The Elusive Weekly Maintenance Schedule

EP Editorial Staff | March 2, 2006

Is your organization (like so many others) missing out on the substantial benefits that resource-leveled weekly reports can provide to a company? You might want to rethink your strategy.

Scheduling has several variations: long-range planning (LRP), shutdown/turnaround/outage scheduling, rolling schedules, weekly schedules and daily plans. All of these are important, but, the weekly schedule process is by far the most significant. It also is the most underutilized tool for work force efficiency.

Most companies assume that their “scheduling tool add-on”would make weekly scheduling easy. They soon discover that what they bought is simply an interface tool to a scheduling product. A further complication is that the interface does not transfer all the needed information across at the right level of detail. Upon discovering these problems, too many users say “this is too hard to use” and give up on one of the most important benefits of a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS)–increased labor productivity.

Where is the problem? The problem could be the software, a lack of perceived benefit for the process, or a training issue. In most cases, it’s simply a software design issue–or lack of design. CMMS vendors have historically relied on a third-party interface to facilitate the scheduling function. They also seem to treat all scheduling requirements the same. This generic approach has given the users a clumsy interface that, at best, only “sort of works.” The result is that very few companies take the time to create a weekly schedule, and even fewer understand how important such a schedule can be to their success.

0306_reeve_img1A resource-leveled weekly schedule adds even more value. This advanced technique requires several processes to already be in place. For example, if the backlog isn’t planned, it will be very difficult to create a schedule. Too often, this critical process is overlooked and a company will stumble when it comes to actual implementation. The typical CMMS software and training regimen has a work order screen for entering schedule dates and work priority fields, plus an ability to print a report that lists work for the week. However, it often overlooks both resource leveling and compliance analysis. In other words, during implementations, the process of deciding what is the most critical work for the best use of limited resources is overlooked. There are several points to consider when determining if your company should develop weekly schedules:

  1. You should not have to hire additional staff to generate and operate a weekly schedule.
  2. You should not have to migrate this data outside the CMMS when the majority of the information needed for processing is already in the CMMS.
  3. Resource leveling is viewed as a scheduling process that should be a part of the CMMS product.
  4. There are few to no logic ties (work dependencies) that require critical path analysis.

Interestingly, for any given site, more manhours (across a one-year time span) are spent developing and maintaining daily/weekly schedules than are committed to shutdown/ turnaround scheduling. The everyday planner/ scheduler not only represents the largest need for this capability, he/she also uses the CMMS more than any other employee.

Weekly scheduling – what and why?
A weekly schedule is an excellent management tool since every employee can easily relate to “what needs to get done this week.” More importantly, this design promotes proactive maintenance, which is more cost-efficient than traditional reactive maintenance practices.

One week also is an ideal amount of time for forecasting a set of work that all departments can support. For example, warehouse and operations employees can be more easily convinced that the specific jobs on the schedule actually will be completed.

Management’s goal should be to present a believable schedule that maximizes the use of craft labor without incurring overtime–and that effectively reduces backlog.Working with a schedule that accurately forecasts work activities enhances worker productivity, builds teamwork and keeps the staff focused on a common goal.

0306_reeve_img2Resource leveling
A resource-leveled weekly schedule provides a logical way to balance required work versus available man-hours.Once a week, the resource pool is assessed for available man-hours. This information is then compared to the backlog of work. This may be a manual process or it may utilize a resource-leveling program. A preliminary schedule is then taken to the weekly schedule meeting where attendees can refine it.

Without resource leveling, the process becomes subjective and open to error. That, unfortunately, is common practice for many sites.

The weekly schedule meeting
If the management team waits until the meeting to select the work, it is already too late to gain maximum value from the meeting. The weekly schedule meeting is the time to refine the schedule–not build it. That said, the meeting should be flexible. This is the time to confirm whether the scheduled work is actually what should be done.Work can be added or subtracted, based on parameters not known to the CMMS. All affected departments should be present to provide input and gain consensus. Good communication between maintenance and operations will improve schedule accuracy.

An example of an appropriate change at the weekly schedule meeting might be selecting related work based on the craft traveling to a remote location. This “force selection,” is called opportunistic scheduling, and it is an acceptable practice. Resource leveling would be performed a second time to incorporate these changes, followed by re-issuance of the schedule. Since the resource pool is fixed, some work may drop off.

When a user site initiates resource-leveled scheduling, it’s typical to discover inaccuracies in the maintenance backlog. This is because the automated selection of work depends on accurate data.

0306_reeve_img3The process
Simply implementing a fundamental planning and scheduling system should help improve productivity. Before each work day, the maintenance supervisor will create his daily schedule– from the weekly schedule. The work is linked to the worker in the daily schedule. Each day, progress is provided on work performed and the CMMS is updated. Examples of progress could be: work was started, completed or placed on hold.

The daily schedule should be created from the weekly schedule.However, the typical daily schedule includes reactive maintenance not shown on the weekly schedule.

If the maintenance organization is only issuing a daily schedule, this does not eliminate the need for a weekly schedule. If a company relies only on a daily schedule, it leads to increased reactive maintenance.

Schedule compliance
Once a schedule is issued, every attempt should be made to make sure these activities occur. Sometimes unforeseen events prevent the start of work. Possible “reason codes” might be:

  • Operations would not let maintenance take the equipment down
  • Parts not available (even though the job was planned)
  • Management said “not to perform”
  • Ran out of time or craft availability
  • Unexpected repair situation discovered causing job delay

0306_reeve_img4This information should be recorded in the database under a compliance tracking table – recorded by the week number and work order record. The goal is to make a schedule that is >80% accurate each week.

Resource pool
To increase the efficiency of producing a weekly schedule, a CMMS should provide easy entry screens for:

1.Worker labor information–including the labor identifier, craft code and the assigned calendar/shift code.
2. Yes/No worker availability
–is this craft person an available worker? A worker, such as a leading hand may be in a craft, but not normally assigned to work activities. (A leading hand may be the most senior person in the craft for larger maintenance organizations.)
3.Yes/No craft availability
–an entire craft code may be marked as “no resource leveling necessary.”
4. Calendar/shift definition
–able to match any possible rotating shift combination and company holiday schedule.
5. Planned worker absences for next week– data stored as non-available time per worker.
6. Efficiency factor by craft
–which relates to the “percentage of time expected to be available to work on the schedule each week.”This factor allows for an expected amount of reactive maintenance and is critical in creating an accurate resource pool.

Given the above tools, it is easy to maintain a resource pool. The working level normally stays on the same shift, although rotating, for years at a time. The only variable is when someone says something like, “I have jury duty next Wednesday and Thursday.”

In the end, resource-pool management is not an exact science.We are just trying to get close. Typically you can find a staff member in the maintenance group who already maintains this information. The challenge is to get this data into the CMMS.

The maintenance backlog The accuracy of the maintenance backlog is a critical part of the process. If it is not accurate, then one might wonder how any analytical decisions should be made from the CMMS–including KPI measurements. The minimum amount of information needed within the maintenance backlog for this process to work is:

  • A valid work order record assigned to a supervisor or an area with a clearly defined scope.
  • The work order is in “ready” status, meaning it has been planned and is ready to work with no material or operational constraints, i.e. “requires major system shutdown.”
  • Estimated man-hours by craft and (minimum) number of personnel needed to perform this job are entered.
  • Any long-lead material items required for this work are on-site, and linked to this work order.
  • The work order has a valid work type, such as repair activity, preventive maintenance, major maintenance or design work.
  • The work order has an assigned priority; ideally, that’s a calculated priority based on asset criticality. There are many more steps to properly planning a work order. But, from a resourceleveling viewpoint, these form the minimum criteria.

Manual vs automatic resource leveling Resource leveling balances the resource demand (backlog) with the resource pool (worker availability). It can be done using paper and pencil (manually) or with software (automatically).

Either approach involves a comparison of required work hours to available hours. If done automatically, however, you save a substantial amount of time. This factor is even more significant when the schedule has to be regenerated during the course of a scheduling meeting.

Subjective selection: ineffective Without resource leveling, the staff is basically guessing how many jobs can be completed each week. Maintenance supervisors will routinely guess at a “safe” number they want to work on, or select priority work that might have come up in the last two day–because this is what they (and management) remember as being important.

This type of subjective selection technique often leads to a less-than-desired backlog reduction rate. That’s because there is no way the human mind can evaluate an entire backlog of work that takes into consideration multi-craft work orders, craft estimates, work priorities and worker/craft availability.

What if you have no job planners? Keep in mind that not all company sites are the same.

Some are involved in manufacturing, some in heavy industry and some in utilities–these typically have detailed job plans and work packages. On the other hand, some facility maintenance organizations may not have job planners to keep up with a weekly schedule.

With or without a planner, it’s usually possible to find someone to create a rough estimate and enter it into the CMMS.Here are the questions to be asked and answered in this situation:

  1. What is the repair problem? (Enter the problem description and work type.)
  2. What should be the priority of this work?
  3. What craft is required to perform this work? Can this be done with just one craft, or does it require two? Number of personnel? Estimated man-hours?
  4. Are there any long-lead type material requirements? (Yes/No)

Typical facility maintenance takes only five to 10 minutes to enter the above information. Once entered, the status can be changed to “ready.” This type of interaction helps the maintenance department quickly develop an accurate, useable “planned backlog.”

Depending on the situation, it may take several “more-than-40-hour weeks” to catch up on backlog planning. The maintenance staff should not be afraid of job planning. The worst situation is to not have any planned estimates entered on the work order, thus leaving it up to the worker to define all requirements up front –as well as do the work.

Communication The subject of communication between operations and maintenance often raises strong opinions. Some companies simply say, “enter a job priority for all new work and apply

The time it takes How much time is involved to create an effective weekly schedule? The answer depends on the amount of typing and screen manipulations a person must perform to set up this type of schedule each week.

0306_reeve_img5For example, the person creating the schedule may be creating a list of work and downloading this information to other software programs for further editing and/or data sorting. They also may be pushing the data to a P3 or Microsoft Project (MSP) tool. Those who track the process of pushing this data from and back to the scheduling tool usually find that a substantial amount of effort is involved.

Typically, the data moved outside the CMMS is quickly out of sync with reality due to constant updates of the CMMS data from the insertion of new work and changing priorities based on short-term emergencies. What if work priorities or calendar data is entered on the schedule side – and not updated on the CMMS? Is it necessary to maintain work level calendars in two systems? What if the resource leveling algorithm in the scheduling tool doesn’t use the “order of fire” concept? Where do you run weekly schedule compliance?

Where do you stand? How does your company compare to the general CMMS user community?

Table I is based on some informal surveys in the field. Looking at these numbers, it would appear that very few sites are generating a resource-leveled weekly schedule.

The reason for this low adoption rate is simple. Most software vendors don’t make the development of resource-leveling software a priority. Likewise, because a useable tool has been unavailable, users have not learned the value of this process.

What now? Companies have learned that with a readilyavailable CMMS “add-in” and adjustments in a few crucial processes, they can gain substantial economic efficiencies. A surprising, but very significant bonus is that their respective companies soon become far better places to work. Shared goals built on inter-departmental cooperation have quickly lowered conflict and increased job satisfaction.

If your organization is one of the estimated 53 companies world-wide that regularly generate a resource-leveled weekly report, be proud. If not, it’s probably time to evaluate how you can join this elite group.

Start by comparing your current practices with those discussed in this article. If you believe you have opportunities for improvement, take action. Change what you can with your current skills and tools, then ask for any necessary outside support to help you make it all the way. MT

John Reeve has spent the past 18 years helping clients solve real-world CMMS problems. As a senior consultant for Synterprise Global Consulting, he deals with “once in a lifetime” issues several times each year. He can be reached at

Additional Concepts & Definitions

A. Weekly schedules do not assign worker names to work orders. That is done with the daily schedule. The weekly schedule primarily states “this is the set of work which maintenance needs to work on this coming week.”

B. Weekly schedule compliance is a best practice–and should also be a KPI (>80%)

  • There needs to be a separate table, other than the work order table, in which to store these records by scheduled week.
  • This table also allows for “reason codes” as to why the work was not started.

C. PM work

  • The CMMS product automatically generates these records as PM work orders.
  • They have a work type of “PM,” a status of “ready” and a target start date. If this target date falls within the upcoming weekly schedule range, it will be scheduled.
  • Some sites may have a dedicated PM crew.
  • The processing order (“order of fire”) for the resource-leveling program involving PM work would be selected by the client.

D. “Order of fire”

  • This is a unique concept that defines the order of backlog processing. A primitive answer would be to simply “take the highest priority.” The “order of fire” concept directs the planner/scheduler to develop statements that control the exact order of evaluation.
  • Examples:
    • i. Emergency maintenance or “fix-itnow” (FIN) work-types
    • ii. “Carry-over work”
    • iii. PM work with dates in range
    • iv. Scheduled modifications that require internal maintenance resources
    • v. All other maintenance work, ranked by calculated priority in descending order and by report date

E. Opportunistic scheduling as a best practice

  • When reviewing a job on the weekly schedule, it is proper to also consider including related work, especially if the work is at a remote location.
  • The weekly schedule meeting should allow for this process to work quickly and efficiently. An effective technique is for the planner/scheduler to project the computergenerated report on a screen. While reviewing a work order record, the planner should then hyperlink to that work location (or asset field) and bring up other related work. The attendees would then say, for example, “select the first and third records and add them to the schedule.” By working as a team the group can very quickly make decisions that will be honored by everyone involved in making them

F. Major maintenance; modifications; capital work; project work

  • Work can come from the long-term plan (LTP). Typically, an external group meets periodically to review the entire LTP. They make decisions on budgets, priority, system availability, shutdown requirements, contractor support and long-lead material items.
  • Complications also can come from:
    • i. Jobs that cannot be done until a particular season
    • ii. Long-lead time material requirements
    • iii. Contractors may not be readily available.
    • iv. Planned operational downtime
  • Multi-craft coordination, where the major maintenance team might say, “the following work is now ready for the weekly schedule.” This should lead to the development of a work order in the CMMS product with the proper work type (i.e. CP) and giving it a scheduled start date. If this start date falls within the upcoming weekly schedule range, it will be processed.
  • Major maintenance may or may not consume on-site labor resources, but it is still beneficial to include this work in the weekly schedule. Adding this information gives improved visibility to all departments and reduces work coordination errors such as tearing up the parking lot twice in the same month.

G. In-progress work (sometimes called carry-over work) considerations

  • Once a job is started, it makes sense to allow that work to be continued, even if it crosses over onto multiple weeks.
  • Any work left unfinished at end of the week must be changed to “in progress” in the CMMS with these notations:
    • i. Remaining man-hours by craft
    • ii. Is the status changed to “hold” or is the unfinished work “available” for the following week?

H. The importance of planners–and job planning

  • Creating a weekly schedule is quite difficult without a planned backlog.
  • Maintenance work should be preplanned to the extent necessary to minimize delays in work performance. Pre-planning doesn’t just minimize downtime, it also optimizes labor efficiency and job safety.
  • Planners provide:
    • i. Consistency of input with regard to craft
      estimates, priority assignment, work-type
      assignment, and proper asset identification.
    • ii. Interpretation of each work request by using clear and obvious wording and a sufficient amount of detail.
    • iii. Links to work associated with future system shutdowns
    • iv. A proactive view of future work, not just short-term reactive maintenance.
    • v. An important service by identifying recurring repair problems and informing engineering.

I. Shutdown/turnaround scheduling typically requires a robust scheduling product. It involves the use of logic ties, critical path and resource analysis. Conversely, weekly scheduling is mostly a collection of work activities with no inter-dependencies.

Prioritization Issues

1. How can you determine if your system of prioritization is NOT working?

  • You are making use of “deadline” priorities. This means you are linking the “allowed time to repair” to a priority value. This approach does not take into account the available resources for any given day or week. There will be violations because you only have so many resources to get the work done.
  • You review your backlog of work and find “high priority” work that is many months old.
  • You review your backlog of work and find that the majority of all work has the same priority.

2. What constitutes a good system of prioritization?

  • Backlog work priorities are periodically reviewed and adjusted, as needed.
  • The work order priority is combined with the asset/location priority. This technique provides a normalized result and is ideal for ranking the work.
  • The higher the number, the higher the priority. With this approach, there are no limits on processing new work (which is now more important than the existing work in the backlog).


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