The What and Why of an Efficient Maintenance Job Planning Process

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been working in the maintenance and operations field for over 30 years, and I have been involved in projects ranging from ship and land based plant operations and maintenance to nuclear propulsion plant overhauls to helping organizations improve maintenance and reliability.

What I continue to emphasize to individuals involved in enterprise asset maintenance is that you need to understand what is necessary for an efficient job planning process. Whether just starting out in your career or 10 years into it, you cannot afford to NOT understand how the well-oiled machine of a planning process works.

Prevention Is Better Than Hot Messes

Have you ever worked for a company where either there were too many cooks in the kitchen? Or, the more likely scenario, no one was accountable for anything? You can cut the tension with a knife and everyone was miserable because it was an emergency every day.

The whole situation is what my daughters would call a “hot mess.”

These situations are easy to prevent when you can properly diagnose what the problem is in the first place. I’m here to tell you that 99 out of 100 times, the problem comes down to ineffective job planning. (Also known as ‘winging it’.) You end up hoping the emergency repair is right and will not result in another breakdown. It’s an endless circle that you just can’t seem to break out of.  

Don’t Treat the Symptoms – Treat the Actual Problem

Before we can treat the problem, we need to make sure we understand what it is. It doesn’t work to simply blame management for misdirection or saying supervisors aren’t doing their part or that the technicians don’t know what they are doing, or that we don’t have the right tools or spare parts.

It just adds fuel to the fire and has a negative impact on morale. Who wants to work in that toxic environment?

One condition of being reactive is that we recognize people for continually going above and beyond the call of duty by putting out fires. Consider instead, recognizing people for putting together a plan that can put the fire out more effectively. Or even preventing that situation in the first place.

I remember some training I had “back in the day.” It was a cold November day in Newport, RI. We were doing shipboard safety training that all new officers in the Navy must go through.

We boarded a fake vessel named the USS Buttercup that was suspended in a large indoor pool. The idea was that they would rupture the sides of the vessel and we had to shore it up to prevent it from sinking.

One time, the trainers started a fire in a trash can while we were working to shore up the rupture. Someone correctly yelled out to organize a repair party to fight the fire, which would entail activating fire hoses and lugging them down to the lower level to fight the fire.

Of course, this new emergency would take people away from the task at hand. Surely with half the folks fighting the fire, we would have sunk. And that water was cold!

Well, there was water pouring into the vessel. I was on the lower level, saw the trash can with the fire, carefully approached it and kicked it over, which immediately put out the fire. The whole team finished shoring up the ruptures and kept the vessel afloat.

The point is, when emergencies happen, they take people away from the task at hand. These tasks may be related to PMs (Preventive Maintenance) or minor repairs that could prevent a bigger failure from happening. So, if we are constantly pulled away from tasks that prevent failures, we will be fighting fires all the time and will never break the cycle.

So, let’s start with the 5 whys. It would go something like this:

  1. Why are we always fighting fires?

Because our equipment keeps breaking down and we have emergency repairs to get the plant back online.

  1. Why does the equipment keep breaking down?

Because we are rushed to fix the equipment. Plus, we don’t always have a good job plan for the repair and the repairs sometime result in another breakdown.

  1. Why don’t we have a job plan for the repair?

We don’t have good job plans because the ones at our disposal have never been updated or improved.

  1. Why haven’t the job plans been updated?

We don’t have time.

  1. Why don’t we have time?

Because we are too busy fighting fires.

This type of visible misalignment trickles down to the team members responsible for maintenance work. It impacts the team’s collective morale. Nothing is worse than getting up every day and going to a job that makes you miserable.

This leads to a turnover problem and we continue down the rabbit hole of reactive and not proactive planning. So now, communication is disintegrating, overstaffing is all too frequent and there seems to always be a war between those on the ground and those working in operations.

If this sounds like your daily work life, you have just identified the “hot mess” known as bad planning.

Now that you understand the symptoms of a poorly planned job, it’s time to take a step back and identify what the criteria for a well-planned maintenance job should be. When you give jobs that require planning the dedication they deserve, everyone comes out on top.

Work Smarter, Not Harder at Maintenance Planning

Before you begin planning a job, you should ask some key questions to determine whether or not it actually needs planning. Not everything does, so let’s find out if the job meets the criteria for planning.

First, establish if there is a need for the specific job. Is this something that you need to tackle and does it need to be properly analyzed before jumping right in? If so, what skills does this job require, and who has those skills? Ask the right questions and make the right decisions.

One result of fighting fires all the time is a lack of PM analysis. PM optimization practices say you should eliminate PMs that are not needed, or reduce the frequency at which they are done if possible.

Think about it:

If you have been doing a certain inspection every week and you never find anything wrong, maybe the inspections are only necessary every other week, or once a month.

Once you have identified team members with the skills needed (because we know this job needs more thought), consider the travel time of the team members. Are they local? Will they be able to complete this job on time, including the required post-job cleanup?

These questions will help guide the job and lead you to your next set of questions. What you’re trying to do is to narrow down if you need to plan and then figure out who is best for the job.

When you know the team you want for the job, you still have to identify the materials required for the job, including any special tools that your team might need but may not have on hand. From here, confirm that the team has the necessary specs and/or drawings, and share with them preparatory and restart activities after the job is complete.

Question the Job, Not the Planner’s Role

By taking the time to answer these questions and figure out your team’s needs, you will be setting everyone up for success. So, what is the planner’s role in maintenance activities?

The planner has an incredibly important role in regard to maintenance. The planner is responsible for:

  • Identifying the right team for the job
  • Ensuring the team has the correct information, including
  • Safety procedures and PPE
  • Precision maintenance
  • Permits
  • “Lockout/tagout”
  • Confirming that team has the proper tools and supplies
  • Scheduling so the challenge will be solved on time
  • Sending the team to the correct place
  • Following up to analyze the work and identify areas of improvement
  • Update the plan as necessary

Now that we understand the importance of a proper job plan, you need to make sure your preventative maintenance inspections are thorough, and that you have an effective predictive maintenance program in place.

It is also important to understand the complete equipment work history in order to identify when scheduled maintenance should be done. This ties into timely reporting by operations, especially when it comes to a thorough failure analysis.

The bottom line is that everyone needs to be on the same page.

I should also mention that supervisors need to be aware of impending problems and keep an open dialogue with operators. Communication is key. This is certainly true because the existence of overhaul and rebuild capabilities should be discussed as well as kept at the top of the mind.

Two final points about conditions that enhance planning capabilities include:

  • better use of repair technology, as well as
  • the desire for quality workmanship
Technicians who taking pride in knowing their work is crucial keeps things moving along instead of clogging up the pipeline.

You can see how everything is interconnected when it comes down to the who’s and the what’s of efficient job planning.