How to Achieve Effective Maintenance Planning

John Crossan

As Sisyphus well knew, pushing things up mountains is difficult, and the uphill struggle from the reactive to the proactive maintenance world is often a frustrating “three steps forward, two steps back” process. That’s a major reason why so many slide back into the familiar, ugly, day-to-day, survival morass at the bottom.

One of those steps on the way up is where preventive maintenance inspections are getting done, we’re finding things that need to be fixed and we’re fixing them. However, we’re still not getting that much better. We’re constantly fixing the same things over and over.

The famous quote, “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it,” remains as true as always.

Granted, the “find it, fix it and move on” mode is a big step up from the “fix it when it breaks” mode, but it doesn’t look or feel like great improvement, so many get discouraged and tend to look for faster, more rewarding opportunities.

This is where the maintenance planner can really make a contribution.

An item I emphasize in maintenance planning and scheduling classes is the importance of the planner. One of the planner’s first activities on the job is to check to see if we’ve done this work before on this or similar equipment. If we can get the planning information from previous work (even copy the work order), a huge amount of the planner’s time is saved.

That’s a big improvement for planner productivity and accuracy, but what’s a huge plus for maintenance and operational improvement is that now the planner is looking at the number of times the same work has been done before. This tends to raise the questions of why and what can we do about it. That way, we don’t just keep making that same repair over and over again. We get folks together and work on it. Usually, it’s an operational or equipment care gap that we can fix pretty quickly. Now, we really start to get better.

I remember a case of a motor that kept burning out every six months or so. It was a small motor, and someone different was always making the fix on a different shift. It was a pretty quick replacement, so it took a while to get noticed.

A sprocket had been replaced on an emergency repair, and since the right one wasn’t in stock, the closest one was substituted. No follow-up work order was written to make the right replacement. The motor was overloaded, but not tremendously, so it took a while to die. Of course, it seemed that we were always replacing small motors anyway. Therefore, why would this one stand out?

However, if you search for that work in a CMMS system, the list of occurrences jumps up right away, and it’s pretty obvious we need to ask why.

The big issues in plants are usually well-known and as a result have a somewhat reasonable chance of getting attention. But the planner is really the only one looking at all the repairs and is likely to see patterns in the smaller ones. Routinely finding and fixing small items is a key indicator of excellence.

Still, using history requires a few things, the biggest of which is a value for using history. As a society, we’d rather jump in and just do it and not “waste time” researching because “this time, it’s different.” So managers need to encourage planners to do this work.

Also, there’s concern that if we don’t find anything, we’ve wasted that research time. Yet it doesn’t take that long. Besides, we’re learning what information needs to be there and can fix work orders that aren’t clear.

The quality of the information is key. The 60- or 80-character work description is the most significant information seen when a work order listing is pulled up. Therefore, that needs to tell the story clearly. A work request description often states an issue, but the final description should describe the actual work.

Something else I recommend is routinely visiting completed work orders to make sure all useful information is captured. Unfortunately, completing paperwork does not have the same value for all personnel, and everyone does not know or understand the use and significance of the various work order fields. Besides, it’s always useful to actually talk to mechanics to find out how things went and what could have been better in the plan. That’s how we get better at planning, too. Effective planning is always a team activity.

About the Author

Currently working as a consultant, John Crossan retired after spending 30-plus years with the Clorox Company. His roles for much of the past 14 years were mainly focused on improving operations by fostering the installation and ongoing implementation of basic manufacturing and maintenance procedural mechanisms across 30 varied plants in the U.S. and Canada. Prior to Clorox, John also held operational and engineering roles with Johnson & Johnson and the Burndy Corporation. He can be reached via e-mail at or online at

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About the Author

Currently working as a consultant, John Crossan retired after spending 30-plus years with the Clorox Company. His roles for much of the past 14 years were mainly focused on improving operations ...