Avoid the misguided application of the maintenance planner scheduler

If you consider all of the organizations and companies that have maintenance departments, typically only one third of them have the planner/scheduler position in place. Within that group of companies, typically only 10% of those planner/schedulers are effectively being utilized. Why is there such a gap in the effective utilization of the planner/scheduler position? The main reason is the lack o...


Tim Kister, Life Cycle Engineering

If you consider all of the organizations and companies that have maintenance departments, typically only one third of them have the planner/scheduler position in place. Within that group of companies, typically only 10% of those planner/schedulers are effectively being utilized. Why is there such a gap in the effective utilization of the planner/scheduler position? The main reason is the lack of understanding of the definition of an effective planner/scheduler.

There are five dominant factors that answer that question. The five factors are, Overlapping Job Responsibilities, Overworked Planner, Unqualified Planner, Careless Planner and Lack of Communications. Let's look at these five factors in more depth as we identify ways to change the misguided application of the planner scheduler function.

Overlapping Job Responsibilities . Oftentimes, planner/schedulers act gophers, parts chasers, clerks, purchasing agents, expeditors, fill-in supervisors or even return back to their tools when breakdowns occur. Additional tasks such as these detract from the core responsibilities of planning and scheduling, which is to prepare work plans and scheduling for the next week and beyond. The planner/scheduler position has to be dedicated to the process and they must know what they are accountable for.

For this understanding to happen, lines of responsibilities have to be clearly defined. The best way to accomplish a clear definition of roles and responsibilities is by developing a work control process flow. The outcome of this effort defines each step of the work process and from there specific assignments of responsibilities and accountabilities are able to be identified. Thus the planner/scheduler function can focus on true responsibilities.

Overworked Planner/Scheduler . This is typically driven by the fact that there are too few planners on staff to support the number of maintenance personnel resulting in incomplete or poorly planned work, missing repair parts or equipment, and inadequate coordination of asset availability for repairs. Ultimately, this results in inefficient labor personnel and extended downtime. To counter this, the proper ratio of planner/schedulers to tradespersons has to be established. In a very disciplined and mature process this ratio is 1 to 20. However, if that maturity and discipline is not in place the ratio will be less.

Unqualified Planner/Scheduler . A vast majority of planner/scheduler positions are filled based only on the maintenance technician with the most seniority or just a body to fill the position. This is not the best, nor most effective, way to select the proper person to function as a planner/scheduler. Once the roles, responsibilities and work control processes are in place, the proper selection and training of planner/scheduler candidates is essential. Planner/scheduler candidates need to be selected based on specific credentials and abilities, rather than simply because they are the most senior person in the current workforce. A specific selection process must be in place that takes into consideration the trade experience of the candidate, that person's respect from and rapport with their peers. The candidate should believe and support the proactive philosophies of the company and should be highly motivated, visionary, organized, effective in time management as well as a strong leader and a communicator. Formal training is also essential for success.

Planner/schedulers need CMMS and planning and scheduling training to be effective. CMMS training provides the necessary knowledge of how to use the organization's CMMS tool properly. This will save time in the planning and scheduling process, as well as reduce the frustrations of the planner/scheduler. Relying on 'hand-me-downs' or 'here is how I do it' transfer of planning practices and knowledge from older planner/schedulers to the new candidate breeds inefficiencies and bad practices.

Formal training establishes the standards of best practices as well as examples of how to transition towards achieving those best practices. On the job training is of great benefit, but formal training is a necessity for them to hone their skills. Don't forget on-going technical training to help planner's develop even better job plans to support their maintenance personnel.

Careless Planner/Scheduler . This factor tends to sneak in as individuals drift off course as time goes by. Audits and performance agreements should be in place to address specific aspects of the processes to keep complacency and carelessness from showing up. Typical indicators of this trend are incomplete work packages, parts not available and scheduling and coordination not happening. The end result is poor performance of work, unnecessary downtimes, increased rework, and ultimately a return to a reactive state.

Lack of Communications . In order for the process to be effective it must be built on clear, concise, and effective communications between all members of the team. Planner/schedulers need to develop a close team/partnership between operations, maintenance supervision and the maintenance workforce. The closer this team works together, the better the communications will be. If the communications is effective, the result is better feedback from all levels, operators, maintenance technicians, supervision and others.

The planning and scheduling function in industry cannot stay at the low level of effectiveness. Organizations have to take steps to improve their processes or they will not survive in the competitive world economy. Effective planning and scheduling is one way to assist in becoming and staying competitive. Typical returns are three hours saved in work execution or reduced downtime for every hour invested in effective planning and scheduling. A transition has to be made from the old processes of the ineffective reactivity of parts chaser, gopher, and clerk to that of an effective, proactive professional planner/scheduler. This transition will allow maintenance supervisors to spend more time directing their labor resources. Maintenance crews become more effective and efficient by having the right tools, equipment, materials, and instructions to perform the work assigned. Scheduling and coordination provides the way to optimize the utilization of the maintenance personnel by reducing delays and ultimately reduces asset downtime. If the investment is not made to develop the planner/scheduler properly, then the benefits will never be realized and failure is imminent.

Remember, the primary goal of an effective planner/scheduler is the reduction of delays and waits during work execution. To make this possible, planner/schedulers have to be allowed to focus on the future. The focus of successful planner/schedulers is next week and beyond.

Author Information

Tim Kister is the Senior Planning & Scheduling Consultant for LCE. Kister's background includes the ability to recognize opportunities for improvement, enabling rapid optimization of business processes and improved maintenance efficiency, resulting in reductions in maintenance costs. He can be contacted at tkister@lce.com

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