Why Maintenance Job Planning Fails and How to Prevent It

On the surface, this article may seem like a bit of a downer. It’s all about why maintenance planning programs fail.

But, have faith. I’m a glass-half-full type of guy, a skill I have honed over 30 years in maintenance and engineering operations. So yes, I’ll talk about why planning programs fail, but I expect to give you some positive learning opportunities on the subject too.

A few weeks ago, I talked about maintenance planning and why it’s beneficial to move from a reactive to a proactive state when it comes to Preventative Maintenance (PM) plans and how to efficiently plan jobs. Then, I spoke about the role of the maintenance planner. This person is a central figure in the maintenance management system and works hard to coordinate priority jobs, manpower loading and management reporting.

They are pretty big shoes to fill, and not all planners can fill those shoes without tripping and falling out of them a few times.

Things happen. Maintenance planning programs fail. Sometimes, it’s Murphy’s Law tap dancing on the grave of good intentions, and sometimes it’s due to an unqualified planner or one who simply has too many responsibilities, or inadequate CMMS applications that make the process more difficult.

As a person who enjoys fly fishing, I can tell you about certain local rivers and what fly patterns to use, and why color and size are important. I can also suggest the best times to drop a line in the water based on my experience.

So, in a way, I would consider myself an expert on these local waters.  If I am fishing an unfamiliar location, I’ll spend some time researching the stream, fly hatches, flow rates, and see if there are any silver bullets out there I should know about, all to come up with a plan to increase my success.

There are times that I just know I’ve done everything right. The right spot, the right time, the right fly, you get the picture. My cast is perfect, the float is flawless. There is no earthly reason why I don’t have a fish on!

But I don’t. Nope. Instead, I consider it a learning experience. I told you I’m optimistic though, and as they say, a bad day fly fishing is still better than a good day behind a desk.

Why Does Maintenance Job Planning Fail?

Back to the topic at hand, though. Why do maintenance plans fail? You might think you have the perfect job plan in place and the perfect process. The parts your team needs are in, the machine you’re working on has been shut down without a problem and everyone is ready to do their part and to get things back online as soon as possible.

But, you end up waiting for the work to start, or the parts never made it to the worksite, or there was a lock out tag out procedure that was missed. Now, the work is delayed.  The team pulls it all together in the end and does get the work done, but at what cost?

Why did this happen, you may ask yourself?

Sometimes, the problem is simply an overworked planner. As mentioned before, a good balance is one planner for 10 to 20 maintenance team members based on experience. If the balance is off, plans may suffer.

Unfortunately, an overworked planner can result in jobs with:

  • Missed details
  • A lack of planning integrity
  • Inefficient work
  • Negatively impacted work execution

Sometimes, the problem can be traced back to an underqualified planner. This can happen if a planner is undertrained or does not have the right skills or aptitude. It’s always important to make sure you have an experienced person who knows the process, the people and the equipment they are responsible for.

Jeff Shiver, CEO and co-founder of People and Processes spoke a few weeks ago about maintenance implementation best practices. Sometimes, he suggested, the problem is not that people are bad workers; they may just be in the wrong roles.

It happens. Instead of pointing fingers, maybe it’s time to evaluate how well that person fits into the role. Is management asking too much of the planner by overworking him or her? Or if that person is not qualified to handle the work, is it possible to get him proper training?

Does any fisherman worth his while spend five hours fishing with the same fly? Especially if he hasn’t had a rise or a strike in that time? No, he tries different things — wet flies, dry flies, streamers, wooly buggers… and anything else he has in his fly box.

If your planner seems eager to improve conditions, maybe it’s a good idea to work together to determine why plans are failing and how they can be modified to become failproof.

And just because things seemed to work well before doesn’t mean they’re going to keep working that well in the future.

What is Measured Can Be Improved

Planning quality needs to be measured and critiqued. Ideally, if a planner can get feedback immediately while the job is still fresh, it’s better to take the time then instead of waiting for the weekly meeting… which could, in essence, be 6 ½ days away, or longer if you factor in vacations and other extenuating circumstances.

However, the maintenance manager and planner should have a standing meeting each week to have a full critique of the schedule and plan the upcoming schedule.

When going over the completed schedule, there are a few things to keep in mind. Ask these questions:

  • Was the schedule completed successfully?
  • If not, what were the factors impacting completion?
  • Did poor planning play a role?
  • Were there any problems?
  • What problems could have been avoided and how?
  • What measurements can be made to improve upcoming schedules?
  • Do you have the ability to some schedule compliance?

Just like a good fishing strategy, maintenance plans can and will fail. However, all is not lost. Turn the mistakes into opportunities to improve future plans.

I’m curious: what are some of your maintenance hiccups? How did you work around them?