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From chaos to control.

In my 42 years of experience with maintenance departments, I have made many observations on the conditions I found in these departments. Here

are two:

* Maintenance tends toward chaos.

* The typical maintenance manager can't schedule what his people will be doing this afternoon, much less for the next week.

These two problems are closely related, and I believe correcting the second problem--by learning how to schedule--solves the first. Let's review a couple of typical situations.

Maintenance manager Bill is swamped. He's in chaos, fighting fires every day. He has no PM program because he lacks resources. Likewise, he works most of his crew six to seven days a week, and uses outside contractors extensively. Overtime and contract costs are killing his budget. He has no weekly schedule of backlog work.

Plant engineer Paul is methodical in the midst of chaos. He meets with his planner and two supervisors weekly and reviews the current schedule. Since it consists of two weeks work for every technician in the department, the theoretical best they can do would be to complete 50%. In reality, his completion rate averages 10%. It takes 90 minutes for the group to review the schedule and discuss upcoming work, of which maybe 10% will be completed.

Both of these scenarios--no scheduling and over-scheduling--are common, and both are disastrous. Maintenance department credibility is nil, productivity gains of effective planning are not available, and excessive costs due to overtime, outside contracts and downtime are the rule.

How do you move from chaos to control? With proper scheduling. For example, if Bill was asked to schedule a simple job like hanging a picture next week, he very likely could. So I would tell Bill that he needs to place no more than three work orders on a written schedule for the next week. These should be simple jobs that don't require machine downtime, special skills or special parts. They should not be specified for completion on a particular day or by a particular person. The only requirement is that they be done next week during the normal work week.

I would remind Bill that he must also handle emergencies, regular PMs and other duties, but not announce the schedule. The schedule is a private commitment that requires 100% completion.

The point here is that Bill must crawl before he can walk. Every week, he'll add a small amount of new work. At first, he'll complete 100%, while scheduling only a small percent of his available manpower. As he adds to the percent scheduled, he won't complete 100%. From that point, his new target is 90% complete. If he drops below 90%, he'll decrease the percent scheduled the next week so he can meet the 90% complete target.

When only a few jobs don't get completed, it's easy to identify what went wrong, unlike Paul's situation, where 90% of his jobs are not completed. As the percent scheduled increases and the percent completed tops 90%, Bill can take on more jobs, but only a number that will allow him to complete at least 90%. The schedule is not all that maintenance will do next week, but it gets top priority over all non-emergency jobs. As maintenance begins completing PM inspections, emergencies drop and maintenance credibility rises. Squeaky wheels stop squeaking.

As important as planning is to maintenance management, it cannot be measured. But scheduling can be measured, and is the best measure of overall maintenance productivity. The metrics for scheduling are not difficult. For percent scheduled, use the hours in a normal work week (not weekends) for every technician who carries tools. For example, 25 technicians @ 40 hours/week = 1,000 man-hours available. Ten scheduled hours = 1% scheduled. Of course, these are estimated, not actual. The long term goal for percent scheduled is 70%.

For percent completed, 9 hours completed out of 10 hours scheduled = 90% complete. Since the 10 hours scheduled is estimated, the 9 hours completed must also be estimated: apples to apples. Whatever actual hours are used to complete the 9 estimated hours is immaterial--only 9 hours were completed and removed from the backlog.

Any maintenance department that is scheduling 70% and completing 90% of that schedule must have good planning and supervision, a good work-order system, the proper organizational structure and well-trained technicians. It can't happen by accident. Like a long freight train that slowly picks up speed, scheduling will drive the maintenance management train toward world class.

Pete Little, P.E., is president of MPACT Learning Center, LLC, a Greensboro, NC-based maintenance training and consulting firm. Contact him at
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Author:Little, Pete L.
Publication:Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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