Can All Maintenance Work Be Planned?

Don Armstrong, Veleda Services

A job that is well-planned will ensure that the intended scope is achieved, the quality is high and that time and effort are not wasted. On average, a well-planned job will take about half as long as a job that is not planned. This article looks at the function of planning in more detail and suggests some ways to ensure that all maintenance work, except genuine emergencies, is properly planned.

If the definition of planning is deciding what to do and how to do it, then by definition, every maintenance job that is done is planned by someone. Where a position with the title "planner" exists, it is often assumed that the incumbent spends his or her day planning work. In reality, planners spend much of their time processing work orders, which is not planning, and completing other administrative tasks, such as scheduling. They actually may spend little time performing detailed planning. For the majority of work, the decisions on what to do and how to do it are left to the maintenance supervisor and, more often, the tradespeople.

The common process for handling smaller maintenance tasks, which often accounts for the majority of the maintenance effort, is to assign tradespeople to work that has not been well-defined. The scope of the work assignment then includes "planning" (i.e., identifying the problem, deciding on a workable solution, and finding tools and materials) and executing the repair. Work of this nature is difficult to estimate and schedule because the scope is unknown. If the planning function is left to the tradespeople on a job-by-job basis, it is most unlikely to be an efficient use of their time.

Ideally, all work should be planned in advance, especially work that has a tight deadline, such as shutdown work, and work that is isolated from the source of supplies and tools.

As part of the work management process, a decision should be made on the assignment of the planning function for each new job. If new work orders are reviewed daily by the maintenance and operations supervisors (a good practice), then this is an ideal time to decide if each job should be planned by a planner or by tradespeople.

If the planning function is assigned to tradespeople, then it should be properly managed. Examples of good management include allowing time during PM inspection tours to plan the repair of problems that are found. A supply of simple forms for recording the work steps and the materials and tools required for each step should be included in the work order package for PM inspection tours. The PM work order should also specify the time allowed for this planning activity. Of course, this will work only if the PM administration process is designed to allow inspectors to quickly check to see if problems identified during their inspection already have a repair work order.

Another example of good management would include scheduling the planning of work by tradespeople as a part of their regular activities while following proper scheduling practices. For instance, if there is a high-priority job to be planned or executed in a remote location, then other lower priority work at that location should also be planned at the same time whenever practical. Work orders for these planning assignments can be readily estimated and need not be charged to the equipment. This planning effort will also allow a realistic estimate to be applied to the resulting repair work.

In addition, never allow any restrictive trade practices to interfere with planning. If a pipefitting trade exists and pipefitters have jurisdiction over pipe repairs, this should not prevent a PM inspector from another trade from listing the job steps and materials (bolts, gaskets, ladders, etc.) to replace a leaking gasket. Contractual restrictions should only apply to the physical repair work. In conservative organizations, this may be a highly contentious point, but it is worth resolving for everyone's benefit.

When the planning function is assigned to tradespeople, its scope should be made clear. Typically, tradespeople will identify the job steps as well as the materials, tools and equipment required, while another non-trades position such as a planner and/or storeroom employee will have the responsibility to gather those items into a suitable work order kit prior to the work being scheduled.

Detailed planning, which is the process of thinking through a job, breaking it down into logical steps and listing all the materials, tools, equipment and labor required to do the work, does not come naturally to many people. However, it can be learned and will improve with practice. It is a skill that can be used for many activities in life, both on and off the job.

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About the Author

Don Armstrong is the president of Veleda Services Ltd., which provides consulting and training services to maintenance departments in industrial plants and i...