A toolkit for world-class maintenance planning and scheduling

November 17, 2022

| 7 min read

How to plan and schedule work orders like the best maintenance teams

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Read the full work order academy series, including toolkits for better work orders, defeating backlog, using work order data, and more

What is maintenance planning?

Maintenance planning is a process of determining which assets or facilities need to be maintained, when they need to be maintained, and how often. The process also involves identifying the resources required for the maintenance—for example, what spare parts and materials are needed. Maintenance planning makes sure that your assets are in good working condition and can help your organization be prepared for minor asset issues to major equipment failure.

Failing to plan, is planning to fail. We talk about this a lot in maintenance. We need to think about what the best way is to interact with the machine rather than number of times we are interacting with it. Doing a weekly PM may not be the right answer in all cases, and it may hurt the culture of the team as well. Finding the balance takes patience, and some trial and error.
Jason Afara, Manager, Solutions Engineer

What is the maintenance planning process?

In other words, how do you create a maintenance plan? There are critical tasks you’ll need to do in order to set up a successful maintenance plan for your business—and it’s not as scary or as difficult as it sounds.

Here are the five steps:

  1. Identify the critical assets that need to be maintained
  2. Determine how often these assets should be maintained or checked on (based on their importance)
  3. Create a maintenance plan based on those two steps
  4. Schedule out when each asset will be worked on according to its scheduled maintenance interval (SMIs)
  5. Execute your plan

What happens when maintenance planning goes wrong?

The maintenance team at Century Aluminum was fighting an uphill battle from day one.

“The philosophy has been, ‘It’s what goes out the door that counts,” said millwright Linda Sibley in this interview with Reliable Plant, “not how well the machinery is running.”

Pumping out products and equipment health being forgotten, was obviously not a sustainable model. It fueled a culture of reactive thinking, leading to lots of breakdowns, data shortages, low morale, and much more.

“When you are in such a reactive mode, it’s next to impossible to do much planning. It’s all about putting out fires,” said maintenance planner Todd Harrison.

Needless to say, there was a hunger for change. But despite the maintenance department’s best efforts, the preventive maintenance program struggled to get off the ground. The reason progress stalled could be linked back to one thing: Poor maintenance planning and scheduling.

Probably one-third of the PMs are no good,” said maintenance manager Jim Doeffinger. “We waste time doing irrelevant PMs.”

No one wants to constantly take two steps forward and one step back. That’s why this post will go in-depth on best practices and simple frameworks for strong maintenance planning and work order scheduling.

How to get really good at maintenance planning

There are two ingredients you need to be really good at maintenance planning:

  1. Clear goals for maintenance that align with the goals of the organization
  2. A way to prioritize maintenance activities based on your goals

All your work processes, schedules, training, and SOPs flow from your goals and priorities.

“You really need to go back to the fundamentals of the organization and find out what their objectives are for maintenance,” says Charles Rogers, a Senior Implementation Consultant at Fiix with over 33 years of experience in maintenance and reliability.

Four steps for aligning maintenance goals with business goals

A handy four-step process will help you align the organization’s goals with your maintenance planning:

  1. Confirm the goals of your organization. Your business may be looking to accomplish something really specific, like decreasing the cost-per-item. Or the goal might be a little less tangible, like entering new markets.
  2. Link maintenance KPIs to business goals. If reducing the cost-per-item is the big goal, maintenance could focus on reducing downtime and maintenance costs. If entering new markets is the target, you might want to standardize maintenance processes so they can be repeated at other sites.
  3. Choose your maintenance metrics. Set up metrics and benchmarks so you can track progress and measure success. For example, if you want to prevent unplanned downtime, you might track faults found and fixed through PMs on critical equipment.
  4. Plan maintenance activities to hit your targets. Let’s say your aim is to find problems with critical equipment before they cause failure. In this scenario, you have to figure out what your critical equipment is, how often it should be inspected, and what needs to be included in work orders for those assets.

Learn how to create world-class, standardized work orders

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Start connecting maintenance to business impact with this free goal-setting template

What is maintenance scheduling?

Maintenance scheduling is the process of planning, organizing, and coordinating all activities that need to be done by a maintenance department to keep machines in good working condition. Together maintenance planning and scheduling ensure that machines are kept in top condition at all times, which improves the quality of production. It also helps to avoid costly breakdowns and repairs by preventing problems before they occur.

Maintenance scheduling also gives maintenance personnel, like a scheduler or production supervisor more control over the finances of a maintenance team. For example, when your planned maintenance is scheduled ahead of time you reduce waste caused by unexpected costs due to equipment failure. This kind of planning is often referred to as preventative maintenance.

How to get really good at maintenance scheduling

“Some people think a lot of scheduled maintenance is good and more is better,” says Charles.

“Those people are wrong. Doing PMs to fill a quota is costly and often increases the chance of breakdowns.”

The number of failed inspections per PM is the true mark of scheduled maintenance success, says Charles. Every problem you catch during a PM is an asset failure avoided.

And that’s the secret to really good maintenance scheduling: The constant tweaking of PM frequencies to find the right balance between too often and not often enough.

How to optimize preventive maintenance frequencies

The PDCA model (Plan, Do, Check, Act) is a framework for finding the right PM schedule over time:

  1. Plan: Create a baseline for PM frequencies by looking at recommended guidelines, repair history, criticality, and usage patterns for an asset. The maintenance planner, supervisor, manager or team lead will generally take this step on.
  2. Do: Follow your plan consistently for accurate results. The maintenance technician will be responsible for this step.
  3. Check: Look at failure metrics for each asset to determine if your plan is working. The maintenance technician, team lead, supervisor or manager will be responsible for this step.
  4. Act: Fine-tune your PM frequencies based on your findings. Increase the frequency if an asset is breaking down between PMs. Reduce the frequency if your PMs don’t find failures or if the number of breakdowns between PMs is low. In this last step, the entire team will be responsible. It is a team effort and shouldn’t occur in a silo. Over communicating the changes and explaining why it’s occurring helps the team be open to change.
PDCA model

Warning: This process is not quick. It takes a while to go around this cycle and implement improvements. But you will see improvements, including longer MTBF intervals, fewer labor hours, and fewer costs for spare parts and supplies.

Start building an awesome preventive maintenance schedule with this scheduling template

How to convince people that maintenance needs to be done

“We would fight operations just to get a little bit of maintenance on a machine,” says Jason Afara, a Solutions Engineer at Fiix, remembering his time as a maintenance manager.

Although the tension between maintenance and operations isn’t going anywhere, a maintenance plan and schedule can’t reach their full potential without buy-in from production.

“This is where maintenance departments usually fail because they don’t have data to back up their asks,” says Charles.

“You have to be able to prove your case and show evidence that if you don’t do maintenance on schedule, there will be much worse consequences at some point—probably sooner than later.”

Creating a culture that chooses preventive maintenance over reactive maintenance doesn’t happen in a day. It can take years and a lot of conversations with everyone from CEOs to operators for it to stick. Here are a few resources to get you off on the right foot when it comes to change management and to use data to change minds:

Scheduling around seasonality and sudden production changes

In a perfect world, plans would never change, and your maintenance schedule would run like clockwork. But we don’t live in a perfect world. The holiday season can lead to a huge spike in orders. And a global recession could completely dry up demand.

When things shift at your company, your maintenance must shift too. One way to stay flexible is with your maintenance schedule. This doesn’t mean abandoning all the plans you’ve put in place. Actually, it’s the opposite, says Charles.

“This is when it’s super critical to understand your asset criticality and asset priorities,” says Charles.

Knowing the needs of each critical asset is what helps you create schedules and justify maintenance windows required to ensure healthy equipment.

Prioritize your tasks

Keep track of your backlog

Build emergency kits for critical assets

Boosting maintenance efficiency when production rises

Do frequent inventory cycle counts

Create a dashboard of important metrics

Improve response procedures

“It also becomes very critical to understand how assets need to be shut down and started back up so that they function as best they can in those situations,” explains Charles.

Plan work orders that cover all the nuances of each piece of equipment and each task. Build airtight SOPs with this information so delays don’t make stopping and starting equipment even harder.

Best practices for managing a facility shutdown

  • Making a contingency plan for a shutdown
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    Designate someone as a shutdown coordinator

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    Create shutdown checklists and tag work orders with a shutdown code

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    Make a note on incomplete tasks to specify why they were missed

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    Create a list of tasks and schedules that were changed and how

  • Focus on yourself
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    Read up on news, trends, and the best practices for maintenance professionals

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    Take courses, watch webinars, and pursue certifications that help you develop and brush up on your skills

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    Join or create an online group to discuss issues, solutions, and ideas for improvement

Everything you just read in three sentences

  1. Having crystal clear goals for your work orders will give you a clear direction for all your decisions around maintenance planning and scheduling.
  2. Never set your maintenance schedules in stone and always keep looking for ways to optimize each work order so you’re doing it at the correct frequencies.
  3. Your work order plans and schedule won’t always be popular with everyone, but having proof that they work will help you justify your strategy and allow you to follow through with it.

See Part IV: A toolkit for improving health and safety with work orders

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