Don’t Lose Productivity during COVID-19, Gain It
By Doc Palmer
July 7, 2021
By Doc Palmer
While in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, in May (in spite of new work hindrances) a western wastewater utility completed more work orders in a single month than ever in its history. How was that possible? Maintenance planning and scheduling played a big role.
In February, before the virus had gained notoriety, the utility had started rethinking its approach to planning and scheduling. With planning, the utility oriented its planners more toward improving plans over time especially with craft feedback. The utility wanted plans to be helpful, but the crafts had always resented planning as people trying to tell them how to do things. The utility became better at telling crafts that the purpose of the plans was to supplement craft skill and knowledge.
Plans should give a head start that planners can improve over the years, especially with tricks of the trade that crafts want the planners to remember for them. Since this strategy did not mandate plans should be perfect, it allowed planners to plan more work to help more jobs and better support scheduling. With scheduling, the utility began giving crews fully-loaded schedules each week, instead of letting supervisors select all the work. Since supervisors had always done a great job responding to urgent work and otherwise keeping everyone busy, this change in scheduling strategy was the hardest to implement.
With everyone busy and doing a good job, how could putting a specific batch of work in front of a supervisor each week help? To a large degree, the notion of the full schedule that can easily be broken doesn’t make much sense. As hard as it was to believe, the new sense of “mission of a fully-loaded, weekly schedule” gave the utility a lot more productivity than the old sense of “taking care of operations and keeping everyone busy.”
The trick was to realize that just as plans can’t be perfect, we should not expect schedules to be perfect. In May, the utility management convinced itself to fully load the schedules and great things happened, a record month for productivity. And just in time.