Crew supervisors rule daily schedule

Doc Palmer

My preceding Reliable Plant columns presented the six principles of planning and then started presenting the six principles of scheduling, now to arrive at the fifth scheduling principle. These principles have built onto each other, finally arriving in the last column at the creation of the weekly schedule. Nevertheless, each principle points out concepts that can help any planning organization on its own. This is even truer of the fifth principle, which states that the planning group does not create the daily schedule. How about that? The planners aren't involved with the daily schedule. More precisely, this principle gives control of the daily schedule to the crew supervisor.

This transfer of responsibility is primarily due to the uncertain nature of individual job estimates made by the planners. Maintenance work isn't assembly line work where industrial standards for motion and actions can precisely determine time estimates for individual work orders. Many maintenance jobs on specific equipment are performed less than a single time per year and rarely by the same craftsperson. Even by moving each job up its own learning curve with a good file system, I still claim that "job estimates are only plus or minus 100 percent accurate." A job estimated to be four hours long actually might be worked in as little as one to two hours or take as long as eight hours. (Anyone who has ever worked on his or her own car might agree with this.) Even so, the estimates have a very even distribution of accuracy, and a week's worth of work typically averages out to be only 10 percent off in accuracy overall.

The application of these accuracies means the planning group can put together a simple list of work orders as a weekly schedule, but the daily schedule itself must be managed each day. The planners must work in the future while the daily scheduling activity must be managed in the present. Daily scheduling isn't a planner function.

To illustrate this point, consider the first day of a typical work week (say Monday). The crew supervisor used the estimated times of jobs in the weekly schedule list to create a daily schedule for individual crafts personnel. However, by the middle of the day, the supervisor notes that some of the jobs that should be finished today look like they will require some extra time tomorrow. The supervisor also observes that two jobs that were supposed to take all day are almost complete. What's more, the supervisor decides to interrupt a lower-priority job for a new urgent task that operations insists can't wait until tomorrow. The supervisor does have some success by gaining an operator agreement that another crisis could wait until later in the week. Thus, the creator of Tuesday's schedule must be aware of what is going on with today's schedule.

This is the perfect assignment for the supervisor, who should be in the field most of the day. This isn't so with the planner, who should be in the office most of the day creating future work plans.

Furthermore, remember that the planning function is to help the supervisor, not take away all supervisor duties. In addition to daily scheduling being a supervisor task, assigning names is clearly a supervisor responsibility. The supervisor knows who called in sick today. The supervisor knows who the best person is for this pump job. The supervisor knows who needs more experience with fans and should be assigned to that job. The supervisor knows who works best with whom and, vice versa, who to keep apart from whom. (Ah, we cannot escape the human element.)

Along with creating the daily schedule, the supervisor must also manage the daily schedule in respect to equipment work permits. Requesting equipment clearances from operations on a daily basis requires precise knowledge of when the crew will be available to work, so coordinating clearances also falls best to the supervisor.

Finally, to emphasize the point, it's the supervisor's responsibility to react to true emergencies even to the extent of rescheduling the entire crew and forsaking the daily schedule, if necessary.

Go, supervisors! These people are critical to our maintenance success. Don't try to eliminate them with planners. Instead, provide them with role clarity in the planning strategy.

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.

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About the Author

Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook and as managing partner of Richard Palmer and Associates helps companies worl...