Spans of Control for Maintenance Planners and Others

Jeff Shiver, People and Processes

As you may know, I travel frequently. The first part of the week was no different as I found myself on a flight to Atlanta. I was leafing through a maintenance book when the person across the aisle struck up a conversation. Turns out, he worked as a veteran maintenance supervisor in a large mill where he has worked for the last two years. He spoke about how things were bad from a reactive standpoint and had gotten worse after the mill downsized.

As part of the downsizing effort, they had slaughtered some key players and replaced them with some not-so-key players. We talked about how their maintenance planning and scheduling activities were progressing, to which he was disappointed in the progress they had achieved.

It turns out that he had two maintenance planner/schedulers with a span of control of about 1:25, yet he was still doing a tremendous amount of planning and scheduling himself. He commented that the span of 1:25 fell within the best practices guidelines. In addition, he mentioned from previous training that he learned that a planner should be able to plan three jobs per day but the planners were unable to accomplish this amount of planning.

After some additional conversation, we came to understand some of the opportunities present at the mill. I bet you could relate to the rest of the story: Management is dysfunctional. The storeroom is in disarray. The CMMS/EAM system was poorly implemented, and if a part existed in stores, you could not find it in the CMMS.

So, let’s look as some possible solutions to help this gentleman. There never is but one silver bullet that will fix this stuff and, often, it’s not easy.

Remember that a good job plan can start out with three items: the crafts required, the estimated hours needed, along with the parts and materials. These three items are an excellent start, provided that you have a process for continuous improvement, also called a feedback loop. When the crafts execute the job, they should write down additional information to improve the plan, such as tools or additional parts required and task steps.

When the planner gets this information back, they update the plan so that it’s ready for the next use. You might be able to enlist the help of a clerical person (if you are short on planner resources) who does well tippy-tapping on the keyboard. By doing approaching job plans in this manner, you may find that a planner can successfully plan more than three jobs per day.

All of that said, you still may find planning to be a bottleneck if you are very reactive and the supporting systems have not been well implemented. While maintenance planning and scheduling can happen using a paper system over computerized tools, it’s still dependent on the supporting structures for success. For example, if your purchasing process is a nightmare, that can slow down the efforts.

If the storeroom and materials management areas are poorly implemented and in shambles, that can affect the planning and scheduling processes, as well. There are a number of other factors that can influence maintenance planning and scheduling success, like the support of maintenance supervision. Now you can see why I tell people that formal maintenance planning and scheduling training is only half of the education required.

Formal training should be followed up with coaching and mentoring for the maintenance planner/schedulers. This will help identify and enable the removal of obstacles that impede the planning and scheduling processes.

You also may want to consider reducing the span of control for your maintenance planner/schedulers. The recommended span of control for maintenance planning and scheduling is 15 to 30 craftspeople per maintenance planner. Supervision is recommended at eight to 15 crafts per supervisor. If your organization is really reactive, you may want to focus closer to the 15 craftspeople per planner and eight per supervisor. As you become more proactive, you can always adjust the ratio higher over time to reflect that improvement.

What else could you identify from your world that would help a reader in a similar situation?

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About the Author

As a managing principal for People and Processes, Jeff Shiver helps organizations implement best practices for maintenance and operations. Prior ...