How is it possible to plan all maintenance work?


A job that is well-planned will ensure that the intended scope is achieved, the quality is high and that time and effort are not wasted. On average a well-planned job will take about half as long as a job that is not planned.

This article looks at the function of “Planning” in more detail, and suggests some ways to ensure that all maintenance work, except genuine emergencies, is properly planned, even though the number of positions called “Planner” are limited.

If the definition of “Planning” is “deciding what to do and how to do it”, then, by definition, every maintenance job that is done is planned by someone. Where a position with the title “Planner” exists, it is often assumed that the incumbent spends his or her day “planning” work. In reality, Planners often spend much of their time processing work orders (which is not “planning”) and other administrative tasks (such as scheduling) and may actually spend little time performing detailed planning. For the majority of work, the decisions on what to do and how to do it are left to the maintenance supervisor and, more often, the tradespeople.

The common process for handling smaller maintenance tasks, which often accounts for the majority of the maintenance effort, is to assign tradespeople to work which has not been well-defined. The scope of the work assignment then includes “planning” (i.e. identifying the problem, deciding on a workable solution and finding tools and materials) and executing the repair. Work of this nature is very difficult to estimate and schedule because the scope is unknown. If the planning function is left to the tradespeople on a job-by-job basis it is most unlikely to be an efficient use of their time.

Ideally, all work should be planned in advance, especially work which has a tight deadline (such as shutdown work) and work which is remote from the source of supplies and tools.

As part of the work management process, a decision should be made on the assignment of the planning function for each new job. If new work orders are reviewed daily by the Maintenance and Operations supervisors (a very good practice) then that review is a good time to decide if each job should be planned by a Planner, or by tradespeople.

If the planning function is assigned to tradespeople, then it should be properly managed. Examples of good management include:

– Allowing time during PM inspection tours to “plan” the repair of problems which are found. A supply of simple forms for recording the work steps and the materials and tools required for each step (view example) should be included in the work order package for PM inspection tours, and the PM work order should specify the time allowed for this planning activity (e.g. “The estimated time for this inspection allows up to one hour for the completion of both sides of ‘self-planning’ forms for problems found. If this is insufficient time, please note the unplanned problems on the front side only of the ‘self-planning” forms and attach all forms to the completed inspection sheet.”). Of course, this will work well only if the PM administration process is designed, as it should be, to allow inspectors to quickly check to see if problems identified during their inspection already have a repair work order (See “Getting the most from your PM programme“)

– Scheduling the planning of work by tradespeople as a part of their regular activities, following good scheduling practices. For example, if there is a high-priority job to be planned or executed in a remote location, then other lower-priority work at that location should also be planned at the same time, where practical. The work orders for these planning assignments can be readily estimated (and need not be charged to the equipment – it would not be if planned by a Planner), and this planning effort will also allow a realistic estimate to be applied to the resulting repair work.

Never allow any restrictive trade practices to interfere with planning. For example, if a pipefitting trade exists and pipefitters have jurisdiction over pipe repairs, this should never prevent a PM inspector, who may be from any trade, from listing the job steps and materials (bolts, gaskets, ladders, etc) to replace a leaking gasket. It should be firmly established that contractual restrictions apply only to the physical repair work. In conservative organizations this may be a highly contentious point, but it is worth resolving for everyone’s benefit (see “The high cost of restrictions“)

Where the planning function is assigned to tradespeople, the scope of this function should be made clear. Typically, tradespeople will identify the job steps and the materials, tools and equipment required, and another, non-trades position, such as a Planner and/or a Storeroom employee, will have the responsibility to gather those items in to a suitable “work order kit” prior to the work being scheduled.

Detailed planning, which is the process of “thinking through” a job, breaking it down in to logical steps and listing all the materials, tools, equipment and labour required to do the work, does not come naturally to many people. However, it can be learned and will improve with practice. It is a skill that can be used for many activities in life, both on the job and off.


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© Veleda Services Ltd

Don Armstrong, P. Eng, President