Symptoms of Ineffective Planning

Planning is one of the main processes of effective maintenance departments. By determining the work details up front before the actual work takes place, planning allows for the most efficient use of maintenance resources. It also supports reduced downtime by insuring production equipment will only need to be out of service while the actual maintenance work is being performed. When proper job plans are created, they contain all of the details needed to perform the work necessary to maintain the reliability of that equipment. Planning, along with scheduling, provides the glue for bringing all of the reliability processes together and maximizing the opportunity for “uptime” and more reliable production.

If all of this is true, then why do some maintenance departments that have Planning in place fail to produce desired results? Many reasons could contribute to this situation – too many in fact to cover in this article – so let’s look at just a few. Delays, mismanagement, ineffective supervision, poor performance and unavailable materials all can contribute to ineffective planning and cause unnecessary delays. If any of these situations are present, you may not recognize them unless you know what to look for. Let’s review some easily recognizable symptoms:

Delays:

When delays become the norm, start looking for scenarios like:

  1. Crafts persons spending time trying to gain details of what is involved in the work, talking with operators, talking with production supervision, talking with maintenance supervision, talking with planners and even with other crafts persons. They may even spend time looking over prints and OEM manuals, if they can find them and they are up-to-date.
  2. Next the crafts persons need to determine what materials may be needed to perform the job, where they are located and what is the availability. Once they make this determination, they then have to gather the materials and get them to the job site. This alone could add an additional 10 to 20% to the duration of the job, not to mention any cost that may be incurred if the material is “out of stock” and requires expediting.

Typically all of this is happening after the production equipment has been taken out of service; downtime equals loss of production and loss of production equals loss of revenue. You may want to start auditing the job plans that are being supplied to crafts persons in the field.

Mismanagement:

When mismanagement is an issue, it looks something like this:

  1. The maintenance supervisor assigns crafts persons to the job and they go to the job site as a group.
  2. The supervisor leaves the crew at the site while he goes to find someone in operations to get more information about the job: expectations, time available for repair, operator availability for support as needed, etc.
  3. When he gets back, often he finds he doesn’t have the right number of people for the job or maybe even the right skills or it could be that he just has the skills scheduled in the wrong sequence.
  4. Again, crafts persons are left to determine what minor details are involved and what materials may be needed to complete the work.
  5. The material may be out of stock and need to be procured from off site, and expediting fees may apply.
  6. While all of this is happening, Operations decides to use the additional time to have maintenance perform additional work or modify their original request resulting in more delays and more downtime. All of this adds to inefficient productivity of the maintenance crafts persons and again, lost production.

Ineffective Supervision:

When supervision is ineffective, you may observe symptoms like these:

  1. Crafts persons stand around at the job site waiting for instructions about what to do and information on how to do it.
  2. Most jobs get interrupted after work has begun, causing delays not only on this one but the new work as well.
  3. Supervisors are unsure of how many persons are actually required to perform the tasks at hand so over-manning jobs becomes the norm and the number of job completions remains low.
  4. Supervisors aren’t able to spend time in the field with their reports due to clerical work or administrative duties keeping them “tied to the desk” and unavailable for support. This also keeps them from coordinating work with their partners, the equipment owners, so as to minimize any possible production delays.

Poor performance:

In some situations, the maintenance department seems to be actually working on a “stand-by” basis – stand by until you are needed and then respond immediately and correct any problems with absolute minimal production downtime. They work continually until the situation is corrected and then they go back to the “stand-by” mode. Some of the symptoms are:

  1. Crafts persons spend valuable time standing around waiting for equipment to be made ready so it can be serviced as required.
  2. They are unable to complete one job before being pulled off to work on another one – they hop from job to job.
  3. Crafts persons have to spend time figuring out what materials and/or special tools are needed to complete the job.
  4. The maintenance department is unable to develop a productive work rhythm to insure time spent on the job is realistic and the quality of work is what it should be. This also adds to the “poor morale” factor and multiplies other delays.

Unavailable materials:

When needed materials are not available, it may cause:

  1. Production delays due to having equipment down while we wait until parts or materials can be purchased and arrive.
  2. In lieu of waiting, we may choose to fabricate our own, resulting in sub-standard replacements, or we may decide to use something that we can make work or just resort to a temporary fix, resulting in reduced reliability and production quality loss.

All of these situations contribute to machine downtime and production loss that proper planning and scheduling are designed to reduce. The core product of planning and scheduling is reduced delays – reduced delays in equipment downtime, in waiting for materials, in preparedness of starting jobs and in completing jobs. Reduce these delays and you increase equipment and machine uptime, resulting in improved availability of equipment and increased production “out the door.”

Most companies are in business to produce a product and make a profit so the stake holders can realize a decent return on their investment and support capital growth. Proper planning and scheduling supports this – it requires professionally trained Planners and Schedulers, a good EAM system to work with, complete and correct BOMs, a work force that understands and supports the benefits that are realized from planning and scheduling, and a work flow process that everyone can interact with and easily follow. If you are observing symptoms of ineffective planning in your organization, consider creating a get-well plan that includes training for people responsible for planning and scheduling. Implementing planning and scheduling best practices could significantly improve operational and financial results.  

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