Centralized or Decentralized Maintenance Scheduling: Which One Is Right for You?

Scheduling is a very pivotal part of gaining maintenance efficiency.  Building a schedule isn’t just about assigning dates to work orders, it’s about ensuring field communication, resource readiness, equipment availability, and backlog management are all being taken care of.  Schedulers play a critical role in the coordination of work, materials, contractors, and management. All these factors play a role in allowing maintenance professionals to know what’s happening and what to expect.

So how do we make sure we’re setting up our scheduler for success?  Is the best strategy to use a centralized maintenance scheduling strategy and use only one scheduler or should we decentralize our facility to let multiple schedulers get deeper into the weeds of their areas or crews?  Understanding what method is best for you is important to the success of your maintenance organization.

Which Scheduling Maintenance Program Are You Using?

So which method of scheduling are you currently using at your site?  To understand the difference between centralized vs. decentralized maintenance scheduling, here are the basics: 

  • Centralized maintenance scheduling is defined by a single schedule being built and managed for an entire facility, almost always built by a single scheduling role despite the number of technicians and contractors on site.  This scheduler is responsible for communication of work across the field, ensuring all areas and crafts are aware of priorities and events, as well as gather field updates daily and manage work forecasts.  In this case, the scheduler will focus on overall available manpower per craft and load the schedule based on priorities and needs, but leave the individual personnel management, such as work assignment to a specific person, to craft supervisors.
  • Decentralized maintenance scheduling is characterized by multiple schedulers for a single interlinked facility, where each is independent and manages their own backlogs, workload, and priorities.  Commonly, the schedulers are separated by site areas, such as production lines, or by crafts, such as major crafts, support crafts, and contractors.  In these cases, each scheduler is more into the weeds of the jobs daily, where they will know the individuals and manage all aspects of their schedule down to the person, and sometimes fulfill more of a dual planner/scheduler role.

Both options provide advantages and challenges within a maintenance organization and require different levels of maturity.  Setting up the right format for your overall goals and maintenance strategy is very important.  As industry expert Doc Palmer points out in his article, “Centralized vs. Decentralized Maintenance,” “Centralized maintenance naturally values schedules, while decentralized maintenance values priorities. Company management must employ a system that drives both values, whether centralized or not.” Determining what system is right for you means asking yourself a simple question: “How do I best coordinate work, manage priorities, and maximize work productivity across my maintenance teams?” 

The Argument for Centralized Maintenance Scheduling

Common challenges of a decentralized maintenance scheduling practice stem from the communication gaps and various forms of the truth.  Whether area or craft based, having more than one person build a schedule using plant resources will undoubtedly mean potential for conflict with double-booking of resources, misconstrued priorities, and lack of communication.  We commonly see challenges where work isn’t completed due to competing schedules that are never synchronized. As a result, multi-craft jobs aren’t aligned, and supervisors don’t see the full picture of requirements from other schedulers. Gatekeeping for break-ins also becomes a challenge because now, more than one schedule is affected. Conflict resolution can take a significant amount of time and updates aren’t consistently coordinated across the site.  In some situations, we have even seen differing opinions of prioritization lead to costly breakdowns and unnecessary production losses.

In a centralized maintenance scheduling environment, there is only one schedule that matters, and it’s the same schedule that everyone is looking at.  Utilizing a single schedule reduces the likelihood of conflict, ensures that all priorities are in order, and enables resourcing issues to be handled ahead of time.  

Role of Management in Maintenance Scheduling Activities

As a precursor to building the schedule, the scheduler will prioritize all critical work around the facility, accounting for each production area’s requirements and PMs and organize the entire workforce according to the upcoming demand.  This’ll ensure that: they’re accounting for contractors as needed, have a consistent story for materials readiness, and keep all supervisors informed on lock-outs and work execution.  In the event of a break-in, the scheduler can immediately react to ensure workers are directed as needed and made aware of timely updates made to the schedule.

Since the scheduler is focused on the overall dance that is maintenance coordination, some of the finer details will typically fall to the supervisors.  This means that the individual supervisors are empowered to manage exactly who will be executing each task, making sure the right person is on the job each time.  The supervisor is also the person who will know the daily routine of his crew, such as training schedules, vacations, and callouts outside of the standard schedule. This places a part of the responsibility of managing the daily schedule on the supervisor. They not only provide the support needed to ensure that crews receive and execute their work, but in more advanced cases, may get involved with work assignments and personnel schedule updates electronically to make sure the scheduler sees the right forecasted capacities.  This keeps the supervisor involved in schedule updates and overall maintenance effectiveness.

How to Best Manage a Decentralized Maintenance Scheduling Program

Centralized maintenance scheduling may not be an option for your site, based on organizational requirements or other reasons. Even in the best of cases, there are also inherent risks to centralization, such as having the supervisors in the system for personnel updates, that we may not be able to do or have the system access for.  No matter the reason, how do we make sure we’re successful with a decentralized maintenance schedule given the challenges?

Key Takeaway: The answer is communication. 

Whether your decentralized maintenance schedule is broken out by craft or by plant section, the most important thing you can do is communicate priorities and requirements between schedulers to ensure synchronization and agreement.  The best way to do this is with a master schedule.  Even without a single scheduler that is overlooking all work and crafts, the schedulers need to be aware of the big picture via a standard view of the master schedule.  Chances are work crosses schedules. Whether it’s a shared scope across craft schedules or shared resources across areas, we must make sure there are no conflicts that’ll cause any unnecessary delays.

Even in the best workshops where we see teams using decentralized maintenance scheduling, we often see a pre-scheduling meeting where all schedulers will gather to review their priorities and resource requirements with each of their forecasted schedules to see where they might be able to give or to plead their case for their needs.  This small-scale negotiation, or “horse-trading” as it’s sometimes referred to, is important for the decentralized maintenance scheduling process. It allows managers of individual teams to synchronize and develop final schedules based on a combination of needs and availability and avoid risk during work execution.  This can help schedulers come up with a detailed, final schedule that they can take back to their supervisors and crews.

Decide Which Maintenance Scheduling Method is Right for You

As previously stated, centralized and decentralized maintenance scheduling strategies offer their advantages but also their own drawbacks to an organization.  It’s up to the site to determine which method is best for their needs.  Common considerations should be taken for each case, re-capped below:

When to consider a centralized maintenance schedule:

  • Want to ensure there is one schedule and one version of the truth
  • Centralize work prioritization and break-in management
  • Supervisors know specifically who is best for the job and who is in today to do it
  • Ensure everyone is on the same page all the time, no exceptions

Consider a decentralized maintenance schedule:

  • Want to limit backlog and work management in the system
  • Schedulers wear multiple hats, including planner and some degree of direct supervision
  • Supervisors need to focus on the field, not the system

Managers should always be looking for opportunities to provide their maintenance teams with the means to achieve greater efficiency. In the end, the goal is to do what’s right for your organization in order to optimize wrench time and therefore maximize equipment uptime.

If you’re looking for a solution that simplifies scheduling into one accessible location, encourages communication, and maximizes time on tools no matter your strategy, check out Prometheus Routine Maintenance, our flagship solution in the integrated Prometheus platform.

Author: Justin Fox

Functional Consulting Manager at Prometheus Group

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