Palmer & Planning: Plants should focus on future work

Doc Palmer
Wednesday April 05, 2017
Written by Doc Palmer
Even when plants protect planners from other duties, that does not mean planners will be planning. Usually craftspersons interrupt planners so much that planners fail in their mission to provide enough job plans. To succeed at planning, plants must actively help planners focus on future work.

The definition of “future work” is simply “work that the plant has not yet assigned to a craftsperson.” In other words, if the craftspersons have not yet begun the work, there is still time for a planner to add helpful job information. The strategy of planning is mostly to have planners provide helpful information including identifying and ensuring that any necessary spare parts and special tools are available before craftspersons start jobs.

Unfortunately, most plants have “oversold” planning and given craftspersons the notion that they should never have any problems on planned jobs. Of course, in real life nothing is ever perfect and there is always some opportunity for improvement. But since craftspersons have been promised perfect jobs, problems that do occur frustrate the craftspersons. The craftspersons then blame the planners. Then planners apologize and begin helping craftspersons on jobs that have already started. However, a job in progress is not future work. Planners frequently help so many jobs in progress that they have trouble providing job plans on all the future work. Subsequently, craftspersons start more jobs that have not had any planning. Planners then apologize for not being able to help provide advance plans for this work and are very willing to help these jobs in progress. So plants that have oversold planning and created the impression that planners will provide perfect job plans also create an environment where planners do not plan much future work.

On the other hand, plants do receive a benefit from planners helping jobs in progress. Planners are usually top craftspersons with superior skills. Not only that, but they have become experts on using the CMMS, understanding the purchasing process, knowing the inventory system, accessing equipment history and finding and using O&M manuals. Finally, planners are available to help if the plant has protected them from other duties and craftspersons can find them. So planners help improve maintenance performance even when they are not planning, but simply helping jobs in progress. 

Nevertheless, helping jobs in progress is really a first-line supervisor’s responsibility. Therefore, planners end up not adding value, but replacing first line supervision. Where is the supervision? Plants usually bog down first-line supervisors with meetings and administrative paperwork to the degree they cannot get out into the field. Therefore, planners thankfully fulfill this role. The plant has planners in name only and it is not planning work.

The best practice for planning is for management to admit that planners cannot plan perfect job plans. Management must explain to both planners and craftspersons that the purpose of planning is not to provide perfect job plans. Instead, planning runs a cycle of improvement for maintenance jobs. Planners provide head starts for jobs that many times will run into unanticipated problems. In these cases, the craftspersons must then deal with the problems of jobs already in progress with minimal planner assistance. (It would be great if the plant could free up supervisors to help these jobs.) Afterward, it is essential that the craftspersons provide detailed feedback to the planners about problems encountered and their resolution. The planners then save this feedback and apply it to future jobs on the same assets. The planners focus on future work and collect job feedback to improve the jobs for the next time, in the future.

Running this cycle of improvement is a realistic strategy. About 50 per cent of plant maintenance work is actually repetitive over the course of a single year, not even counting obviously repetitive PM work. Most craftspersons do not see the repetition because they do not get to work on the same jobs each time and because the repetitions are spread out over months, not days or hours.

Can planners help with some jobs in progress? A single planner can typically plan for 20 to 30 craftspersons. A planner planning for this many persons can typically not handle helping too many jobs in progress. However, for various reasons, many planners only plan for 10 to 20 persons. There is an opportunity for these planners to help jobs in progress. The first responsibility of the planner is to plan all the future work. Not planning all the future work often means helping an unplanned job in progress solve a problem that was solved and reported in the past in vain. The past learning was not applied to the future work, because the planner did not plan it.

Management must not only protect planners from having too many other duties, but also from helping too many jobs in progress. Planners must focus on future work to run a cycle of improvement over the years to improve maintenance plans for individual assets. Management must provide proper expectations to planners and craftspersons for this winning planning strategy.

Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook and as managing partner of Richard Palmer and Associates helps companies worldwide with planning and scheduling success. For more information visit or email Doc at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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