Maintenance Planning and Scheduling: An Overview

Jonathan Trout, Noria Corporation

Proper maintenance and scheduling, when done right, can greatly increase productivity. Below we discuss how to implement maintenance planning and scheduling and more.

Maintenance Planning and Scheduling  

Breaking Down Maintenance Planning and Scheduling

The 34th president of the United States and an American army general, Dwight D. Eisenhower is famous for making the paradoxical statement, "In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." He essentially was saying that plans often don't work out the way you lay them out once an actual emergency arises; however, the planning process makes you thoroughly explore all possible options and possibilities. The knowledge you gain from planning is vital when it comes to choosing appropriate actions.

In the modern world of manufacturing, higher productivity that produces quality products at the lowest cost possible is what companies strive for to stay ahead of the competition. Maintenance planning and scheduling are two different functions that, when used together, form a maintenance program.

Maintenance planning can be defined as an end-to-end process that identifies and addresses any possible issues ahead of time. This involves identifying the parts and tools necessary for jobs and making sure they're available and laid out in the appropriate areas, having a planner write out instructions on how to complete a job, and even determining and gathering the necessary parts and/or tools before a job is assigned. Maintenance planning also includes tasks related to parts like:

  • Handling reserve parts
  • Ordering nonstock parts
  • Staging parts
  • Illustrating parts
  • Managing breakdowns and vendor lists
  • Quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC)

Maintenance planning should define the "what," "why" and "how." This means specifying what work needs to be done with what materials, tools and equipment; why a particular action was chosen (why a valve is being replaced instead of a seat); and how the work should be completed.

Maintenance scheduling refers to the timing of planned work, when the work should be done and who should perform it. It offers details of "when" and "who." Scheduling is meant to:

  • Schedule the maximum amount of work with the available resources
  • Schedule according to the highest priority work orders
  • Schedule the maximum number of preventive maintenance jobs when necessary
  • Minimize the use of contract and outside resources by effectively using internal labor

When implemented together, maintenance planning and scheduling should have a significant benefit in multiple areas of your organization. These can include:

  • Help with budgeting by controlling resources associated with maintenance
  • A reduction in equipment downtime
  • A reduction in spare parts
  • Improved workflow
  • Improved efficiency by minimizing the movement of resources between areas

Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Principles

As discussed earlier, the purpose of maintenance planning is to determine the correct maintenance jobs and get them ready for scheduling. To do this, a designated planner develops a work plan (sometimes called a job plan) for each work request. These work plans detail everything a technician must do and use to accomplish the task. There are six maintenance planning principles to guide planning in the appropriate direction.

Maintenance Planning Principles

  1. Protect the planner: Planners are removed from the maintenance crews and put into separate groups to facilitate specialized planning techniques and focus on future work. By removing planners from the maintenance crew for which they plan and having them report to a different supervisor, the planning function is protected. As difficult as it may be at times, planners should never be used as field technicians to help complete work, so they can focus solely on planning for future work.
  2. Focus on future work: This principle states that the planning group should only focus on future work – work that hasn't been started yet – so it can give the maintenance department at least one week of backlogged work that is already planned and ready to go. Having this backlog allows for the creation of a weekly schedule. With the exception of emergencies, job supervisors or the technicians themselves – not the planner – should resolve any problems that come up during the job.

    Once a job is completed, the supervisor or lead technician should provide feedback to the planning group. Feedback should include things like problems encountered and changes in the work plan. In other words, if the crew encounters a problem, they should work it out themselves and finish the job. Once the job is completed, they can discuss issues with the planning group to offer helpful information about what went wrong to aid in planning for future work.

    The reason for planners to be solely focused on future work is because it's easy to get caught up in helping with other tasks. For example, say a planner comes into work on a Monday morning needing to plan for the coming weekend's crew. She also needs to file work orders for a number of jobs completed last week. Two technicians come by her office to ask if she can help them run tickets to get parts out of inventory. Another technician calls her for help finding spare parts for a draft fan. Before long, she has spent most of her morning tracking down the manufacturer and getting sidetracked.

  3. Component-level files: The planning group should maintain a simple, secure file system based on equipment tag numbers. In other words, planners should not file on a system level but rather on an individual component level. This helps planners use the equipment data obtained from previous jobs to prepare and improve future work plans. This especially holds true with repetitive tasks, since most maintenance tasks are repetitive over an extended period of time.

    When a component-level file or "mini-file" is made for each piece of equipment after the first time work is completed, data can be gathered and compared over time. Once a new piece of machinery is made available or is first worked on, planners make it a mini-file, labeling it with the same component tag number attached to the equipment in the field. Planners can use the information gathered over time to improve future processes.

  4. Use planner judgment for time estimates: Planners should use their experience and skills in addition to file information to determine time estimates for work orders. Time estimates should be reasonable with what a technician might require to complete a job without any issues. This means planners should have technical, communication and organizational data skills to make a reasonable estimate. This principle requires planners to be chosen from the organization's best technicians, possibly ones with the most seniority.

    For example, someone with 15 years of technician experience who accepted a planner position might notice in a previous work order file that a pump alignment took eight hours. He knows from experience that, when done by a competent mechanic, this task should only take around five hours, so he uses the five-hour estimate when creating the job plan for this task.

  5. Recognize the skill of the techs: Planners need to be aware of and recognize the skills of their craft technicians when determining job plans. Planners should determine the scope of the work request and plan the general strategy of the work, including a preliminary procedure if there isn't one, around skill level. The technicians then complete the task and work together with the planner on repetitive jobs to improve procedures and checklists. A common issue with this principle is making a choice between producing highly detailed job plans for technicians with minimal skills or creating minimally detailed job plans for technicians with highly skilled technicians.

    How much detail should be included in a job plan? A good rule of thumb is to develop a general strategy for 100 percent of the work hours. This will be better than a detailed plan for only 20 percent of the work hours. If there is a procedure already in the file or notes from people who have previously worked on the equipment, include those in the job plans.

    Finding the best way to leverage the skills of the technicians and ensuring they are doing what they were trained to do allows planners to be confident that they will get a task done efficiently.

  6. Measure performance with work sampling: This principle states that wrench time is the primary measure of workforce efficiency and of planning and scheduling effectiveness. Wrench time is defined as the time in which technicians are available to work and are not being kept from working on a job site by delays such as waiting for an assignment or parts and tools, obtaining clearance, travel time, etc. Planned work decreases unnecessary delays during jobs, while scheduling work reduces delays in between jobs.
Planning and scheduling principles

Maintenance Scheduling Principles

You can have a great planning department working hard to outline planning procedures and work plans, but that doesn't mean more work will get done. That's because planning makes it easier to complete individual jobs. If one job that previously took four hours to complete, now only takes two, you've still only completed one job. This is where scheduling comes in. Scheduling helps increase productivity based around six principles:

  1. Job plans are needed for scheduling: Job plans should include the number of technicians required, the minimum skill level, work hours per skill level and information on job duration. Maintenance needs this information to schedule work, and job plans provide it in an efficient way. Does the job require welding? How many welders are needed? How many assistants does the engineer require? Asking questions like these during the creation of job plans helps determine scheduling requirements.
  2. Schedules and job priorities are important: The weekly schedule and the priorities that help determine this schedule are essential to improving productivity. Weekly scheduling frees up crew supervisors to focus on the current week without worrying about the backlog. Maintenance and operations use the weekly schedule for coordinating their tasks in advance, so it's critical to properly determine the priority levels of new work orders to see if they should become part of the daily or weekly schedule.

    Prioritizing advanced scheduling helps make sure sufficient workloads are assigned, which increases productivity and ensures critical work orders are completed first.

  3. Schedule based on the projected highest skills available: This principle states that a scheduler should develop a one-week schedule for each crew based on the available technician hours, the highest skill levels available, job priorities and details from the job plans. Schedulers should select a week's worth of work from the plant backlog by using information on priority and job plan details. They should then use a forecast of the maximum capabilities of the technician crew for the coming week. After several weeks have passed, technicians should have a better idea about the amount of work they're responsible for in a given week and become more productive.
  4. Schedule for every available work hour: Bringing the previous principles together, this guideline details how much work to schedule. The scheduler should assign work plans for the technicians to complete a task during the following week for 100 percent of the forecasted hours. So, if a crew has 800 labor hours available, the scheduler would give them 800 hours' worth of work. Scheduling for 100 percent of the forecasted work hours prevents over- and under-scheduling.
  5. Daily work is handled by the crew leader: The crew leader or supervisor should develop a daily schedule based on the one-week schedule, current job progress and any new high-priority jobs that may arise. The supervisor should assign daily work to technicians based on skill level and work order requirements. In addition to the current days' workload, the supervisor should handle emergencies and reschedule assignments as needed. Daily scheduling is almost always fluid thanks to the progress of the work being performed. This makes it difficult to schedule precise job times very far in advance. Inaccuracy of individual time estimates and reactive maintenance are the two biggest factors contributing to this issue.
  6. Measure performance with schedule compliance: Scheduling success is measured by the adherence to the one-week schedule and its effectiveness. Wrench time is the ultimate measure of workforce efficiency and planning and scheduling effectiveness. Planning work before assigning it reduces unnecessary delays, while scheduled work reduces delays between jobs.

How to Implement Maintenance Planning and Scheduling

Now that you understand the guiding principles of maintenance planning and scheduling, let's take a look at how to implement them. Start-to-finish implementation can be viewed in six phases:

Maintenance planning and scheduling phases
  • Phase 1 - Setup: This phase encompasses all the steps needed to ensure your organization is onboard with implementing maintenance planning and scheduling. You should have made your case to leadership by exposing the issue of low productivity, explaining how planning and scheduling can help solve that issue, calculating the value of productivity improvement, and presenting the results in the form of return on investment (ROI).
  • Phase 2 - Define and analyze the situation: Phase two involves your team looking at your current situation and identifying problems currently faced in maintenance execution. During this phase, you should have representation from all levels of the maintenance process — technicians, key managers or supervisors, and even representatives from procurement, finance and the warehouse. This workshop-like environment should outline the current maintenance planning and scheduling process.

    Ask questions, such as: How are work orders initiated? How do you prioritize work? Where do you access documents like technical drawings and equipment manuals? How are materials acquired? Do you run a weekly schedule? How are planners getting feedback on their job plans? If you currently use planning and scheduling software, ask questions like: Is your CMMS set up to meet your needs? Can you tag work orders by their priority level? Can you track performance metrics like schedule compliance?

    The purpose of mapping your current processes is to highlight all the inefficiencies, making them the subject for discussion on how to improve them.

  • Phase 3 - Develop and prepare for delivery: Phase three involves planners and supervisors working to establish supporting documentation and process maps as well as defining in detail new processes, roles and responsibilities. You should also make any necessary changes to your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and develop training and coaching programs. Conducting a single overview training session followed by a role-specific training program is the most efficient way to go about training. This will prevent people from having to attend training sessions that don't pertain to them.
  • Phase 4 - Implement: Once everything is in place, it's time to roll out the new maintenance planning and scheduling processes. The goal here is to embed the new standards and procedures into the daily routines of all those involved until they become the new normal. It's generally accepted to allow for a three-month coaching period, where individuals are assessed and receive help to close any gaps in performance. If you operate a shift system, six months should be sufficient. Remember, planners should only work on the processes, not in the processes.
  • Phase 5 - Review: This is sometimes called the "close-out" phase. Here, you want to ensure the new maintenance planning and scheduling process won't disintegrate when the training and one-on-one time is over.
    • Celebrate successes and make sure people are aware of how their hard work is paying off.
    • Review what is going well and what could be better, and document these for the next meeting with the planning department.
    • Develop sustainable procedures.
  • Phase 6 - Sustain: This phase is considered "evergreen," as processes and procedures should always be improving. Be sure you have:
    • All performance metrics in place and review them in meetings, verifying that they are meeting long-term trends.
    • Clearly defined procedures or job plans for each technician performing certain tasks.
    • Ensure new technicians are properly trained on these job plans.
    • Standardized, up-to-date and easily accessibly documentation in place.
    • A set time for conducting process reviews to assess what is working and what isn't. This is also the time to go over how processes can be improved.

Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Tools

Many people consider planning to be a maintenance tool. While not solving all maintenance issues by itself, planning integrates with other elements and helps synchronize all aspects of maintenance. Let's take a look at some other tools that work together with maintenance planning and scheduling.

  • Work order systems: A work order system is one of the most powerful tools a maintenance team can use. It acts as centralized, automated way to request and record work done within an organization. Work order systems are important because of the amount of work maintenance supervisors need to track. If a supervisor is responsible for eight technicians, each of those technicians might complete two or three tasks a day, totaling around 40 to 60 assignments in a five-day workweek. Work order systems give crews and supervisors a single method of communication. In addition to an integrated communication platform, a work order system lets supervisors organize workloads, assign tasks and track completion.
  • Equipment history and data: The equipment's history and data should also be considered a tool because this information helps you figure out the proper maintenance required based on up-to-date or even real-time data, as opposed to relying on memory or experimentation. Recording maintenance data over time essentially gives you a photo album of the life of the machine.
  • Maintenance metrics: Maintenance metrics refer to the measurements and scores of maintenance activities or results. They include the selecting, collecting, analyzing and presenting of maintenance data. The amount of work orders in your backlog is a common example of a maintenance metric. Metrics can help with everything from clarifying situations to planning for key performance indicators (KPIs), coverage, work type, schedules, compliance and backlog work hours.

Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Tips

Effective maintenance planning and scheduling revolves around prioritizing and organizing tasks so they are completed as efficiently as possible. To do this, consider the following:

  • Choose a good maintenance planner: As briefly touched on earlier, effective maintenance planners typically are crew technicians with seniority, have a good rapport with coworkers and know the plant well. They should be highly skilled and have a solid knowledge base of maintenance planning principles and practices.
  • Properly train the planner: Be sure the maintenance planners know how to use your plant's work order software, including pulling data and reports, so they will have the appropriate knowledge of equipment maintenance history.
  • Understand the difference between planning and scheduling: This was discussed earlier, but it's important to reiterate that planning and scheduling should be kept separate. Planning involves figuring out which maintenance tasks need to be performed, how they will be completed, and which parts and tools are required. Scheduling involves determining when you're going to complete a task. Planners should plan the work but never schedule it or complete the tasks themselves.
  • Ensure job plans are clear and concise: Technicians should be able to complete tasks without having to stop to find additional information. To avoid this, job plans should include things like the amount of time a task is expected to take and any special tools or materials required. Instructions should be simple enough for the lowest-skilled technician to understand.
  • Provide feedback on completed tasks: Relevant, up-to-date data is key for making efficient maintenance plans. Once technicians complete a task, they should provide comprehensive feedback – good or bad – to the planning department via the work order system software. Simply saying "complete" or "fixed" isn't providing quality information to identify what's working and what isn't.
  • Make changes based on feedback: Technicians offer feedback for a reason. It's important for planners to consider all feedback to ensure work orders are improved or remain effective. It also shows technicians that their voices are being heard, which encourages them to continue providing good feedback.

Q&A with Simmons Feed Ingredients

To get a look at how an organization implements maintenance planning and scheduling, we reached out to Tim Newman, maintenance manager at Simmons Feed Ingredients, for a short Q&A session.

Can you provide a snapshot of Simmons' current maintenance planning and scheduling process from start to finish?

"All work except breakdowns and filler work is planned out seven days in advance with engineering, the senior director of operations, maintenance, millwrights and electricians. We have a daily YTT (yesterday, today, tomorrow) meeting with the same group of people, except we add the shift production manager and the director. At the beginning of the week, we have meetings with operations to make sure our schedule is on point or if a production need has changed."

How does your team handle work order backlog?

"Most of our backlog is filler work. However, the team is not allowed to let work orders go more than four months."

What is the best practice for developing your own maintenance planning schedule?

"This highly depends on your CMMS system. For us, it is simple using the priority code generated by our CMMS. It tells us the assets at the most risk for failure, and we make those a priority. Then we take fill-in work from the backlog and fill in the other hours."

For those looking to start maintenance planning and scheduling, what tips do you have?

"Work with your production team. Get them highly involved in the process, because you cannot plan properly without their help. It takes a while to get written job plans for everything. Get your planner extra help until he has a good library of job plans."

What noticeable benefits/improvements have you seen from implementing a maintenance planning and scheduling process?

"We went from a six-month backlog of work to running out of jobs for the craftsmen to do, and from 10 percent planned work to 88 percent planned work. Additionally, the techs' morale has been higher, and they are striving to meet all the schedules. It helps for them to know what they are doing each day without any surprises."

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