Planners, Put Down the Radio and Plan!

James Kovacevic, Eruditio
Maintenance Planner on Radio

A crackle comes over a radio that is sitting on the desk. A technician is trying to get a planner on the other end to help find parts for an emergency repair. The planner answers and rapidly begins searching the CMMS for part information, then quickly transitions to a frantic call with vendors to try and expedite parts in. Does this sound familiar? If so, you need to have your planners put down the radio and focus on what they were hired to do, which is to plan.

Let’s begin by understanding what a planner is, as often staff holds a planner title, but in reality, are not really Planners. Planners are in place to build job plans, which includes defining the resources (such as tools, parts, and labor) required to perform a job. 

The planner also identifies the procedural steps to perform that specific job, along with any relevant information such as specifications, drawings, or bill of materials. The planner then assembles this into a job plan, which the technician will use to perform the job.  

These job plans should then be stored in a library, which reduces the amount of effort to plan the same or similar jobs the next time they occur. Lastly, a planner should update these job plans based on feedback from the technicians who performed the work. Sound simple enough, doesn’t it? Then why do planners have a radio, to begin with?

Planners often get pulled into the day to day (along with radio calls) for a wide range of reasons. Usually, there is a lack of defined roles and responsibilities. Perhaps the Maintenance Supervisors have been loaded up with other tasks, and no longer support the frontline as much as they should. Or, since the planner is very familiar with the CMMS, they can find the required information quicker than others.

Whatever the reason, organizations need to focus on reducing the time the planners spend on the radio, along with the reactive activities they are responding to. Why should the planners put down the radio and plan? They are assisting with emergencies and reducing unplanned downtime correct? Well, technically, you are correct, but planners have the potential to bring a larger value to the organization when they focus exclusively on planning.

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It has been observed that for every hour a planner spends planning, that they will save 3-4 hours of technician’s time. This is realized through a reduction in looking for parts, information, and travel that occurs with unplanned work. That is a pretty good return, but that isn’t the only reason to have planners planning and not answering the radio.

By properly planning the work, organizations often realize a significant improvement in the level of work quality and a reduction in maintenance rework. This is because the technicians have all of the relevant information laid out in organized steps, which eliminates slips and lapses (human performance issues) as they perform the work. Job plans may also contain checklists that work as a method to ensure all required steps have performed correctly.

Also, since the work is planned, the work is safer. Often, planned work has specific hazards identified, include Lock-Out/Tag-Out, and other permitting information. By providing the relevant safety information, the technician has the ability to be aware of the hazards and mitigate any of the risks. The improvement in safety has been proven through various studies that have been performed by Ron Moore.

So, with the benefits identified, how do the planners put down the radio? First, there need to be some defined roles and responsibilities (which usually comes along with defining business processes). In addition, there needs to be a transition period where the planners refer the inquiries to the maintenance supervisors but remain available to support if the supervisor has trouble.

After this transition period, the radios should be collected from the planners. In some instances, planners have been relocated to their own office away from the shop, or the supervisors, so they can’t be drawn into the day to day activities.

Planners need to be focused on planning and not supporting the day to day work. While this is difficult, it will deliver significant returns for the business in the long run. If you are struggling with this problem, the transition, or would like me to write about any other topic, please let me know at jkovacevic@eruditio.com.

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About the Author

James Kovacevic is a passionate and driven Asset Management Professional who is based in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Throughout the span of over a decade, he has gained extensive hands-on expertis...