Although this is the fairly long lesson, there is only a single objective. It is for you to know, and understand, the 6 Principles of Maintenance Planning. These principles outline what your organization must put in placeto achieve an effective maintenance planning process.
If you fail to implement these principles, your planning process will not deliver the results you need. Your planning process will fail.
The Planning Principles that I will talk through this lesson are very much based on the Maintenance Planting & Schedule Handbook written by Richard ‘Doc‘ Palmer. His book is probably the closest thing to an industry standard for Planning and Scheduling that I know of. It is a great reference book, and it’s now updated to the 4th edition, but it is not a quick read with over 900 pages!
To be clear what I teach in this lesson about Maintenance Planning Principles is aligned to the principles outlined in Doc Palmer’s book, but I have made some changes based on my own practical experience from the last 20+ years.
All right. Welcome to Lesson Two of Module Four about the Principles of Maintenance Planning. Although this will be a fairly long lesson, we actually only have a single objective for this lesson, and that is for you to get to know and understand the six principles of maintenance planning. These principles outline what your organization must ensure happens in order to achieve an effective maintenance planning process. You fail to implement these principles, your planning process will not deliver the results you need, your planning process will fail.
Now, the planning principles that we’re going to talk through in this lesson are very much based on the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook written by Doc Palmer. And that is probably the closest thing to an industry standard around maintenance planning and scheduling. It’s now up to the third edition, I believe, over 900 pages. And for some of you, this may have been included in your course package. And for those of you who don’t have a copy, I would strongly recommend ordering a copy. As I said, this is probably the closest thing we have to an industry standard on maintenance planning and scheduling. And it’s a great reference book. It’s not a quick read with those 900 pages.
And to be clear, what I teach in this lesson about maintenance planning principles is aligned to what Doc Palmer writes, but there are differences, and I have made some changes to the content that you would find in that book. Those changes are based on my own experience from the last 20-plus years.
Okay. So let’s get started and explore the six principles of maintenance planning. What I’ll do is I’ll first give you a brief overview of all six maintenance planning principles and then I’ll delve into each of them in more detail.
The first maintenance planning principle is focus on future work. The point is your maintenance planner only really adds value if he or she is planning future work. It’s exactly that planning of future work that ensures your technician don’t experience unnecessary delays during the execution of their work. And that’s how maintenance planning adds value to your organization.
The second principle is that your maintenance planner should be sitting in a separate group in your organization away from your execution team. You don’t want your planners reporting to your maintenance supervisor if you can help it. Now this principle is basically an organizational design principle to support principle one. By putting your planners in a separate group, you make it easier for them to focus on future work and they are less likely to get dragged in today’s emergency or having to cover for the supervisor when he or she is on leave.
The third principle is that maintenance planners need to take responsibility for job history and equipment data. And this is a big one. You see, nobody in your maintenance team is better placed to look after this information and nobody in your maintenance team has more to gain by having the right equipment data and technical history at his or her fingertips.
Now you may work in a company where this is well-organized. Well, lucky you. You may already have a central electronic repository for technical drawings, equipment data sheets and manuals, et cetera. Really that’s great. If that’s the case, use it and do your best to keep it up to date. But if you’re like most of us and if you’re like most of the people around the world, then that won’t be the case and you will need to work with your maintenance planner to set up a system, even if it’s just as simple as creating electronic network folders to store documents for future reuse.
Principle four is that job durations need to be estimated based on experience. Now, what I mean by that is that you need to rely on the experience, knowledge, and skill set of your maintenance planner and let him or her estimate job durations to the best of his or her ability. Of course, there is no problem if sometimes the planner tests those duration assumptions with, say, the maintenance supervisor or one of the more experienced technicians, but that should be by exception. The main thing is that you do not want to try and get to job durations using norms like you would do in construction work because that does not work well for maintenance. I will talk a little bit more about that.
The fifth principle of maintenance planning is that your maintenance planner needs to recognize the skill of the crew. So that means that when your planner puts a job plan together, that should be based on the likely skillset, experience, and competencies you have in your crew, in your organization. My general rule of thumb is that a job plan should be detailed enough that a competent technician new to your facility should be able to execute the job. And that technician should not have to go and find technical information whilst executing the job. However, if you are in a new facility with a lot of new staff and you may have some competency gaps or challenges, you may decide that your plans need to contain more information to ensure the jobs get done well. So it needs to be based on your crew.
The last principle, number six, is to act on feedback. And this is so important. Now as we already talked about, maintenance is really all about continuous improvement. And you cannot continuously improve, if you: a, don’t get feedback; b, you don’t act on the feedback. Not acting on feedback is probably the quickest way to destroy the continuous improvement cycle. Yeah, once technicians discover that the feedback they gave on job plans or equipment history, that that feedback is not used, they will very quickly stop providing it. And restarting that feedback loop can be very hard. So make sure you act on the feedback you get.
And that were the six principles of maintenance planning, which in summary were: principle one, focus on future work; principle two, have your planners in a separate organizational group; principle three, make sure your planners maintain a library of equipment data and job history; principal four, develop job duration estimates based on experience; principle five, plan whilst recognizing the skill of your crew; and finally, principle six, act on feedback.
All right. The first principle we’ll discuss in more detail is that your planner needs to focus on future work. And what this principle tells us is that planners should always be looking at the work ahead of us, not today’s emergency. Because if you let your planners deal with the problems of today, they will no longer plan your future work. And if your future work is not planned and properly prepared, your maintenance crew will experience the waste and delays we talked about earlier. Without your planner focusing on the future, you will not be able to increase productivity. So planners plan ahead and they do not work on today’s emergency.
Now adhering to this planning principle means that you do not allow your planner to plan emergency work, those super urgent breakdowns that need to fix right now. That is the domain of the maintenance supervisor, and that’s something we’ll discuss later. Or plan emergent work, the work that arises as jobs are in progress. Again, that is the domain of the maintenance supervisor. You don’t want your maintenance planners chasing materials for work in progress. You don’t want them to be scheduling routine activities, or acting as a relief supervisor, or become what I would say multipurpose in any other way. You want your planners to purely focus on maintenance planning.
The way I like to summarize this planning principle is that planners don’t work for the current week, they work for future weeks. So if you find your planner being asked to do anything in support of the current week, the current schedule, like dealing with emergencies or helping the maintenance crew find spares, the things we just spoke about, then you know you are violating this planning principle. And you can rest assured that if you violate this planning principle that the efficiency gains you had hoped to achieve from implementing planning and scheduling will simply never materialize or the gains that you have made will evaporate over time.
I have seen this over and over where organizations allow planners to work in support of the current week where managers don’t enforce this planning principle, and then eventually the maintenance planning functions soon start to fall apart and people wonder why they’re not getting the productivity that they should be getting. So don’t make this mistake. Protect your maintenance planner and make sure he or she only works on future work.
The second maintenance planning principle was to keep your planners in a separate group. It means that when it comes to developing your maintenance organization, you want to make sure you have your planners and scheduler sit outside the execution crew. You see, as planning principle one tells us, planners should always be focusing on future work and not working for the current week. But the execution crew, your technicians and their supervisor, work for the current week by definition and putting these two groups too close together will mean that sooner or later the execution crew is going to drag the planners closer to them and ask for support.
Now that could be with just simple technical questions to begin with, but if you’re not careful, eventually you will see your planners help with emergency work, finding spares, covering as relief supervisor, et cetera, and then you erode the efficiency gains that you’re aiming to achieve with maintenance planning.
Now the other benefit of having these groups separated to some degree is that it minimizes the risk of too many have-you-got-a-minute type of questions. You see, over time your planner will become one of the most knowledgeable people in the organization when it comes to your equipment, how to diagnose problems, how to repair problems, where to find documentation or drawings, where and how to find spares in your CMMS. So technicians, supervisors, operators, and many others will have a temptation to go and ask your planner for help because it’s so much easier to just ask the question than try and find out themselves.
Sure, it makes a lot of sense. But unless you protect your planner from all these have-you-got-a-minute questions and requests, your planner will lose again the time and the focus on the future work and your efficiency will be undermined. So in summary, the second maintenance principle tells us to protect our maintenance planners by placing them in a separate organizational group so that they can actually focus on future work, which is principle number one.
The third maintenance planning principle is to ensure you manage job history and equipment data. Now there are two parts to this planning principle. The first is job history, which means we record what equipment failed, why it failed, how the job went, and what should be improved next time. Recording job history needs to be done in cooperation between the maintenance technicians and your maintenance planner. You want your maintenance technicians and their supervisor to be accountable for the quality of the history they enter in your CMMS.
The role of the planner is to review the job history, identify improvements, and make sure the job is done more efficiently next time around. Now, be careful, your planner is not a reliability engineer. Your planners should not be doing root cause analysis. Your planner should be looking at the history to identify how the job plan can be improved.
The second part of this planning principle is all around managing equipment data. Managing equipment data is key to the success of your planner and your planning process. Let’s have a look at that in more detail.
Now the first point I want to make is that your planner needs to be made responsible for establishing and maintaining equipment files. This is not a common practice, especially in larger organizations. But, as you will see, the planner has the most to gain or lose in your maintenance team if equipment files are not established or accurate. And therefore, as a minimum, you want your planner to be the focal point within maintenance for equipment data and your equipment files. And those equipment files would include up-to-date copies of equipment, data sheets, drawings, that would be, say, general arrangement drawings, or PIN ID, single line diagrams, other electrical drawings, cause and effects, instrumentation diagrams, whatever is needed to maintain the equipment.
Equipment installation and operating manuals. OEM manuals often include useful content for maintenance procedures and step by step guides for troubleshooting and diagnosing problems. So make sure you can find them. Another important data set to maintain would be spare parts data, including, say, a bill of materials complete with all part numbers and descriptions. And ideally, over time your planner would build up a set of pictures of the equipment at various stages of being maintained.
Now these equipment files could be in the form of cabinets with hard copies. I know that is very old fashioned and you may be smiling and thinking, “Really?” But I tell you you’ll be better off with cabinets with up-to-date hard copies than with a modern electronic mess.
For sure, in this day and age, you would prefer to have everything electronic. Maybe it’s all housed in a central document management system or maybe your planner will have to create a folder structure on a shared network drive, and then just add in all the documents or maybe just links to the documents. It doesn’t really matter what shape or form it is in. You just want to make sure your planner starts to build up this library of equipment files.
And if you focus on quality and accuracy, there’s no point in having a centralized library of equipment data that is out of date or inaccurate. That will simply lead to a lot of rework and waste, which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid, so do make sure that whatever you build has good controls around quality and accuracy.
Now the whole point of this comprehensive set of equipment data that we’re building up here is to use it whenever a job is planned, to update it and improve it every time a job is executed, or as changes are made to the equipment or equipment is replaced. And then the idea is we reuse that data when the next job comes along and we’re planning once more. Having all this information available will save your planner a lot of time.
The concept is simple: find it, find it once and use it many times. So start creating that library of equipment files as soon as possible and improve it over time. Again, it’s in a continuous improvement loop. You’re not going to get this complete and perfect first time around, but just start and make it better and better over time.
Now you may wonder why I put such an emphasis on this and why continuous improvement cycle of equipment files is so important. Well, it goes back to a notion that we talked about earlier, that maintenance is repetitive. It repeats itself. Preventative maintenance is, like we saw earlier, it’s repetitive by definition. Preventive maintenance is done again and again, whether it’s time-based, so every week, every month, every year, whether it’s condition-based, it doesn’t really matter.
PM tasks are done over and over again. But even for corrective maintenance, the same holds true. Research and experience have shown that something like 80% of failures have happened before in most plants. That means that both for PM and CM tasks, your planner will need to plan the same jobs again and again. Sure, there will be changes between these jobs because conditions have changed, the plant condition may be different, but these changes are often minor and the majority of information can be reused from previous jobs.
So you want your planner to plan forever instead of forever planning. And to help with this, you want to make sure your planner establishes that library and saves work packs in the library for reuse, save equipment files in the library so they can be referred over and over again, save corrective draw plans in a library, or even in your CMMS for reuse, and update and improve your PM plans and save them in your library or your CMMS.
Doing this will save a lot of time and make your planner a lot more productive. But most importantly, having all this information and knowledge stored means that, if your planner ever moves onto a new role, is promoted or simply leaves the company, you still have all that knowledge and experience that has been built up neatly stored away in that library. It is not walking out of the door with the planner.
The fourth planning principle is that your job estimates should be based on experience. You want to avoid complex job estimates using estimating norms or some kind of job estimating tool. Instead this planning principle tells you to rely on the experience of your planner. Now let me explain why.
The first point is that, relatively speaking, maintenance jobs are short duration. We’re not talking days or weeks, they’re typically hours. And that means if we’re off by a couple hours on the estimate, we immediately have a very high variation in duration. But the impact is only a few hours. Trying to put a lot of signs and effort to get a more accurate job estimate is probably not worth it if the job durations are relatively short.
The second point is that maintenance jobs have a high variability. That’s just the nature of doing maintenance. Doing a job one day could easily take a few hours longer than the other day if there are issues with access, or if your crew struggles to loosen a set of fasteners, or weather conditions are a lot worse. It’s very hard to predict these natural variations. And again, because the durations are relatively short, it is not worth trying to put a lot of effort in there.
And that brings me to the last point, and that is maintenance is not repeatable assembly-line type of work where we do things thousands or maybe even millions of times. In assembly line work, we really can’t afford variability, but in maintenance work we can’t really avoid it. When it comes to assembly line work, we have almost 0% variation between task duration estimates and actuals. But with individual maintenance plans, and maintenance jobs, that variation can often easily be 50% and maybe even 100% on smaller jobs. But once we take the whole group of individual maintenance jobs, put them together, some will go over duration, some will go under, and that variation evens out to maybe plus or minus 10%, or plus or minus 30% over the whole group of work, which is a lot more acceptable and a lot more manageable.
Now of course the quality and accuracy of your job estimates depend on how experienced your planner is and how many feedback cycles you’ve been through those jobs. But remember even with a job that had been planned to near perfection with many feedback cycles, something can still go wrong. Another failure could be identified, a part may fail, a tool may fail, and that can easily throw off the estimate by 100% or more.
The bottom line of all this is that maintenance jobs by nature have a lot of variation and trying to put a lot of effort in very accurate job duration estimates is simply not worth the effort. It would be a waste of your planner’s time. So instead rely on the experience and knowledge of your planners and use continuous improvement to get better estimates over time.
And understand that the variation from individual jobs becomes quite manageable over bigger group of jobs, which is actually one of the reasons we schedule for a week and not for a day. But that is something we’ll discuss in Module Six, on scheduling.
Now of course this will only work if you have a highly experienced and competent maintenance planner. Someone with a large amount of trade knowledge and actual hands-on experience. Someone who knows how to do the job that he or she is planning. Someone who knows how long they normally would take. Someone with good organizational skills and good data skills. Someone who could put estimates together and actual durations and document them, compare them, and over time improve them. Your planner also needs to be someone with good communication skills so that information flows easily between the planner and the execution crew.
The fifth planning principle that I’ll talk about is that you must recognize the skill of your crew. Now that does not just mean that you need to know how experienced your crew is, but you also need to know what their strengths are and where their weaknesses lie. Therefore how much detail and information you need to provide so that the crew can complete the jobs that are being planned successfully.
In many organizations, you typically have a mix of experience levels. You’ll have some very experienced personnel with many years on the job and you’ll have technicians who may only have just started. You may even have apprentices who are still learning on the job.
How do you decide what the skill of your crew is in that case? How do you decide what level of detail must go in your job plans? Well, as I mentioned earlier, a general rule of thumb I recommend is that you plan your jobs as if the work was to be done by competent technicians that are new to your plant.
The benefit of this approach is that you’re not telling your technicians what they already should know based on their trade knowledge. So you’re not going to be telling them in your job plan how to, say, calibrate an instrument because a competent instrument technician would already know this. But instead you will include in your job plan the range and set points of the instrument because no matter how experienced your technician is, he or she would not know that off the top of their head and have to look it up.
Another example would be the torque values for hold down bolts. We need to include the actual torque value, but you would not tell a mechanical technician how to torque bolts up. That would be assumed knowledge.
Now remember that we said that planning is the what and the how of a job. Well, when it comes to recognizing the skill of the crew you have, it is important to realize that the what has to come before the how. Your planner first needs to be very clear about what needs to be done before defining the how. And that is especially important when you’re still in the early phases of planning and scheduling and you may not have complete job plans in place.
So before you spend a lot of time on the how of certain jobs, make sure all jobs have a very clear and complete what, what needs to be done. So don’t spend all your time to plan one single job to perfection. Instead get as many jobs as possible to a reasonable quality and completeness as soon as possible. Define the what and only then start looking at the how. Now when it comes to the how of a job, realize that the way a job gets executed should be defined by your planner.
But once the job is in the frozen week, the how of the job is owned by the execution crew. So you want to make sure your planner focuses on the really important parts of the how, details that may not be known by the crew irrespective of how much experience they have, or steps that are so important that if the crew did not follow them exactly could lead to injury or equipment damage.
And then when those elements are in place for all jobs, it may become time to add additional steps or additional detail to the how of the jobs. And that will then help your newer, less experienced technicians. So first, make sure you do the what for all your jobs, and then start working on the how.
Planning principle six is that you must act on feedback. Now, although this is the last planning principle, it’s possibly actually the most important, and here’s why. You see, planning is not a linear process. You don’t just plan the work, do the work and then it’s finished. Remember maintenance repeats itself. Maintenance is repetitive and so planning is a cycle of continuous improvement.
It is the cycle of plan, do, check, act. A cycle where we plan the work, do the work, get feedback on the plan and how the work actually went, and then we update our plans so that the work gets done more efficiently, more effectively next time. This means that as we do our jobs over and over and over again, we should be updating our plans over and over and over again. And that is how we are going to be improving our performance. Every time we do a job we should do it just a little bit better and better and better and better. That is what planning is all about, continuous improvement.
All right. That brings me to the end of this lesson. The objective of this lesson was really quite simple. That was for you to get to know and fully understand the six principles of maintenance planning, which in summary were: focus on future work, have your planners in a separate organizational group, make sure your planners maintain a library of equipment data and job history, develop job duration estimates based on experience, plan whilst recognizing the skill of your crew, and last, act on feedback and realize that planning is a cycle of continuous improvement.
Now, to be honest, knowing and understanding these principles is a good start, a very important start. But things don’t change until you consistently apply these principles in practice. And that is something we’ll talk about in Module 10, which is dedicated to how we implement planning and scheduling in your organization. But until then, make sure you truly understand these principles and start looking at how well your organization actually adheres to these principles, which by the way, is actually your next assignment.
Learn what maintenance planning & scheduling is, how it creates value in an industrial plant and how to successfully implement it.