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The Art of Scheduling

The Meeting      I  had been invited to sit in on the Cooksville Plant’s mandatory, weekly maintenance scheduling meeting, held each Thursday at 10 a.m. (The plant name has been changed to protect the guil… er, innocent.) Cooksville has about 100 maintenance technicians. Attendees included seven department managers,

The Meeting
     I  had been invited to sit in on the Cooksville Plant’s mandatory, weekly maintenance scheduling meeting, held each Thursday at 10 a.m. (The plant name has been changed to protect the guil… er, innocent.) Cooksville has about 100 maintenance technicians. Attendees included seven department managers, five maintenance supervisors, three maintenance planners, the plant engineer, and the plant manager. The meeting was called to order at 10:12. A planner distributed copies of a 14-page list of all work orders for all departments to everyone in the room, sorted by craft, and within craft by department.
The inspection department manager asked to go first, and began by thumbing through the list, identifying jobs he wanted scheduled. Many required lengthy discussion, during which members of other departments occupied themselves with notepads or their Palm Pilots. At 10:31, he finished - one down, six to go. At this time, the plant manager left the room, followed by another department manager.

     You get the picture. The meeting ended at 11:46, with an over-ambitious schedule: 125% of available maintenance technician hours on the schedule, only 15% of which would be done the next week. 

     Jump ahead five months. At 10:00 o’clock sharp, the maintenance coordinator from the processing department enters the plant engineer’s office. He brings his copy of the work-order backlog for the processing department, sorted first by schedule status - Ready, Downtime Required, Waiting on Materials - and within status, by priority. He had received the backlog list the previous afternoon, and reviewed it with the department manager. Waiting for him are the plant engineer and the three planners, each with a copy of the same list. The coordinator begins reading the work-order numbers of his “must haves” from the “Ready” status group, as the planners note these on their lists for the areas or crafts they plan for, starting with two work orders to be done on Saturday, and the rest for the following week. He announces that #3 will be down from 7:00 a.m. until noon on Monday, and that there are two work orders they would like to have done to take advantage of this scheduled downtime.

     Finally, the coordinator says, “Work order number 2764 shows as ‘Waiting on Materials’. If that part comes in, we would like to have it done.” After hearing, “We’ll do our best, but we can’t guarantee it,” the coordinator leaves at 10:08.

     At 10:10, the next coordinator arrives, this one being the inspection department manager. The process is repeated until six of the seven departments have met with the maintenance staff. The seventh department understands that since they didn’t show up, the maintenance department will choose the jobs to be done.

     The entire process takes one hour, and the resulting schedule contains enough estimated hours to account for 71% of the straight-time hours for all maintenance technicians on all shifts. In the next week, 91% of those hours will be completed.
How did this plant get from chaos to control?

Chaos to Control
     First, they learned that it makes no sense to hold a meeting that ties up 17 key people for two hours with no results. Second, they learned that the idea to “schedule a lot so we’ll get more done” is crazy. It not only takes a great deal of work, but completing few projects destroys whatever credibility the maintenance department has.

     Scheduling is an extremely important part of a maintenance management program for several reasons: Work on planned and scheduled jobs is far more efficient than work on unplanned or emergency jobs. The more jobs like this you can complete, the more PM and corrective maintenance you can do.

     The secret to effective scheduling is to start small and grow over time. It’s far better to have a small schedule and complete almost all of it than to have a huge schedule and complete almost none of it. Start with a few well-planned jobs you know you can complete, give them your highest priority other than emergency jobs, and then do them all! Also, don’t pick jobs waiting on materials or requiring downtime. The schedule is a commitment to your customers and yourself. Honor that commitment by always completing it.

     Add a few hours to the schedule each week. Initially, do not involve operations - you pick the jobs. But as your schedule grows, ask your customers if there is a single job they would like done. Explain that you’re still learning to walk. As you add and complete jobs, your credibility will grow.

     When you reach the point where you’re unable to do all the jobs you’d like to, perform an “accident investigation” on the job that didn’t get done. If it was poor planning, review it with the planner and turn it into a teaching opportunity.

The Success of Scheduling
     I believe that the organizational structure of the maintenance department has a great bearing on the success of scheduling. A functional organization features a scheduled crew, a PM crew that does only PM inspections, and an emergency crew that handles all emergencies and non-emergencies that can’t wait for scheduling. Just as important, the emergency crew shields the scheduled crew from interruption, the bane of scheduling effectiveness.

     Scheduling effectiveness is, in fact, the best measure I have seen of overall maintenance productivity. To determine effectiveness, first calculate the percent of jobs scheduled. This is the hours on the weekly schedule shown as a percent of the straight-time hours of all available maintenance personnel. Use the hours in a normal work week; not on weekends or other down time. And count the hours for every technician who carries tools, even emergency crew personnel.

     The goal for percent completed starts at 100%. Once you reach the point where you cannot complete the entire schedule, the new goal is 90% complete. If you drop below 90%, reduce the percent scheduled so that you can always complete 90% or more. If it’s less than 90%, you are over-scheduling.

     Why is schedule effectiveness the best measure of overall maintenance productivity? Any maintenance department scheduling 70% and completing 90% of that schedule must have good planning and supervision, a good work-order system, the proper organizational structure, an excellent PM program, and well-trained technicians - in short, excellent maintenance management.

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