The 5 W's (and 1 H) of Enterprise Maintenance Planning and Scheduling

Shutdowns. For some, this word causes blood pressure to rise, hearts to race, and minds to spin. For others, it’s a welcome relief to know that broken machinery will be fixed, and efficiencies will be attainable once more.

For a worker who is not tied to the maintenance department, this might mean a forced vacation.

My friend Bob recently faced such a “vacation” when the entire plant was shut down for a variety of maintenance projects. However, Bob had a few tight deadlines which meant he was one of only a few non-maintenance people who had to work during the shutdown.

At one point, a maintenance worker made the rounds and let Bob know the bathroom in his wing would be out of service the next day while work was being done. However, the other restrooms would be fully functional.

The good news is this person took the time to update everyone about the maintenance, and as we all know, good communication is not always the norm.

The bad news?

The information was incorrect. Bob later received an email that said there would be no water in the entire building for the next two days.

A step back to remember the basics of maintenance planning

During a regularly scheduled shutdown, a series of well-planned preventative maintenance plans (PMs) are scheduled for execution while the building is relatively empty. They are likely prepared well in advance, perhaps as much as a year earlier when the last shutdown was executed. The success of each job is dependent on many different components coming together efficiently.

However, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the details that we sometimes overlook the very foundation of Enterprise Maintenance Planning and Scheduling best practices. Sometimes, it’s important to go back to the beginning to recall the fundamentals of efficient planning and scheduling.

In the above situation, communication broke down and, as they say, the right hand wasn’t talking to the left. The best PMs can fall apart if the correct information is not conveyed to the right people at the right time.

In that vein, a refresher in the very basics—Planning and Scheduling 101, shall we say—is always helpful.

Think back. Way back to your school years. Remember the ‘5 Ws’ that were drilled into our heads? Who, what, where, when and why? (Of course, then they had to blindside us with "how" too.)

Planning and scheduling can be broken down easily using this method. While a common misconception is that these two processes are interchangeable, planning tasks are vastly different from scheduling methods.

To keep the two separate, consider that the planning processes addresses the who, what, and where while scheduling covers the when, why and how.

Start with the W's (and H) of enterprise maintenance planning

1. Who

The “who” is extremely important in the planning process.

  • Who is going to be performing the maintenance work?
  • How many people are needed to complete the given task?
  • How long will that manpower need to be allocated?

While considering who will be involved, their skill levels should also be taken into account. Jeff Shiver, CEO and co-founder of People and Processes, recently delivered the keynote presentation at a User Group in Denver.

As he explained:

When you talk about change and you talk about equipment availability in general, everybody points fingers at maintenance. They say, ‘Okay, all the problems with the equipment reliability are related to maintenance practices.’ The reality is everybody in the manufacturing organization—engineering, production, sales and marketing, management, purchasing—all those people own a portion of the asset reliability.

Keeping Jeff’s perspective in mind, consider who is going to be impacted by the maintenance plan? If there is a machine that needs to be partially or completely shut down, who will it impact? It may help to use a RACI chart to keep track of who is responsible and who needs to be kept in the loop.

2. What?

“What” is another component of Enterprise Maintenance Planning. In this instance, the “what” can be a number of different things, including:

  • The asset itself
  • The parts to fix it
  • The tools required

It’s one thing to have to fix an asset if it fails, but this puts the maintenance department in a reactive mode. If parts are not in inventory, they often come with a hefty price tag because a company has no negotiating power, and rush shipping is very costly.

To prevent this, a skilled maintenance planner can calculate and anticipate when an asset needs routine maintenance to avoid failure of a critical piece of equipment. The scheduler then takes on the maintenance plan and the asset is essentially fixed before it breaks.

Additionally, the “what” aspect includes parts. These parts may be in inventory, but this can be costly to house, or there may be a lifespan on that part. If you’ve ever taken an old rubber band out of your junk drawer only to have it disintegrate in your hand, you know what I mean.

3. Where?

Before working on an asset, it’s critical to ensure all the people, parts, and tools are “where” they need to be on site. If parts need to be ordered, the purchasing department should be given ample time to ensure they arrive before the work is set to commence.

There are few things more frustrating than scheduling a job, only to have it delayed because of missing or lost components. This can drastically decrease wrench-on time.

When I’m not working, I love to cook. I learned the hard way how important it is to assemble my ingredients ahead of time when I baked my crowd-pleasing tarte au sucre (maple syrup pie) only to realize about ten minutes into the baking that I had forgotten the maple syrup. Five years after the fact, I have yet to make the recipe without one of my kids slipping in a comment about the once-missing ingredient.

4. How?

Depending on the size of an organization, the maintenance scheduler will likely rely on scheduling software to successfully manage all the necessary components. Many people I have spoken with in the industry report that when things were simpler and smaller, they were able to manage their schedule on a basic spreadsheet.

As the complexity of needs and assets increased, however, they turned to programs such as Prometheus Planning & Scheduling. Efficiencies in scheduling with current, updated software have helped to bring their overall quality to a new level while reducing lost time and increasing wrench-on time.

Move forward to the W's of enterprise maintenance scheduling

5. When?

The next two W's fall under the direction of the maintenance scheduler. While a planner determines what steps are required to perform a specific job, the scheduler determines when the job can be accomplished based on resource availability.

The schedule should complement the times that will be the least disruptive for the facility. For example, in my friend Bob’s situation, it simply wouldn’t have been feasible to shut off the entire water supply when the facility was fully up and running.

Or, if you have an asset responsible for producing a seasonal item, it would be fiscally irresponsible to perform scheduled maintenance on that equipment when its needed to produce high quantities of that product or service. For instance, a utility serving thousands of residents in northern states would be remiss to schedule maintenance that could potentially interrupt their heating in the depths of winter.

Consequently, when considering the “when”, an informed scheduler will assess when the disruption level is low, and move forward accordingly.

A scheduler takes all the components the planner identified and moves them into the execution phase. This includes:

  • The person or people identified as the most qualified to complete the PMs
  • The parts needed
  • The asset that must be freed up for work

6. Where?

This may seem like a given at first; of course, we know “where” the PM is going to take place. However, if you think about large institutions with multiple sites, it is critical to keep this in mind. Does the worker need to travel to the location? If so, this component needs to be factored in as well.

Inefficient planning and scheduling can result in up to 65% wasted time; in fact, as much as 15% of lost time is spent traveling to and from a job site.

The maintenance scheduler also makes sure all the assets’ necessary parts and tools are in the correct location. Referring to Matt Midas' whitepaper on effective planning and scheduling, we find that as much as 12% of wasted time alone can be eaten up by looking for the proper tools and materials.

Beyond making sure tangible parts are where they need to be at the right time, don’t forget documentation. Any procedures or other supporting material should be on-hand to ensure nobody is searching for the correct information.

Looking for more of these valuable planning and scheduling tips? Download our free, detailed white paper on maintenance planning and scheduling best practices.