Detailed Planning – “Thinking through” the job


A well-planned job can greatly reduce the time the work takes, ensure that its a quality job and make the work much more satisfying for the tradespeople who do it.

Planning is the process of receiving a problem, deciding on a solution and issuing instructions so that anyone can complete the work exactly as you, the “Planner”, had intended.

NOTE – Planning is completely independent of scheduling and is a different process. Adding a job to a list of work to be done on a shutdown or next week is not planning. (see  “Planning and scheduling – what are they?“)

All work is planned by someone, at some time, but for the best results the planning process should be separated from the execution of the work to ensure that it is well organized before the work starts.

The steps in detailed planning are:

  1. deciding on the appropriate solution
  2. listing all the steps required to complete the work. Each step should be small enough to imagine as a whole, as if you were doing the work yourself.
  3. for each step, listing all the materials, tools, equipment and information required and where each is located.
  4. estimating the time for each step, and for the whole job. Include all parts of the job from reading the work order to cleaning up and replacing tools.
  5. attaching any sketches, drawings, photos, instruction manuals and standards required.


The detailed work planning process is best illustrated with an example, which needs some explanation (read on – the link to the example comes later).

The job in the example is “redesign” (not maintenance – see “What is ‘Maintenance’?“) and will be carried out by one tradesperson. The work is for a mining company, and it is to install a fume hood in a small laboratory in a field office, about a 40 minute drive from the central workshops.

This example is very detailed, which is appropriate for a remote job where missing materials or tools may result in a long and expensive delay. For work which is close to a central shop and Stores, less detail is required.

Some assumptions are made in preparing the example, as follows:

– the single tradesperson who will be assigned can do all the work without any artificial restrictions. This includes the 110v electrical installation, as is the case in some jurisdictions on this continent.

– the department is well organized, with accurate Stores catalogue records.

– there is a shop van stocked with many commonly-used supplies and tools, and the inventory is checked frequently so that tradespeople can be confident that the parts and tools that are supposed to be in the van will be there when needed.

– there is a list of standard tools which each tradesperson must keep in his/her personal tool kit and take to each job.

– a “work order kit” process is in place so that materials from Stores and direct purchases are staged in an appropriate place, identified by the work order number, and (hopefully) managed by the Stores staff.


Now review the plan. You can click on each step listed here to see each stage of the plan, or click on the link at the top of the page for each step to view the next step.

– Work order form (Planner’s version) – click here.

NOTE. This is the detailed work order form, with all information including scheduling details, etc. Much of this information is unnecessary in the field version of the work order (more on this later).

Note the comments that answer questions which can be reasonably anticipated, such as the reason for the job, the absence of asbestos and the capacity of the electrical circuit. Also note the quality comments, for example, the wiring must be run inside the wall (because this office is often visited by the mine’s customers).

– Sketch –     click here.

A sketch is  helpful to understand the job scope, although perhaps unnecessary in this example because the Planner has marked the locations of the new electrical outlet and the new fume hood on the lab walls with masking tape.

– Job steps –  click here.

This is the start of the process of “thinking through” the job, and is often best done on site. Each step is small enough so that a tradesperson or planner can easily think of each item of material and each tool that is required. Note that all steps in the job, including preparation, transport and clean-up are listed.

– Job step details – click here.

This is where the Planner can enter important instructions against each of the steps listed above, including safety tips, protection of equipment, assembly instructions, etc.

At this point, an estimate for the time each step will take can be added.

– Material and tool list – click here.

All materials and tools should be included except small tools which are a part of each personal tool kit. A job will be stopped for the lack of a fastener just the same as it would be for the lack of a large component.

By concentrating on only one small step at a time, it is unlikely that an experienced Planner or tradesperson will overlook any items.

In a good maintenance computer system, or Excel, this list of materials and tools can be filtered to show, for example, just those items that are in the work order kit, or just those items that will come from the tool crib. This simplifies the process of gathering all materials before the job starts and helps to avoid overlooking any item.

If more than one person or team is assigned to a job, then there may, of course, be “parallel” activities which could be used to build a critical path network. For example, if two people were assigned to the fume hood installation in the example, one could install the ductwork while the other installed the electrical outlet. No matter how many people are assigned each step in the job should be planned in detail.


To some this plan may seem overly detailed, but on a reasonably complex job like this with several steps it is very easy to miss an important item, even for people who are familiar with the work. And remember, every single step, tool and item of material listed on the plan has to be decided and acted on at some time by somebody, whether the work is planned or not. In this example, any need to return to the shop or Stores will result in a delay of about 1-1/2 hours, and will force the job into the next day – yet another 1-1/2 hours of travel time.

An experienced planner with good keyboard skills should be able to complete the work order package in this example in less than an hour excluding the time taken to visit the site (which, hopefully, would be combined with looking at all other current work orders in the same location), and including the time to submit the purchase requisitions in an efficient maintenance computer system where needed. Of course, if the Planner is not sure of the best way to address any part of the work it is essential to get input from others, such as tradespeople with the appropriate experience.

NOTE Maintenance computer systems generally have the functionality to plan a job like this, but some are so cumbersome that it may take 2 or 3 times longer to prepare such a plan “in the system” than it would take using MS Office applications. The best tool for the job is the one that should always be used.

It is a very good practice to assign this kind of detailed planning to tradespeople, even if the people who prepare the plan will do the work themselves. Much of the detail, such as listing the tools and supplies required, need only be handwritten and attached to the work order hard copy.

For a job like this, a fully detailed plan could easily reduce the time to do the work by 50% or more, compared to an unplanned approach.


Detailed plans should be prepared for all shutdown work in continuous operations and for work which will take place remote from the shop, which could include work in a “clean” area of the plant (e.g. in food and drug processing or nuclear work) where access is time-consuming. For all other work, the same principle of “thinking through” the job should be used, but the level of detail can be reduced and more of the planning function can be delegated (and scheduled) where appropriate (See “How is it possible to plan all work?).

The level of detail required in a work plan depends on several factors, including:

– the distance from the shop and Stores to the work site

– the importance of finishing the job on time

– the skill and experience of the tradespeople who will do the work

– the availability of appropriate standards

– how much can be known about the scope of work


If the scope of work is uncertain, then careful thought should be given to all the possibilities that may be uncovered as the work progresses. It may be prudent to include some additional tools and materials in the work plan, even though it is unlikely that they will be needed. If the work is close to Stores, then it may be better to leave material that will likely not be required in the Stores, but make sure that it is in stock and include the stock numbers on the work order.

It is clear from this example that for a Planner to work efficiently, supporting systems must also be efficient. The most important of these are the Stores cataloguing and staging processes, the Purchasing process and the technical equipment and standards information systems. The discipline in managing tools and supplies that are outside of Stores’ control is also important. The scope of any project to improve Planning often includes improvements to these supporting processes.

A final note – the work order that goes to the field does not need to have the same detail as the Planner’s version. For a useful form of a “field work order” for the fume hood example, click here. Some maintenance computer systems do not have the functionality to support two practical work order versions.



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© Veleda Services Ltd

Don Armstrong, P. Eng, President