MRO Magazine

Planning Work

February 11, 2019 | By addras

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

Planners must plan enough work to allow scheduling to succeed.
A vital part of maintenance productivity is filling weekly schedules with planned work. However, many times a plant simply does not have enough planned work to fill the schedules. The biggest problem in most plants is that management does not adequately protect the planners to be planning in the first place. When allowed to plan, however, planners sometimes get caught up in being busy instead of completing job plans.
First, management must protect planners to plan. All too often plants will hire planners and declare victory, but then use planners for enough other duties to the exclusion of planning. They may have the planners fill in for absent craftspersons. When short of welders, the planner with a welding background helps out. They may have planners substitute for absent supervisors.
Consider a planner who plans for three crews, of which the supervisors and the planner each gets two weeks of vacation and two weeks of sick pay. The four weeks of planner vacation and illness take a month away from planning, but the 12 weeks of the planner substituting for a supervisor absence would take another three months away from planning. Therefore, the plant has arranged to have a total of four months without planning. Plants also often assign planners to various teams such as projects, root cause analysis, reliability centred maintenance, safety, etc., all worthwhile in themselves, but taking away from planning.
Plants should realize that a planner can help a workforce of 30 persons achieve the productivity of 47 persons, but only if the planner is planning. Management should not be using a planner(the equivalent of 17 persons) for non-planning work.
A planner planning for 20 to 30 persons requires a full-time planner. Planners each planning for so many persons cannot be utilized elsewhere. Planners organized to plan for fewer than 20 persons have some limited time for other duties, but not at the expense of planning.
Second, even when protected by management to plan, planners often might not plan enough work in time to fill schedules. Problems keeping them from planning enough work include jobs in progress, plant design changes, desire for plans and estimates to be “perfect,” spare parts issues, and even simply not focusing on completing plans.
Planners generally should not help problems that arise on jobs already in progress. Preferably, planners should only help emergency jobs that started without job plans, but only on the request of the supervisor. Otherwise, a planner planning for 20 to 30 persons cannot afford to get bogged down in helping jobs in progress.
The engineering side of the plant keeps some planners from planning enough of the work. Planners should not be deciding, researching, or co-ordinating work involved with modification to the plant design. Examples might include when someone requests changing from a globe valve to a gate valve, adding a line for bypassing a heat exchanger, or changing a filter mesh size. Planners generally do not have the expertise, authority, or time for deciding plant modifications. The plant workflow process should change such work to a waiting on engineering or similar status for others to manage.
A desire to make plans and estimates “perfect” might also hinder planning enough work. As far as the level of detail, the planner must plan each job with as much detail as possible, but subject to the constraint of planning all the work.
This constraint is frustrating. The plant desires great job plans to ensure consistency of work, give senior craftspersons a valuable reference, and give new persons a chance at success. But this level of detail is best developed over time, as jobs are repeated with the planner, first largely relying on craft skill and later adding more details as time permits. As far as time estimates, maintenance is not assembly line work where great accuracy is possible. Fortunately, a quickly made planner judgment on the time is often good enough to control work. Planners must face the truth that a plan will never be perfect.
Issues with spare parts often bog down planners. The purchasing group should not use planners as a crutch for expediting vendors. The purchasing group should place a minimum of administrative burden on the planners. The warehouse should carry stock so planners do not have to place special purchases for routinely used parts in the first place. The computer inventories should be accurate enough so planners do not have to verify stock quantities physically. If the plant practises extensive kitting, the warehouse could take the lead in kitting parts and the planners should not be double-checking (a non-value added activity) the kits for accuracy.
Finally, as with much of life, sometimes we get so busy we lose sight of our primary objectives. The objective of planning is simply to move jobs from a waiting on planning status to a waiting to schedule status. It is not enough for the planners to be “busy.” Planners must be moving work to the status that indicates they are ready to go and can be placed into the weekly schedule.
A huge reward awaits the plant that can fill maintenance schedules to maximize productivity. Planners must plan the work ahead of time, in time.
Tip: It is not enough for planners to be “busy.” Planners must be moving work to the status that means they are ready to go and can be placed into the weekly schedule.
Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP, is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook. As managing partner of Richard Palmer and Associates, he 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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