MRO Magazine

Maintenance Schedules

By Doc Palmer   

Creating a schedule that increases productivity.

Photo: Getty Images.

There are different maintenance schedules, each with a different purpose. The yearly schedule is about budgets, projects, and contractors (if any). The monthly schedule is about keeping up with preventive maintenance. Jumping ahead, the daily schedule is about assigning names to work orders and obtaining LOTO (Lock Out Tag Out). It is only the weekly schedule that drives productivity.
There is an opportunity for productivity improvement in maintenance. Maintenance productivity is not just about completing “all the work that is due.” It is not just about “keeping everyone busy and keeping up with the preventive maintenance.” It is also not just about “taking care of operations.” It is not even about completing “all the work that it can.”
Maintenance productivity should be about “completing as much work as its labour hours allow.” This sounds like double talk. However, consider Parkinson’s Law, which says, “The amount of work assigned will expand to fill the time available.” Parkinson’s Law was published on November 19, 1955, written by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in The Economist.
In other words, if a 10-person crew with 400 hours of labour capacity available is expected to do only 200 hours’ worth of work, that 200 hours of work will take 400 hours of labour. This underachievement is not a conscious slowdown on the part of the workforce, but a misguided direction of management that sets the expectation. If “all the work that is due” is only 200 hours of work orders, that is what the crew will complete. If 200 hours can “keep everyone busy and complete the preventive maintenance,” that is what the crew will complete. If 200 hours “can take care of operations,” that is what the crew will complete. Even an open ended expectation of “do as much as it can” might also lead to completing only 200 hours of work.
In fact, experience shows that a 10-person crew with 400 hours of available labour capacity that starts with a weekly schedule of 400 hours of specific work orders will complete more work than normal, even if it does not complete all the scheduled work. Ongoing maintenance is a never-ending task: there are always new preventive and corrective work orders. Ongoing maintenance is not a project that has a complete date. It is not even an outage or turnaround with an end date. But the crew that starts out with a set amount of weekly work gains that sense of mission that drives a project or outage. The crew that starts with a mission changes its focus from “doing what it can” or “taking care of operations” to “trying to complete a specific, defined amount of work.”
To create an effective weekly schedule that drives productivity, several things are required. The first is that the plant must have enough planned work in the backlog to fill up the schedule. The scheduler needs planned work orders that estimate the labour hours and skills needed for each work order.
Second, the plant needs a credible priority system. Not all of the backlog work can be put into the schedule for next week.
Third, the scheduler needs a forecast of the available labour hours for each crew for the next week. The forecast must subtract out hours for known circumstances such as vacation, illness, training, special meetings, and carryover work that was already started, but will not be finished this week.
Fourth, the scheduler should load the schedule with work order hours matching 100 per cent of the available hours. Scheduling too much discourages crews from going beyond just keeping busy. Scheduling too little does not encourage crews to go beyond just keeping busy.
Fifth, the scheduler creates the weekly schedule largely as a simple batch of work without setting days. Real life maintenance has too much ‘churn’ on a daily basis to set specific days more than a day or two ahead of time. The supervisor uses the weekly schedule batch to assign work orders daily as the week unfolds. Finally, management measures schedule compliance with the maturity to expect between 40 per cent and 90 per cent. That is, the proper success of the schedule is less than perfect. Even good plants with mature reliability have 10 per cent to 20 per cent of urgent work that does break the schedule. But rather than schedule only 80 per cent to achieve higher schedule compliance, proper scheduling fully loads schedules 100 per cent and expects schedules to be broken. Such maturity defeats Parkinson’s Law in practice. Be successful implementing weekly scheduling to increase productivity.
Tip: Creating a weekly schedule requires planned work orders, a credible priority system, and a labour forecast for a week. It also requires a scheduler that fully loads the weekly schedule and a management maturity that allows breaking the schedule.
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 including a schedule of current public workshops visit or email Doc at


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