Do Your Maintenance Planners/Schedulers Get Enough Time in the Field?

Maybe you’ve heard this question before, or maybe you’ve seen it circulating online. Maybe someone has asked you directly: “Do your Planners get enough time to go out in the field?”

Well, do they? Do you know how much time your Maintenance Planners have to get away from their desks and go out in the field – in an average week? Month? Year?

More importantly, do you know why they need to get out in the field – and how not having enough time to do so could be setting your company up for all sorts of consequences?

Let me break it down for you.

First things first: the wide range of Maintenance Planning

First, let’s keep in mind that the “right” answers to these questions are as varied as the Planners, P&S experts, and number of companies out there planning work. They also vary greatly depending on the maturity of your Planning and Scheduling group. This could be with respect to their CMMS knowledge and their understanding of your scheduling tools and your parts management system. It may also have to do with the task-heavy, long-term projects on their plates – the kinds that may require a Primavera-type overhaul, outages or project management focus.

Believe it or not, the more mature you are in the process, the easier Planning and Scheduling effectiveness becomes, and generally, this maturity can lead to Planners having more time in the field, compared to groups who are still new to Planning and Scheduling and are still working to master the basics and adopt best practices.

So, the exact number of hours will vary, but one thing most Planning departments will have in common is that Planners need time in the field. Why do they need this time – and why is it important that Maintenance Planning Supervisors ensure that they get it? Let’s get down to brass tacks.

Why is it important for Planners to get out in the field?

The Planners that I managed were held to a 20% guideline. They worked 10-hour days, and I asked them to be away from their desks 20% of that time out in the field, gathering data, assessing work and discerning scope. (This is in-line with an accepted measurement in the Utilities or Power Generation sectors, where about 20% to 25% of Planners’ time should be spent in the field.)

Planners use field visits to make sure the scope for job plans is driven by reality and not left to chance, assumptions, or best guesses.

It is way too easy to attach a job plan to a work order, run it through approvals and schedule it depending on your business processes. And probably about 10% of the time, that job plan won’t be a problem and the Planners and/or Supervisors will be okay.

But wait for those “Houston, we have a problem” moments. When the time comes for immediate reaction from those doing the work, effective pre-job walkdowns could have identified issues specific to the location, current environment or asset. Without a proper field visit, all sorts of gaps, mistakes, vagueness and other problems are introduced. I’ve even seen the identified problem attached to the wrong asset way too many times.

The point is, Planners need to have time (and make time) to go out in the field to understand and document the realities of the assets, locations, and the maintenance work to be done. This kind of information can’t be inferred from far away, behind a computer. You have to see it in person.

Most effective Planners carve out this time field early each day, reviewing new work identified from the previous day or shift. But they must be flexible enough in their time management to do a field visit at any time or when time allows. (And if they’ve truly made the effort and time doesn’t allow… that’s a big problem. Your organization needs to find out how to decrease the time some of their other tasks take, so that Planners have enough time to spend on these high value tasks.)

You’ve got to think about it from the Maintenance Technician’s perspective. The tech is asking himself or herself, “Do I need insulation removed? Will we need to build a scaffold? Is this a congested area?”

Imagine how much more effective a work order package is when those details and descriptions are already there. Or better yet, when there are pictures attached showing the problem – such as a steam leak, oil leak, packing blown, hole in a line, etc. Forewarned is forearmed.

These are all questions easily identified within the first 10 seconds of visiting a potential job site. And that’s why it’s vital that the Maintenance Planner sees the job site with their own two eyes.

Time well spent: Maintenance Planners conducting field visits

During my days at SRP, we had a checklist for Planners before they headed out into the field. Any organization can develop (and refine) a field tool kit to make their field visits more effective and to get more value out of that time spent.

The most important thing for Planners to know is that they can’t remember everything. (I don’t know about you, but my memory capacity has gotten smaller over the years.) So, a Maintenance Planner’s field toolkit should help them to document the details. Here are a few things a Planner should take with him/her when performing field visits:

  • Notebook, pen, pencil and eraser
  • Digital voice recorder (much easier to take field notes than in a notebook)
  • Digital camera (small one with good memory is almost essential these days)
  • Measuring tape
  • Flashlight
  • Laser pointer (to highlight leaks and out-of-reach points in digital photos)
  • And, of course, all the required personal safety equipment

To summarize: it is a critical part of a Planner’s job that they spend enough time in the field (ideally every day) to help them be more effective in providing quality plan content that is executable in a safe, responsible and reliable manner.

In some cases, it’s a matter of mandating to Planners that they spend a certain amount of time out in the field based on industry best practices. In other cases, it’s not a matter of a lack of understanding or a lack of will – the reality is that the Planners are too bogged down with difficult tools and there aren’t enough hours in the day or week to do it all.

Now that you know why it’s important for your Maintenance Planners to get that valuable field time in, you can take stock of where you team is at: how many hours do they spend? Are they prepared when they go? What are the results of their field visits? If they aren’t spending enough time in the field, why? Are they set up for success with the right tools so that they can devote more time to these high value tasks?