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Planning, not Boots, Increases Crew Productivity

On occasion, I’ve discussed maintenance productivity, as measured by wrench time, with plant managers and operations executives. It’s not infrequent that their energy is around supervisors in work execution.

They feel that supervisors should be better disciplinarians, dogging apathetic crews. One manager, running the largest U.S. plant of a well-known Fortune company, said his solution was “to get them (the supervisors) bigger boots”.

They are taken back when I say that crews have limited control over their productivity. The real culprit is the delays and problems that happen during jobs, commonly called “barriers”: e.g. equipment not ready, documentation missing.

Planners As Expediters

In plants where the focus is totally on supervisors and job execution, planners are on call, responding to the needs of crews on jobs in progress. Planners expedite, retrieving needed drawings, materials, etc. The urgency is understandable. A crew is waiting. But, in more than one organization, expediting had become the planners’ primary mission, with no time left for planning.

In these cases, there is an organization-wide misperception about the process and successful outcome of job planning. Planning is not “processing” jobs through a computer system: receiving new jobs, matching jobs to plans in libraries, and changing statuses. The real purpose is to remove barriers before they can slow down a crew. The successful outcome of planning is no avoidable delays.

When I conduct planner training, I start the workshops telling the class the expectations of a planner. A planner should treat the crew like surgeons. Prepare the operating room and patient beforehand. Get everything ready so when the surgeon comes in the operating room, all they do is say “scalpel” and start work. They are on their tools immediately and stay there.

Planners should plan every non-emergent, new job. Assess everything that’s needed, including coordination with operations, before a job is ready to schedule. This will eliminate the avoidable barriers. At least the remaining population of barriers, the unavoidable problems, is small enough that the supervisor can manage them while the planners focus on job planning, eliminating barriers on future jobs.

There are two basic elements to barrier-proofing jobs during planning. 1.) Walk each job. 2.) Prepare a structured Job Package for each job.

Walk the Job (a better way to use boots!):

Obviously, for any job that’s never been done before, planners should go to the job site. Examine the equipment and surroundings, visualizing the work. Look for hazards. Assess the access to the site and equipment. For jobs already in your library, check all the above for any surprises.

Then write down the steps the crew will take to complete the job (also called tasking). For each step, identify the craft, man-hours, tools, materials, procedures, and hazard protection required. The estimate for the entire job is the sum of all the steps.

Job Package:

This is the documentation that goes with each job, physically or electronically handed to the supervisor when a job is put on the schedule. Then going to the crew when the supervisor assigns the job to the crew.

There are basic elements that should be in a job package. Typically this includes work order, procedures, drawings, requisitions, permits, material pickup locations, Job Safety Analysis (JSA), shutdown logistics, and LOTO requirements to name major components.

Standard guidelines should be developed by planner teams, customized for the specific facility. And then, actual packages can vary from the standard based on individual job needs. One tool planners developed for putting together job packages was a Pre-plan Checklist. They used it on each job to assure thoroughness. Figure 1 is an example.

Two Levels of Planning and “Tasking” Payoffs

If you are not already planning this way, and you start, it will significantly increase productivity in a short time. There is even more benefit to draw from this method: data for continuous improvement. It comes from how the estimates are used in the Key

Performance Indicator (KPI) reviews.

In KPI reviews, how often have you heard “the estimate was bad” to explain a job overrunning its estimate? Everyone nods, looks at the planner and the meeting proceeds to the next job. It’s a common statement in KPI reviews.

But now, having “tasked out” each step in the plan, there is a new comment about an overrun. “Something was different from the plan”. Identify what was different from the job plan steps. Then, you have the start of Pareto charts and root cause analyses to remove systemic causes of barriers. But that’s for a later discussion: systemic barrier removal.

Using planners as expediters is a residual of archaic maintenance management philosophies. These are the same philosophies that resist making your best mechanics and craftsmen planners. For this philosophy, creating a planner is just taking someone off their tools, reducing the capacity of the crew. And, you most certainly don’t take your best people to become planners. You need them on their tools. Use instead the people you can spare.

The Payoff in Real Money

This misses the whole value of planning. Going from poor or no planning to this “barrier-effective” planning has been proven, over hundreds of implementations, to increase maintenance productivity by around 25 percent. I’ve personally seen it improve by over 40 percent.

Given a crew size of 21 craftsmen, one person, the planner, represents 5 percent of the crew. Making that person a planner reduces the crew capacity by 5 percent. However, that planner can increase the productivity of the remaining 20 crew members by 25 percent. The gain in capacity is equivalent to 5 people. That’s a 5 to 1 Return on Investment with no capital expenditures, no new hires and is easily achievable within 3 months of starting the effort.

And, if you promote your top tier craftsmen to planners, they will generate job plans, procedures, that reflect their experience and expertise. That creates documented best practice guidelines for all the other craftsmen and tools for training junior craftsmen.

Effective planning is the answer to maintenance productivity, not bigger boots.


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