Fix the dreaded “Weekly Scheduling Meeting”

Most organizations that use a weekly cycle for organizing maintenance work include a “scheduling meeting” as part of this process. Some are very effective and very short, many others are not but they could be.

Maintenance and Operations have joint responsibilities for setting the relative priority of the work orders that are in the Maintenance backlog, and for deciding when each job should be done. The Weekly Scheduling Meeting should be a very small but important part of making these decisions.

In my visits to many organizations I have seen scheduling meetings that are well-attended by the few key people required (Maintenance and Operations Supervisors and Planners), take 5 to 10 minutes and very effectively reach agreement on the work plans for the following week. I have seen many others that are very ineffective and examples include:

– 17 managers meeting for over 2 hours to go through the entire backlog for several departments in an attempt to build a work schedule

– 15 managers meeting twice weekly to set maintenance work priorities for a maintenance work force of 25 tradepeople.

– scheduling meetings with only Maintenance people there. The Operations people refuse to go because they think the meetings are a waste of time (and they are probably right).

I firmly believe that Maintenance business processes must be the responsibility of the Maintenance department. The priority-setting and scheduling business process must be managed by Maintenance, must make it easy for Operations people to participate effectively and must encourage their essential input.

There are some basic pre-requisites for effective and brief scheduling meetings:

  1. The first and most important is a well-managed maintenance work order backlog. This means that the responsibility for keeping the backlog current and accurate must be assigned to and accepted by a Maintenance person who has ready access to the information that makes this possible. I believe that this is a role that suits the Planner position because the Planner knows, or should know, the status of all work orders.

Preparing and maintaining a good maintenance work backlog is all about sorting and filtering lists of work, a function that many maintenance software systems do not do well. For an example of a very effective way to use MS Excel, with a clever add-in, to simplify the backlog management process have a look at Part 1 “Scheduling Maintenance Work”.

  1. For the backlog to be accurate, Maintenance and Operations Supervisors, and all others who request work, must ensure that there is a work order for all work that is to be done (except small jobs) and Maintenance Supervisors must ensure that for all work orders the status is changed to “Complete” (or the appropriate equivalent status in the maintenance computer system) as soon as the work is done.
  2. There must be a simple process for establishing and recording work order priorities and this process must allow and encourage input from both Maintenance and Operations Supervisors.
  3. Scheduling meetings must have an agenda and a process for recording decisions that are made.
  4. And finally, and perhaps the most important requirement is that both the Maintenance Manager and the Operations Manager actively support the work order management system. The failure of the scheduling process is often a result of senior managers making snap decisions on priorities and ignoring the established business processes, although that, in turn, is also likely to be the result of weak or non-existent processes or the discipline to follow them.


For priority-setting and scheduling to be most effective, there are several steps that need to be taken each week. Most of these require little time and must be assigned to someone who is somewhat removed from day-to-day Maintenance work management and who can therefore set aside the necessary time at the same time each week to ensure this important work is done. An example of the necessary steps is listed below.

  1. Friday, 10 days before the start of the week to which the weekly schedule will apply.

Determine, by trade and by area, the Maintenance manpower that will be available to apply to the weekly schedule work. This should exclude people who are scheduled to be absent or who will be assigned to other activities, such as area shutdowns, training, etc.

This should be the responsibility of senior Maintenance managers.

  1. Tuesday, 6 days before the schedule week.

Review the prioritized backlog, determine which work will have the materials and other resources available during the schedule week and prepare a draft list of work that could be done with the available manpower, in order of priority. Obviously, to make this possible all work orders must have at least a rough estimate of hours needed for each trade.

Send this draft schedule to the area Maintenance and Operations Supervisors.

This is the responsibility of the person who manages the backlog (the “Backlog Manager”), and I recommend that this be the area Planner.

  1. Wednesday, 5 days before the schedule week.

Both the Operations and Maintenance Supervisors must take some time during the day to review the draft work list for the schedule week, make any adjustments that they feel are necessary and return their comments to the Backlog Manager. While the highest priority work should be done first, the supervisors should indicate any scheduling restrictions or opportunities (e.g. jobs that should be done together because it makes sense, jobs that should be delayed because tradespeople familiar with the work will be absent, jobs that require key equipment to be shut down, etc). Because an area planner should have all this information it makes sense for the Planner position to be assigned the functions of backlog management and preparing draft schedules.

The Backlog Manager should take the comments from the supervisors and get an update on the current week’s work to determine what jobs will carry over to the next week and how much time will be needed to complete them. He should then update the draft schedule and send it out to the people who will attend the scheduling meeting. Those people MUST review the schedule prior to the meeting.

  1. Thursday, 4 days before the schedule week.

Hold the weekly scheduling meeting. If the above steps have been taken, the agenda will be to make final minor adjustments to the schedule and “sign off”. The meeting should take no more than 10 minutes.

When the meeting is over, the Backlog Manager should then put on his scheduling hat and prepare a draft detailed work schedule for the week with tradespeople’s names assigned. This takes some time and concentration, which is why I recommend that this draft not be prepared by the Maintenance Supervisor whose rapidly-changing daily priorities may prevent¬† him from doing this important task. However, the draft schedule must be reviewed with and revised by the Maintenance Supervisor who does have the final responsibility of deciding which tradespeople are assigned to work orders. For details of a process to prepare a graphic weekly schedule, see Part 2 “Scheduling Maintenance Work”.

When the schedule is completed, it should be sent to everyone who has an interest, including operating control rooms and maintenance shop notice boards.

Some last comments:

– This may sound like a lot of work, but every function described above has to be, and is now being, done by someone at some time. This process outlined here makes sure that all the important decisions are made as early as practical and are properly managed.

– It MUST be recognized that most maintenance jobs, by their nature, seldom take the estimated time. Some will take more and some will take less. It must be accepted that any weekly schedule issued on a Thursday will inevitably be wrong come Monday morning. This does not mean that a weekly schedule doesn’t have any value. It provides a framework that will ensure that the most important work is done as soon as possible, even if its not at the time shown on the schedule. A daily schedule that is extracted from the weekly schedule and which takes into account all the changes that happen is an essential part of good work scheduling.

– Schedules that are prepared for an operating area must include all the area trades. This may involve, for example, a Mechanical Supervisor and and Electrical Supervisor. The scheduling process must integrate the activities of all trades.

– There must be an opportunity for those who are not involved in day-to-day area activities to have input into the work schedule, For example, a project or process engineer who needs work done must use the work order system and must let the Backlog Manager know the urgency of the work they need done in time for it to be included in the scheduling cycle.

– Comparing the amount of work that is on a weekly schedule with the amount of that work that actually gets completed is a very bad Key Performance Indicator (KPI) because it will inevitably lead to less work being scheduled. For more on this, see “Measuring Maintenance Performance“.

Managing backlogs and scheduling work are not the most exciting tasks, but they form the basic framework for the whole maintenance management process and should be strongly supported by senior managers.

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Don Armstrong, P. Eng


Veleda Services Ltd

250-655-8267 (Pacific Time)

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