MRO Magazine

Allow maintenance to break schedules and watch productivity increase

Why maintenance completes more work when it starts with the right goal.

June 27, 2018 | By Doc Palmer

Photo: Getty Images.

Maintenance crews typically do not complete nearly as much work as they could simply because they are not given enough work. Instead, they complete enough work to ensure everyone is kept busy completing the reactive work plus PMs that are due. There is a big difference in work completion because of Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law says, “The amount of work assigned will expand to fill the time available.” This notion, explained in The Economist in 1955 by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, means that if you do not give someone enough work, the amount you do give them will take more time than it should. In fact, in 1986, Margaret Thatcher quotes Michael Gorbachev as saying, “Parkinson’s Law works everywhere.” Parkinson’s Law is alive and well in maintenance.

Keeping busy is different from working toward a goal of work. We all know in our own lives that we are more productive when working from a list of things we need to do.

Maintenance life is the same way. A typical maintenance environment is very distracting. Some jobs run longer than their time estimates and some finish sooner. Operations continually make requests for new work that cannot wait. Maintenance crew supervisors become traffic directors shuffling craftspersons from place to place. Their primary focus is to make sure everyone has something to do. And they do that very well. Such plants in these environments can be good plants. Nevertheless, crews that start with a mission of a certain amount of work to complete for the week greatly outperform crews that simply keep everyone busy. Crews that start with proper goals typically complete as much as 50 per cent more work each week. A crew typically completing 100 work orders each week could be completing 150 work orders each week. This great difference is the result of Parkinson’s Law in maintenance.


It is surprising that such a great opportunity would exist in most companies. Dr. W. Edwards Deming says, “The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.”

In maintenance, no one looks for the opportunity to complete more work if everyone is already busy. And simply telling supervisors to “pick up the pace” is not the way to do it. Everyone truly is already busy working. No one is standing around.

The sense of mission makes the difference in productivity. Simply being here to take care of operations and ensure PMs do not get behind is not a proper mission if productivity is the goal. Having 400 hours of work ready for a crew of 10 persons (with 400 hours of available labour capacity) to start the week is a much better mission. In the first case, the crew is “here,” whereas in the second case, the crew is here to complete a certain amount of work. A mission of availability is replaced by a mission of productivity.

The weekly schedule should function as goal setting. In goal setting, if the goal is too high or too low, it does not affect normal performance. Goals that are too high do not change normal performance. If the goal is too high, persons do not put forth any extra effort because they cannot achieve the goal anyway. Goals that are too low also do not affect normal performance. Low goals are achievable with only normal effort. What is the proper goal for a weekly schedule? Some plants schedule 120 per cent as “stretch goals,” but these plants are not very successful in increasing their productivity. Similarly, some plants only schedule 80 per cent or less to allow for break-ins, but this practice also does not seem to result in any more work completion than normal. Experience has shown that crews that start off with a goal of 100 per cent of their forecasted available labour hours are most productive. But a key aspect of goal setting is that it must be okay if the goal is not met. If there is punishment for not meeting the goal even with extra effort, no one wants to participate and everyone disparages the whole program. In effective goal setting for the week, it must be acceptable to break the schedule. In proper plants with 100 per cent loaded schedules where supervisors can break (but not ignore) weekly schedules, supervisors give that extra effort.

Defeat Parkinson’s Law in maintenance with fully loaded schedules each week for maintenance crews. Increase your workforce with hiring!

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 worldwide with planning and scheduling success. For more information, visit or email


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