation, any size organization in any industry could benefit from generating a weekly maintenance schedule within a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS). Either they do not know this, or the process does not support automation due to bad data or a lack of key data accuracy (i.e., accurate work order prioritization).

Maintenance Scheduling is a Best Practice and Advanced Process

Asset-intensive organizations need asset management to promote increased reliability, productivity, and safety. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to have more maintenance work than available craft resources, making it crucial for leaders to prioritize work and rank the backlog by importance.  

However, this is difficult to accomplish – even though daily or weekly maintenance scheduling is considered an industry best practice, there are no documented P&S standards. With no formal standard in place, scheduling is left up to individual interpretation, which can be extremely labor-intensive. But, by employing an automated solution within their CMMS, they could successfully achieve P&S goals.

Intelligent Automation

There is a great deal of confusion about what is meant by “automation.” This is where P&S books fall short; they typically describe a manually created schedule.

In reality, as defined by Siemens, automation is a “solution that helps manage production planning and shop floor scheduling [by] using advanced algorithms to balance demand and capacity and generate achievable production schedules.”

Intelligent automation enables an organization to generate a “set of work” as a first pass, which is then used by planners to create work packages.

After this work is fully planned, the scheduler runs a resource-leveling program (RLP) to deliver to the weekly schedule review team. In this meeting, the reviewers may add or subtract work. When finished, the RLP is run a final time, creating the official weekly schedule. At this point, the maintenance supervisor creates the daily plans referencing the weekly schedule.

Resource-Leveling Program

A project management solution that resolves overallocation or scheduling conflicts to ensure a project can be completed with the available resources, including time, materials, and tools needed to complete a project.
Source: Asana

Although advanced processes have prerequisites, they provide the greatest payback in terms of efficiency and productivity. But, without resource alignment, daily or weekly maintenance scheduling is nearly impossible.

For example, to use intelligent automation, the backlog must contain:

Roles Versus Tactical Positions

It is important to note that many small organizations don’t have P&S positions. Therefore, with intelligent automation, the role of reviewing incoming work and assigning a rough estimate (lead craft, estimate, duration) could be given to anyone, including:

Using a CMMS to Create the First Pass

No one can manually evaluate hundreds (or even thousands) of work orders with multi-craft requirements and come up with the ideal set of work. Consequently, organizations that do try to manually generate a weekly schedule often rely on subjective selection methods.

But RLPs provide a quick and efficient solution. Because they run so fast, the weekly schedule review team can perform routines such as opportunistic scheduling. With opportunistic scheduling, non-selected work can be considered for addition because they are at the same remote location as the selected work.

Once approved, each craft supervisor will reference this weekly schedule when creating their daily shift plans, making sure to incorporate any emergent or incomplete work from the last 24 hours.

Recognizing Bad Data

For many organizations, the number one issue they encounter with automation is bad schedule data. Bad schedule data includes backlogs that have:

Many user communities fail to recognize the importance of capturing the estimated time to complete (ETC) at the end of the week because most CMMS products do not accommodate any form of weekly scheduling (as a base product) and lack a resource-leveling algorithm to prevent the over- and under-scheduling of craft resources.

Implementing a Strategic Improvement Plan

As I mentioned, bad data is the number one reason why companies don’t create a weekly schedule. However, this problem can be resolved by implementing a plan that addresses data, roles, and processes.

The six steps to implementing an improvement plan are:

Step One: Identifying the company's bad data and defining applicable methods for fixing this data. 

Step Two: Creating a Data Quality Plan that describes:

Data Quality Plan

The process of defining the business goals, objectives, specific initiatives, and sustained activities to improve data integrity, accuracy, and trustworthiness.
Source: HealthIT

Step Three: Implementing a new role, such as a Gatekeeper. 

Step Four: Implementing new fields to capture critical data, such as:

Step Five: Implementing:

Step Six: Altering processes and roles in support of the previous steps. 


All organizations can immediately benefit from applying intelligent automation within their CMMS and recognizing that the ideal process is to let an RLP perform the initial pass to create the “set of work”, which leads to a weekly maintenance schedule. Once intelligent automation can be trusted, then this process enables organizations to do more with less.

In summary, the benefits are quite tangible:

By taking advantage of this severely underutilized best practice, facilities across the globe, no matter the size of their P&S department, can enhance their maintenance planning and scheduling routines and successfully transition from a reactive to a proactive culture.