On The Floor

Planning Is No Joke (Seriously)

Klaus M. Blache | December 19, 2018

Do your planners plan, or do something else?

Q: How many planners does it take to change a light bulb?

A : In the many variations of this joke (directed, say, at electricians or engineers) the answer is typically “five”—one to hold the light bulb and four to turn the ladder.

A more serious question that frequently comes up regarding planners involves how many are needed to manage maintenance best practices. The ratio I see referenced most often is 1:15 (planner to craftsperson), with an upper number of 1:20 (a best-practice value, according to the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals [SMRP]). Ratios above and below these indicate that the planner can be more effective or more fully utilized.

If planning and scheduling (P&S) is carried out by two individuals, the planner-to-craftsperson ratio may exceed 1:30. Typically, it’s expected that someone who only carries out scheduling can double that number or do 1:60. Those numbers are based on the assumption that the planner is experienced in the business (preferably as a craftsperson), exhibits excellent organizational skills, is good with people interactions, and has built up a job-plan library, among other things. Otherwise the ratio would be more realistic at 1:10 or 1:5.

Other serious questions to ask (and answer) regarding the specifics of P&S in your operations include:

• Do you have a good maintenance process flowchart to delineate which jobs require planning?

• Is work planned with enough detail to minimize waste of resources, including craft type, tools, material needed, job tasks, permits, and safety requirements?

• Do you manage your backlog?

• Do you know how effective your P&S is? Does it support improving “wrench time,” i.e., working on equipment versus getting parts, travel, and waiting?

• Do you have a functional parts-kitting process that supports P&S?

When I assess maintenance organizations and talk to planners, I hear the following types of comments:

“I’m the planner, but I only have time to schedule.”

“I spend about 10% of my time planning. The remainder is spent chasing down parts, emergency repairs, and running errands for my supervisor, among other things.”

“The amount of work that I am assigned to finish is more than twice what I have time for.”

“I was trained by the previous planner for a few weeks last month, but never had any other training.”

“We have three planners with minimal or no training.” After viewing each of their processes, they were all completely different (each made up their own) and only one was somewhat effective.

Unless your planning department is truly understaffed, you probably don’t need to add a resource. Managers are often hesitant to reassign a craftsperson to planning. That’s because they generally think of such moves in terms of one less person fixing things, not total departmental effectiveness. But bringing on another planner (if necessary) from your existing workforce can lead to more-effective overall use of resources.

In short, adding a planner offers an excellent return on investment. It’s also needed to move to less-reactive maintenance, which improves equipment availability, safety, variability, and costs. Operating at the bottom (4th) quartile is more than six times more expensive than operating at the top (1st) quartile.

Based on how close your planner-to-craftsperson ratio already is to 1:20, you could accomplish more than a 40% productivity gain by moving to higher wrench time. About 30% wrench time is average for many organizations, and more than 50% is best practice.

Let’s say that every planner-scheduler team can handle 20 craftspersons. So, for 18 individuals, (assuming two are now planning and scheduling), 10% to 20% more work effectiveness (wrench time = 40% and 50%, instead of 30%) results in a productivity gain of 20% to 50%. While this type of economic justification should remove any hesitation when it comes to management support, it’s feasible only if you have an experienced planner and the other previously mentioned items. (Projects in which I’ve been involved in recent years have shown that planning-effectiveness improvements of more than 50% can be attained.)

As for the question regarding how many planners it takes to change a light bulb, the serious answer is “none.” After all, planners should only do planning, and then scheduling (if they do both). EP

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at kblache@utk.edu.

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