A case for a structured planning approach revolves around W. Edwards Deming's work in the 1950s and Peter Drucker's work in the 1960s. America initially rejected Deming, who then became the force behind Japan's colossal turnaround into a world industry leader. America reveres Drucker as fostering the Management by Objective (MBO) movement. Maintenance work involves working on the same equipment repeatedly, so that obviously lends itself to Deming's teachings of continuous improvement. Maintenance also inherently offers opportunities for goals, meaning Drucker's work applies to better maintenance success.

The appropriate structure for planning work is a cycle of continuous improvement. A planner reviews feedback from previous maintenance work and makes improvements to existing plans for the next time. This opportunity exists for every piece of equipment. The only requirement for a company to implement this system is to provide a planner that looks at jobs before they start and applies previous learning from past jobs on the same equipment. Most companies don't employ such a system and instead expect planners to provide perfect plans at the start of any maintenance job. This errant expectation frustrates planners and maintenance technicians alike. In many systems, companies also expect planners to help with jobs-in-progress, finding parts and information. Such tasks usually distract or preempt planners from spending sufficient time on organizing feedback or otherwise planning jobs not yet started.

The goal nature of maintenance work resides in determining how much work maintenance crews should accomplish on a weekly basis. Simply providing enough jobs to fill the expected available labor hours sufficiently sets an adequate goal to boost maintenance productivity. Yet, most crews don't set such formal goals each week and instead rely on a sense of resolving all reactive work each week and perhaps performing some preventive maintenance (PM) work. This latter method typically doesn't sufficiently fill the available labor hours, although it does satisfy immediate visible maintenance needs. So-called wrench time studies provide the proof of this underutilization of resources, showing only 25 to 35 percent average time spent on direct work for techs available to supervisors for entire shifts. Companies with formal weekly scheduling systems should have wrench time in the 45 to 55 percent range, a major improvement.

A good question remains: What is the purpose of improving maintenance utilization? It's not to lay off "extra" people. Most crews have backlogs of low-priority proactive work that should head off future reactive work. The plant ideally should have little or no reactive work. In such conditions, a crew should perform PM or other proactive work almost exclusively. By definition, the existence of reactive work means the plant has significant proactive work it isn't accomplishing, whether it is identified or not.

The proof that planning and scheduling helps is intuitive from a review of Deming and Drucker, but is also seen in real-world examples. Other than my own plant, where I saw a 60 percent increase in work order completion and the total elimination of a large backlog of work orders, I've seen other plants achieve success. A chemical plant raised its wrench time from 35 to 42 percent, a 20 percent improvement in workforce utilization. This means that every 10 employees were performing the work of 12. Yet, success isn't simply in wrench time. Wrench time implies that we accomplish more work by spending more time on tools, but we also need to see more physical work completion. More work completion with the same resources should improve plant performance. (Note: This implies a caveat that the plant has other programs identifying proactive work. Planning was never intended to be the lone "silver bullet".)

Two adequate examples of this extra work completion come from a building maintenance crew and an electrical wastewater maintenance crew. The first company had a building maintenance crew that never completed all of its PMs, but always completed all of its reactive calls. Upon formally scheduling the PMs that should be done each week, the workforce was able to complete all of its reactive calls plus the assigned PMs. The second company's wastewater maintenance crew simply found that its backlog had disappeared after implementing formal planning and scheduling.

These examples illustrate that planning and scheduling make an impact by accomplishing more maintenance work and better utilizing resources.

Doc Palmer is the author of the “Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook.” He is a CMRP and has nearly 25 years of industrial experience as a practitioner within the maintenance department of a major electric utility. From 1990 through 1994, he was responsible for overhauling the existing maintenance planning organization. The resulting success played a role in expanding planning to all crafts and stations owned and operated by the utility.