As we start our training for maintenance planner/schedulers, we tell the class that their objective is to treat the craftsmen like surgeons in an operating room. “When the doctor walks into the operating room, the patient is ready; everything is laid out. All the doctor has to say is ‘scalpel' and start their procedure.” They do not have to deal with missing materials, equipment, or personnel. No running around, just do the work.
In fact, this is what craftsmen want: pure wrench time. Craftsmen would rather just pick up their tools and work, not become coordinators and expeditors.
We are all familiar with Doc Palmer’s, Terry Wireman’s and Ralph Peter’s analysis of the price of not planning: a four to tenfold increase in costs from wasted time searching for materials, waiting for other resources, securing operator LO/TO. Planning is the single most effective tool for improving productivity (wrench time).
Planning: remove wrench time barriers before work starts
There are two major elements to job planning: preparation and estimating. Job preparation culminates in a standard job package that is handed to the supervisor when the job is ready for execution. The package contains all the relevant information for the craftsmen to do their job: work order, job plan/procedure with specifications, bill of materials, warehouse requisitions, purchase orders, Job Safety Analysis, permits, shutdown procedures and logistics, drawings and sketches with engineering callouts, special tool and equipment logistics.
While the exact tasks may vary from company to company, we provide planners with a Planning Checklist (see Figure 1) customized for their organization. Planners use the checklist for each job to assure they have covered all the bases getting the job ready for the crafts. They have talked to affected parties (including the job requestor). They have ordered special materials and tools, coordinated with all resources. The completed checklist goes in the planner’s job library as a reference for similar jobs in the future.
The second element of planning is estimating. Walking the job and breaking it down into tasks or steps is critical for a good plan and estimate. Save the detail in the job library for future reference. Even for repeat jobs, pull the library copy and walk the job again to avoid surprises and make changes.
Walking the job means physically going to the site to assess accessibility and conditions. This lesson comes from hard experience where a site was not walked, and the ground turned out to too soft to support the needed equipment. (Cranes are very expensive sitting idle on the site waiting for work to begin!)
While a planner walks the site, they map out steps or “tasks” necessary to complete the job. They document the tasks in sequence for a job plan, also called a job procedure. A complete job plan includes tasks to prepare the job (gather materials, travel, and set up equipment), perform the work and close up, put away afterward.
Wording like “PM as necessary” is unacceptable. Each step or task is listed and clearly identifies the specific tool, procedure, material and specification (like gap or torque) for the task.
Once the tasks are listed, then the planner estimates the material, crew and time for each step. The labor estimate for the entire job is the sum of all the task estimates.
This rigor pays big dividends. We have helped a company go from the “PM as necessary” mode on its work orders to defining specific tasks, specifications, and tools. Meantime Between Failures (MTFB) improved by 15 percent in a matter of weeks.
Best practices were documented and cataloged in the job library. This reduced craft skill development time from years to weeks in one case.
It can be difficult to gauge percent complete on large jobs, running over the course of days or weeks, where one bulk estimate covers the entire job. The task breakdown provides a quantitative gauge for accurate percent complete. The hours earned for completed work is based on the specific tasks completed instead of time spent or supervisory estimates.
Key Performance Indicator (KPI) reviews become more productive. Yep, that is what I said! The weekly reviews started yielding action plans that helped improve wrench time.
Before implementing this “tasking” method, some planners estimated using the “2 by 4” method. Working at their desks, they estimated all jobs as “two people, four hours” (or some multiple of half days). When the actual time was significantly more than the estimated time, “why” was asked in the KPI review. The answer was “the planner estimated it wrong”. Everyone nodded knowingly, ending the conversation.
After implementing the “tasking” method, the estimates reflected the unique requirements of the job and the steps were listed. Then, in the KPI review, when the actual time was greater than the estimate, the new question was “what happened that was not planned” or “what was left out of the plan.” Now the response was specific instances where materials were wrong or out of stock. Or it might be specific equipment was not ready. Special tools were not available. All became targets for root cause analysis and corrective actions to improve wrench time.
Scheduling: hand a crew work that they can perform
There are a lot of good scheduling tools available. The best systems, in our view, have an electronic “workbench” where the scheduler can move jobs around, within the limits of their required dates, and level load schedules across crews. Move work around so under-loaded crews can help overloaded crews. Or make better-informed decisions on planned overtime and use of contractors based on facts and data.
However, even with the best scheduling systems, there is one error that will reduce wrench time. That is using the organizational schedule as the crew’s work schedule.
The organizational schedule identifies all known work over a long term, several months to over a year. It includes overhauls, PM’s, etc. Its use is for long range planning and preparation.
A crew’s work schedule (we recommend a four-week schedule) takes a different look at the same work. It includes only that work that is workable. We know we have the materials. The date and time for equipment shutdown and LO/TO has been locked in with production scheduling. Special tools are in the crib. The crew (the doctor) can go to the site and say the word: “scalpel.”
The problem arises in the organization’s definition of “READY” (for scheduling) in the system. When the planning is complete, the job is moved to a “ready for scheduling” status. However, if there are special materials on order that does not mean the job can be done now. The work can put be on a schedule but can’t be performed until the materials arrive. It can go on the organizational schedule, but it does not go on the crew schedule until everything is “available”.
The planner/scheduler has the responsibility to move jobs from a “ready to schedule” status to an “available” status when everything is available for the crew to start work. This status triggers entry of jobs on the crew schedules that will be handed the supervisors and their crews (with the job package). Any schedule handed the crew is “available” work; they know that it can be performed now.
We have been asked, “What about the hot jobs that have lead times longer than the four-week crew schedule? The material is not expected in until the day that the jobs starts. But, you have got to put it on the schedule!” The answer is if you absolutely must put it on the crew’s schedule, do so aware of the risks and be prepared to mitigate. However, don’t make a habit of that. We have seen where you can end up with a boatload of open, partially completed jobs on the crew schedule with the crafts running back and forth working what they can.
The Value of Planning
Over the course of time, we have had conversations about maintenance planning and scheduling with many plant managers, some of them in charge of mega sites (15,000+ employees). A couple of plant managers have had a different perspective about maintenance productivity. They believed that the key to productivity lies in work execution, not planning and scheduling. Namely, a strong maintenance supervisor with “a well-placed boot” was the key ingredient. We agreed that while that has its place, often the issues affecting maintenance wrench time are not under the supervisor’s authority. Moreover, some well-placed planning and coordination can save boot leather and organizational stress.
The value of effective planning and scheduling comes out in the numbers. A generic span of control for maintenance planner/schedulers is one for every 20 craftsmen. One person, knowledgeable of how to do the work, can be put in a position to work ahead of the crew of 19, getting work ready.
Say a crew with no planner/scheduler is currently 50 percent reactive. If they add a planner/scheduler, wrench time could increase by 25 percent using Wireman’s analysis. That says that you invest 5 percent of your workforce to net a 20 percent increase in output. I would put my money there every time.
I once was on a maintenance project in Australia. Australians are a great group, willing to dive in and try new things at any time. As I first walked through the yard, a maintenance crew of four approached me. They asked what I was doing here. I told them introducing planning. They looked curious. I explained.
“Let’s say one of you were to break away from your crew while the rest is finishing up your current job. That person could go out and get the next job ready. Now when you start the second job, you will not have four guys running around trying to get ready. That will all be done. All four just start on the job.”
Normally in the US or England, that kind of change would require a couple of months to implement. Run it through the various plant authorities, union officials and get everyone OK with doing it. Not in Australia.
The next week, I was walking again through the yard. That crew came up to me as a group, all smiles. They said, “Hey, mate. It works!” I asked what? They said, “What you told us…planning. One guy breaks away and gets the next job ready.”
It made so much sense; they just started it on their own. They saw the benefits. No proclamation required from leadership.