How much detail for job plans?

Doc Palmer

This column continues the discussion of how many hours a planner should plan each week. In the final analysis, the planner must vary the level of detail in job plans in order to keep up with the backlog and stay ahead of the scheduling process. Thus, my fifth principle of planning states that plans recognize the skill of the crafts.

Consider 10 jobs. The planner must not spend so much time planning three jobs that seven do not get planned at all. Those seven would not get the benefit of past learning because the planner never reviewed their files, and the scheduling process would have difficulty including them without time estimates or craft skills. We would rather have the planner plan all 10 jobs to support the scheduling process.

Detailed procedures and checklists contribute to better reliability. Less is left to chance and technician memory. Yet, planners frequently do not have the time to plan thorough step-by-step procedures in time to support scheduling. The plant could use specially assigned personnel to develop the procedures for many common jobs. Even then, many maintenance jobs come up for the first time without a set procedure in the file.

To establish the proper level of detail within the constraint of planning most of the jobs, we should consider the type of work, the crafts personnel, supervisors and the repetitious nature of maintenance.

First, the planner can select certain jobs to give more attention. Planners can give critical equipment and safety issues more detailed job information. Planners can also give more attention to special areas where confusion might result. Planners can include fewer detailed instructions for jobs involving inconsequential work or obvious work. For urgent work, the planner can write a job objective with few or no job steps while still providing labor estimates and craft skill requirements. Emergency work generally does not receive any planning, although planners can help such work-in-progress if requested.

Second, planners must specify the minimum level of craft skill for each job. If the job requires a top-level electrician, a lower-level electrician should not be planned. The planner should not include excessive job steps to explain the work to an unqualified craftsman or craftswoman. The plant should have practices in place to hire, train and keep qualified technicians for most maintenance work. Planning work orders does not replace proper staffing.

Third, planning also counts on having qualified supervisors in the field to help with special problems and to guide the crafts personnel.

Finally, the planning group counts on developing better procedures over time. The planners can't develop perfect procedures for jobs the first time. Not only is there not enough time, but the planner's expertise can never match the cumulative skill and experience of the 20 to 30 technicians in the field. Because the plant repeats maintenance over time, the planner can use feedback and files to gradually perfect job plans. A certain valve may require maintenance three times over five years. A different technician might work on the valve each time and suggest improvements to the job plan. The planner must be adept at filing and improving the job plan each time.

The bottom line of how much detail a planner should put into a job is this: If the planners can't plan all backlog jobs in time to support the scheduling, they must put less detail into each plan. If the planners can plan all the jobs in time, they can go back and put more detail into some of them. The plant should put its emphasis on developing a system that perfects job plans over time.

Doc Palmer is the author of the “Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook.” He is a CMRP and has nearly 25 years of industrial experience as a practitioner within the maintenance department of a major electric utility. From 1990 through 1994, he was responsible for overhauling the existing maintenance planning organization. The resulting success played a role in expanding planning to all crafts and stations owned and operated by the utility.

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About the Author

Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook and as managing partner of Richard Palmer and Associates helps companies worl...