Get More Maintenance Work Done with Proper Planning

John Crossan

Famous financier Bernard Baruch was often quoted as saying, “Two and two still and always will equal four.” This, some would say, quaint concept has fallen out of favor more and more in recent years, as clearly the restrictiveness of basic arithmetic is not something that should continue to bind us in today’s brave new world.

It’s much more useful if two and two can equal:

  • Whatever analysts are expecting it to be (or better).
  • Whatever your boss wants it to be.
  • Whatever will make this current project justifiable.

Keeping this in mind, some odd-looking math that actually works in plant maintenance is the rule that:
“10 minus 1 equals 16.5.”

This rule is a huge help with another rule that is always pretty much true:
“In most plants, there are never enough maintenance people.”

If I have 10 maintenance mechanics and the backlog just keeps growing, how can you get more maintenance work done?

Hiring more people is usually a long and difficult process, and always the longest, most difficult part is getting the approval (usually, rightly so).

Contractors are an option and will definitely get the work done (and usually best for specialized tasks), but they can eat up the budget pretty quickly.

Overtime eats budgets, too, and also burns people out after not too long.

You can also just beat on everyone to get more done, but that becomes counterproductive fairly quickly. Plus, since you’re typically working in a broken process to begin with, how much more can you really get done? Work ethic (except in a small number of cases) isn’t the problem. However, frustration can be.

Or, you can just live (or try to), as many do, with the anxiety, excitement, frustration and consequences of not getting done what really needs to be done.

But suppose you take your best, most organized mechanic and put him in a planning role, charging him and the group with using him solely as a resource to work with them to:

  • Identify the best, quickest way of doing a job.

  • Identify materials, tools, etc., needed to do that job in the best way. This way, they can be prepped ahead of time.

  • Work with the supervisor (or scheduler) to build a schedule based on realistic resource times.

This way, you get more done with the people you have just by not wasting their time. (Believe it or not, the majority of people actually like this.)

Of course, many times the response to this proposal is a variety of colorful expressions, all unflattering and casting unkind doubt about various attributes and the heredity of the proposer. Milder ones include:

  • “How can we afford to give up a mechanic to become a planner? There’s just too much work to get done.”

  • “You want us to take our best mechanic out of the workforce and have him do paperwork? Are you nuts?”

But numbers that various reputable surveys have pulled together over the years typically and consistently show that the usual unplanned maintenance work setup results in an actual working time (or so-called wrench-turning time) of about 35 percent of the available time of mechanics. The rest of the time is spent in many other ways, including:

  • Traveling to and from the job site and various other places (maintenance shop, parts room, lunchroom, washroom, receiving dock, supervisor’s office, engineer’s office, production manager’s office, etc.)

  • Waiting for equipment to become available (behind schedule because of an earlier breakdown)

  • Determining how to do the job and what materials, etc., are needed (traveling to all those places above and consulting with them)

  • Getting materials (after you find them; if you don’t, then you have to go through your determining process again)

  • Getting tools (unless someone else is using them or didn’t put them back, then you have a finding process)

  • Getting help when needed (traveling and consulting again)

  • Job cleanup (if you ever get done)

  • Tool cleanup (if you ever get done)

  • Etc.

The same surveys typically show that on a well-planned, scheduled basis, actual working time rises to about 65 percent of the available time with all the non-working time components being significantly reduced.

So if you convert one mechanic out of your 10 to a planner, you have nine mechanics working at 65 percent vs. the previous 35 percent. Thus, effectively you now have 16.5 of your current 35 percent mechanics.

You just added 6.5 mechanics by moving to planned and scheduled work.

  • Or, “10 minus 1 equals 16.5″
  • Or, “Buy 1 and get 6.5 free”

Based on this, how can you afford not to commit to a planner? Some would say, “Most of our work is emergency work anyway with no time for planning, so how can a planner help?” Well, the key is just to start.

There has to be some work being done in scheduled downtime, where there is some time for planning. Start with that. If you start to get the scheduled repair work done much faster and better (or even just close to the time you estimated) in the scheduled downtime, then amazingly you start to be able to get the preventive maintenance work done in the scheduled downtime rather than skipped.

Without PM inspections, there is no hope of getting away from a lot of emergency work. But with them, there is.

Inspections generate work orders for more non-immediate repair work that can be planned and scheduled — work that you actually get done (and done right). Emergency work — the most inefficient use of resources — begins to go down. You then begin to start a cycle of goodness.

Many other good things start to happen, too — a major one being that you begin to get more credibility. That opens a lot of doors.

Of course, dramatic reduction doesn’t happen overnight. There is individual and group training, developing the process, getting acceptance and commitment to get the process going, and some system setup. But it does begin to have an effect very quickly. Just start.

OK. So you don’t get all of your additional mechanics right away, but you start to get some. Even if you don’t get the planning and scheduling system good enough to get them all, you’re still well ahead of where you were.

The comment I always heard after a planning system was in place was, “We’re just getting a lot more work done.” It’s amazing how that helps.

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

Subscribe to Machinery Lubrication

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 ...