RS Industria's Richard Jeffers pinpoints the skills needed for effective planning and maintenance, supporting Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO)

Effective maintenance planning and scheduling is probably the single most important area to get right in an effective maintenance organisation. Yet it is consistently dismissed as an add-on function that can be removed in times of budget constraint and often assigned to the person who is no longer able to work on the tools, without any consideration to their capability in the role. Getting the right capability in the planning and scheduling role will transform a poor maintenance function from being trapped in a reactive cycle into one where work, corrective or preventive, is executed effectively.

A plan without a schedule is simply a wish list
Planning is the process of deciding what tasks should be completed, their priorities, an estimate of duration and how the task should be conducted. Scheduling, on the other hand, is the process of deciding when and who should be assigned the task and ensuring that all the available resources, assets, labour and spares are available to complete it.

The primary purpose of the maintenance planner is to ensure maximum utilisation of available maintenance resources to execute the agreed Planned Preventive Maintenance (PPM) schedules and corrective works at the lowest total cost with minimum plant downtime.

Common pitfalls in effective maintenance planning and scheduling
• Allowing all work to be done reactively. Except in the event of a critical plant breakdown, even corrective work is better done when it is scheduled. Responding immediately to all requests means you will never increase maintenance maturity.
• Choosing the wrong person as planner. The person in the role of maintenance planner has often been assigned to it as they are unable to fulfil the requirements of another role, not because they have the skill to be a planner. A planner should ideally have:
o A good understanding of the requirements of the maintenance work itself
o A good understanding of planning and scheduling techniques
o Good interpersonal skills to help manage diverse stakeholders
o The ability to work with the operators – and value their opinions
o High levels of computer literacy
o The ability to work with complex data

• Not training the planner. It is unlikely that the planner will have the full range of knowledge, skills and experience required to be successful. Reliance upon on-the-job training by experience will be costly in terms of low labour utilisation of the technician pool.
• Spending time at a desk not on the plant. An effective planner will see his desk as a necessary evil, but will spend the time on the plant, building their understanding of the tasks, the skills of the team, the spares requirements, the time tasks really take and the effectiveness of the planned work to mitigate the impact of failure.
• Not effectively scheduling. So often, the PPM schedule is just a job list to be executed if the opportunity arises. Without bringing together the plant, resources, spares and making an individual accountable for completion, success will happen by chance, not by design.
• Not having any KPIs. The planner should be tracking the maintenance backlog, labour utilisation and PPM completion rate as a minimum. Without these bases measured there is no way to see whether they are adding value.
• Not seeing operations as the customer. Too often you see conflict between operations and maintenance, with maintenance forgetting that they are there to provide a service of high uptime to the user.
• No, or unclear, maintenance workflows. Unless there is a common understanding of how tasks are created, validated, planned, scheduled and executed, and what meetings are in place to run the workflow, the chances of success are low.

Maintenance planning and scheduling should be the first area of focus on any maintenance maturity improvement programme. Far too frequently, it becomes one of the last areas addressed while the site discusses how to break out of the reactive cycle.