Teamwork, Planning and Scheduling

Tor Idhammar, IDCON INC

Is your plant running you, or are you running the plant?

Picture this. Personnel from a plant are driving along a road in an automobile. The maintenance manager is driving blindfolded. Sitting beside the maintenance manager is the mill manager, who is peering in the rearview mirror. In the back seat, the production manager is urging the maintenance manager to proceed at top speed while simultaneously warning him about a flat tire.

This situation is obviously out of control. In a plant setting, it's equally out of control. Plant management frequently focuses on past data analysis rather than future improvements. Maintenance is often "blindfolded" due to a focus on tight, short-term cost-control measures instead of long-term reliability results. Meanwhile, the operations group is becoming desperate and, therefore, dictates what maintenance should do, which usually leads to increased manufacturing speed without necessary downtime to catch up with production schedules.

In this setting, maintenance doesn't have enough people to do the work, operations can't produce reliably and costs are running wild. A common but very dangerous response to this situation is to cut cost in maintenance, meaning reduce people and postpone maintenance work. Sometimes, costs are cut for 12 to 18 months. But during this time, total costs tend to run even higher than before because valid maintenance work now starts to turn into even more costly breakdowns. What happens then? You guessed it: another cost cut!

The behavior described has many names - the circle of despair, unplanned maintenance or reactive maintenance. Whatever name you prefer, you must understand the point from a reliability perspective. Reliability is achieved through planned and scheduled maintenance work. How do you start such an improvement? How do you break out of a reactive mode? From the thousands of possible ways to start, this article will discuss a suggested starting point that has worked in many plants.

In discussions around reliability, we often talk about the necessity of the operations and maintenance partnership and of effective planning and scheduling. The partnership does not develop the following way: You have a meeting, give each other a hug, and now you're partners. Instead, you need to make fundamental strides toward lowering costs through better reliability, starting with better planning and scheduling.

Remove unnecessary work and prioritize right. This is a great first step. Ask yourself, how many work orders done this week in the plant don't really need to be done at all? Often, the work that does not really need to be done is small improvements unrelated to equipment reliability and what I call "honey do" jobs. How much of the work assigned today (a.k.a. unplanned and unscheduled) could wait until tomorrow or even next week?

One initial step is to reduce the amount of work that has "emotional priorities" and the work that does not need to be done at all. Operations and maintenance should decide on priority rules and time limits for work. This means that you have to take the priorities from your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and make them mean something for operations and maintenance.

For example, a Priority 1 job will be done immediately, but the only time a work request is set to be a Priority 1 is if it's an immediate environmental risk, immediate safety risk, immediate quality impact, immediate production loss or immediate risk of high cost.

Do you feel that your plant does a good job of prioritizing? If so, great! But why not double-check by taking the following test: Check your backlog for how many Priority 1 (highest priority in your system) jobs in the system are older than seven days. If there are many emergency work orders (Priority 1) older than seven days, you need to team with operations to improve your prioritization work processes.

Do not underestimate the task of creating correct priorities, and then following them. It requires strong leadership, a clear vision, and discipline from operations, maintenance and engineering. The improvement is all about changing people's behavior - in this case, many people's behavior.

Effective Meetings

Do we really need another meeting? Why does every single solution seem to come with another meeting? The truth is that you need a meeting between operations and maintenance to build the maintenance and operations partnership. Common problems with these meetings are:

  • Too many people are involved.

  • People come unprepared.

  • There is no set agenda.

  • People are late.

  • Discussions outside the scope of the meeting are allowed.

  • The meeting becomes 45 minutes or longer due to the points above.

A well-managed meeting takes, on average, 10 to 15 minutes. A few planning and scheduling meeting rule examples are:

  • Management drives to make the meeting efficient and asks for follow-up key performance indicators (KPIs).

  • Set KPIs for the meeting (all arrive on-time, the duration of the meeting, everyone did prework, etc.).

  • Involve the planner, area supervisor, operations person, etc., and authorize them to set priorities.

  • The planner or person responsible for planning leads the meeting.

  • The maintenance supervisor must know people's availability for the next day.

  • Jobs proposed for tomorrow's schedule are planned before the meeting.

  • The meeting starts the second it is supposed to start.

  • The agenda is followed rigorously.

All of these rules may seem cumbersome, but they are not. If people follow the rules, the meeting will become efficient and very productive and no hassle at all. In fact, by first agreeing on the right process to follow and then executing those processes well, you will build a partnership between operations and maintenance.

These were just some ideas on how to get started. There is obviously much more to reliability, but if you manage to prioritize maintenance work together with operations, and stick to those priorities, I can promise you that your plant will be ahead of most.

Torbjörn (Tor) Idhammar is partner and vice president of reliability and maintenance management consultants for IDCON Inc. His primary responsibilities include training and implementation support for preventive maintenance/essential care and condition monitoring, planning and scheduling, spare parts management, and root cause problem elimination. He is the author of “Condition Monitoring Standards” (volumes 1 through 3). He earned a BS in industrial engineering from North Carolina State University and an MS in mechanical engineering from Lund University (Sweden). Contact Tor at 800-849-2041 or e-mail

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