MRO Magazine

You can plan some reactive work

We’ve always been told that we cannot plan reactive work.

January 20, 2022 | By Doc Palmer

Photo: SpicyTruffel / Adobe Stock

“The horse is already out of the barn and we just need to get the horse back in the barn.”

“We should spend our time planning the proactive work to get the barn into better shape so horse don’t get out in the first place.”

“We also don’t want to slow down swift supervisor response to the reactive work.”

However, we can plan some of the reactive work to improve our maintenance results. We can run the Deming Cycle to improve the quality of some of the reactive work, and we can schedule some of the reactive work to improve our productivity. We can accomplish both of these objectives without slowing down supervisors.


First, consider the practice of planning. The best planning practice is using planners as craft historians that give head starts to jobs and save useful information for everyone. This craft historian strategy implements the Deming Cycle to make better plans over time, and does not presume plans are
somehow perfect.

Indeed, we are not trying to replace the skill, experience, and wisdom of trained craftspersons with perfect job plans. Job plans should aim to eventually be great guides for new persons, and handy references for senior persons, but plans are always living works-in-progress.

Combine this strategy with the knowledge that not all reactive work will start today. Many times, reactive work is not an emergency that must start today. Consequently, a planner needs only to check with the crew supervisor anytime a new reactive job pops up and ask if the supervisor thinks the job will start today. If the job will probably start today, then don’t bother to plan the job at all!

But if the job will not start today, the planner can knock out a quick job plan. If there is no existing plan, the planner might simply do a quick field check, make a quick judgment of what is needed, and call it a day.

What kind of plan is that? It can be a great job plan. The planner has added craft and time requirements to allow better assignments. The planner has clarified the scope to at least get the execution going in the right direction. After the execution, as always, the planner looks for feedback (longer ladder, additional gaskets, different bolts, etc.) to improve the plan.

So, in the future, even for a reactive planning effort, there might already be a living plan from the past! Why wouldn’t we want the planner to attach the better job plan; the better head start? Why doom a craftsperson to reinvent the wheel and not receive the better head start if the planner had time to attach it? The key to the whole notion of planning some of the reactive work is to check with the crew supervisor first. Never, ever, suggest that the supervisor should wait on planning. But if the job won’t start today, knock out a quick job plan and run the Deming Cycle of continuous improvement to promote better and better maintenance work over the years.

Second, consider the practice of scheduling. The best scheduling practice for maintenance productivity is starting crews with weekly, fully loaded schedules to defeat Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law states that, “The amount of work assigned expands to fill the amount of time available.”
We must start crews off with fully loaded schedules each week. But because real life does have a lot of reactive maintenance, it must be allowable to break the schedule.

Starting crews off with 100 per cent loaded schedules, and achieving 40 to 90 per cent schedule compliance, yields more work completed than 70 per cent loaded schedules and 90 to 100 per cent schedule compliance. And more work completed than normal means the completion of more proactive work. But what about all the new reactive work that will happen next week? We expect reactive work by allowing to break the schedule.

We can also make more credible weekly schedules by first planning some of the reactive work. Some of the reactive work where we knocked out a quick job plan actually ends up waiting in the backlog at the end of the week. It turned out not quite reactive as we thought. And rather than fuss at operators to avoid the urgent priority selection, it turned out to be a good idea that we had checked with the supervisor and had knocked out a quick job plan.

That planned reactive work can be put in the weekly schedule for the next week. Don’t break the weekly schedule next week for work you know about this week! You can put it in the schedule because the quick plans provide craft and time estimates.

It gets better. We can now bundle lesser priority work with the more reactive work in the next week’s schedule.

“If we are going to LOTO that system next week, we might as well go ahead and do these other two jobs that have been lingering in
the backlog.”

And lower priority work lingering in the backlog is normally proactive work that otherwise is hard to work into the reactive churn of real-life maintenance.

Be better than most plants that simply let all the reactive work bypass planning and scheduling. Check with the supervisors and then plan the new reactive work that won’t start today. Run the Deming Cycle to make as many plans and jobs better over the years.

Additionally, put any of that planned work into the next week’s schedule if it is still in the backlog at scheduling time. Make fully loaded schedules as credible as possible to have superior productivity and complete extra proactive work. Don’t be a normal good plant. Be a superior great plant! MRO
Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, and Managing Partner of Richard Palmer and Associates, which helps companies worldwide with planning and scheduling success. E-mail Doc at


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