3 Things That Could Save Your Maintenance Planning Organization and Improve Reliability for Your Site
As I look back over the many facilities and plants that I have visited over the years I have noted many examples of “best practice”, but there are only a few things that a few sites have effectively implemented. One of those is maintenance planning and then scheduling.
Perhaps it is because it takes more discipline, more commitment, and more organizational understanding than many of the other tools that we have in our reliability toolbox. Maybe it is just a lack of training. Let us look at 3 key things you could implement as part of your reliability improvement efforts that will set your team up for a higher probability of success with your planning and then scheduling efforts.
Start early with maintenance planning. Too many sites wait too late to get their planners on board and started on a planning task. It can be done very early because many of the activities are capable of being started well before the rest of the organization becomes involved in reliability improvement efforts. Likely, only the most basic of tasks would need to be completed before planning kickoff. Of course, things like vision, mission, and communication planning would need to be done first, but once the leadership team has built the foundation and created a direction then we can get the planners engaged. If your site is a new greenfield start-up then hire your planners early and if your site is just starting a maintenance and reliability improvement effort, then include planning in the very early activities.
Why do I suggest moving so early? Many of the critical tasks for successful planning have a very large time component. For example, hiring a planner can take months, creating a bill of materials and job plan libraries can take years. If you are lucky enough to have planners, then you still have to a lot of time for planner training because it is very likely that your current planners do not understand the requirements of the new planned and then scheduled state. If you are hiring, you can ensure a level of understanding by looking for and requesting a planner that has been certified through an organization like the University of Tennessee Reliability and Maintainability Center. If this is new to you please visit www.plannercertification.com for more information on planner and scheduler certification.
1. Build the base tools
What should they work on first? This is more complicated and is dependant on your current state. In general, they can start to build the base tools they will use to help change the organization. Things like populating the bill of material for critical assets using OEM documentation and other historical sources, building job plans for high probability tasks which can then be stored in the job plan library, and determining kitting processes and expectations. Depending on your organizational staffing and maturity they may also work with the maintenance or reliability engineers to improve the existing preventive maintenance task. If you are using OEM equipment vendor-provided PM tasks, you will likely benefit enormously by optimizing these PMs based on your operating context and skilled trade levels.
2. Focus on staffing
Next, let’s talk about staffing for your planner role. Let us first answer everyone’s favourite question of “how many?” Staffing correctly is critical and not as cut and dried as some text would make it sound. Many would suggest that you need a planner/scheduler for every 15 to 20 technicians or crafts people. While I agree with the number for a mature organization, in the beginning, I think there are more factors you must consider. If you have limited job plans in your job plan library, and few assets have a bill of materials, then you will be understaffed because in that environment everything takes longer to complete. If you started early as I recommended above, and you have a base of BOMs and job plans in the library then you can likely stick with the recommendation of 15-20. However, if you are like most you are behind in these areas and you really need a lower ratio to “catch up”. In that situation, I would suggest that you may want your early ratios closer to 10:1. Do not concern yourself too much with the fact that you will be overstaffed in the future, because most likely some of your planners will move into supervisory roles and as time goes on you will find that you settle out in the recommended range of 15-20:1.
Now I can hear some of you, “this guy is dreaming, where will I get that many planners?” If you believe that planned maintenance is a better, more efficient way then trust your belief and pull them from your technicians' ranks. My experience shows that a planner can nearly double the wrench time or value-added
task completed per hour for the maintenance team they support. With that said, even with small teams, removing one technician and converting them into a planner yield a positive impact on maintenance work throughput. Be careful about your selection though. We are not looking for your best technician, we are looking for your technician who is the:
- most organized,
- most gifted at communication,
- type that works well with others,
- type that understands and embraces precision maintenance.
This is not a clerical job and this role is not a fill-in supervisor, or a lead technician, this person builds the effective work instructions that will become the marching orders for your organization and their selection, staffing, training, and certification is critical.
The next area we have to work on is organizational understanding. Planning and then Scheduling is not natural for most of your organization. Many have been “cowboys shooting from the hip” for years. They have been rewarded for their ability to react faster with little understanding of the long-term effects on the organization. If your site uses a lot of duct tape, baling wire, and zip ties to keep the plant running and reactivity is the norm then you will have a harder task ahead of you in this next area but either way, it is critical.
3. Communication is key
Communication, the one thing that everyone wants to say is not done well enough, is now our focus. We need the organization to understand the value of planned work and to a varying degree the role of a planner in its creation. You need to look at your business process and see who is affected by the planner/scheduler then develop a communication strategy in tiers based on interaction and responsibility. For example, we may want many people to know that planning reduces maintenance requested downtime and reoccurring failures, but we may want only the maintenance supervisor and technician to understand what the expectation for our new job plans and work packages are. At the very least, I would suggest that the maintenance supervisors, operations scheduler, and the planner all receive a very detailed understanding of the planner role and the training to support it. The understanding of planning can then tier down from there to the engineers and technicians and then tier down again to the operators and ops leaders for example.
Why do these people need to know? Let's look at each role given in the example. The core team of the planner/scheduler, maintenance supervisor, and operations scheduler have to be working together on a daily basis with the operations scheduler providing downtime windows weeks in advance and the supervisor executing the schedule as close to as defined as possible. Within the next level, the engineers need to be providing new best practices in precision maintenance, high-risk failure modes from the failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) and condition-based maintenance tasks to the planner to constantly improve the job plans and equipment maintenance plans. The technicians must understand the importance of providing feedback on the job plans as part of the continuous improvement loop and executing the job by the plan. As we get to the third tier that includes operations leadership and the operators themselves we have to make sure they understand the importance of communicating defects in the equipment as early as possible such that the work can be planned, scheduled and executed before the catastrophic failure which prevents a costly emergency repair. These are just examples for each level that I hope help you see the tiered approach to communication that is required to empower success in your planner/schedulers.
So, as we look back at the topic of successful planning and then scheduling please remember the three elements that we discussed: start early, staff appropriately and communicate effectively. These are the sins I most often see as I complete the forensic analysis of dead or dying planning efforts. We know that everyone is important to reliability improvement, but the planner and scheduler may stand just a bit taller in the most successful maintenance and reliability organizations so let us set yours up for success.
How many reorganizations (reorgs) has your company gone through in the past five years? Some will say too many to count. It is not uncommon these days to see companies have one to three reorgs per year in various departments and even the corporation as a whole.
Mahatma Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilization. He replied that he thought it would be a good idea. The same thought comes to mind when considering management skills in maintenance departments.