Maintenance Planning and Scheduling for Utilities: How Optimization Drives Growth, Talent Retention, Compliance, and Customer Satisfaction
Most organizations understand the importance of maintaining compliance with their customers, and thus recognize the value of an effective maintenance program. A strong program combines both maintenance planning and scheduling to help a company ensure equipment is in proper working order, anticipate breakdowns, and maintain reliability in customer relations.
So why do so many businesses still struggle to get it right? Efficient scheduling processes and tools are at the heart of any reliable maintenance program, but organizations across every industry have been slow to adopt the right systems. In fact, in the manufacturing industry alone, 47% of companies and teams still use in-house spreadsheets for their maintenance schedules. These outdated scheduling technologies and processes ultimately result in an inadequate maintenance program; one that leads to wasted time and resources, equipment failure, and strained client relationships.
On the other hand, powerful tools that can handle complex scheduling requirements give organizations a leg up against their competition. They help companies optimize their business operations for better resource utilization, improved employee and customer satisfaction, and higher-quality maintenance work.
The Foundations of Maintenance Planning and Scheduling
Maintenance programs are built upon two key pillars: Planning and scheduling. The two offer distinct functions but are equally important and interconnected. An effective planning process relies upon an effective scheduling process, and vice versa, so getting both right is absolutely crucial.
What is Maintenance Planning?
Maintenance planning refers to all of the activities an organization performs to detect and resolve potential equipment issues. The process involves everything that’s relevant to planning for maintenance—including what work must be done, what materials and resources are needed, why the work is being performed, and even how the work will be executed. Simply put, maintenance planning helps teams iron out all the essential details needed to assign and schedule work.
While the specific of maintenance planning might vary from one organization to the next, it’s important to follow some basic principles to ensure success:
- Trust the planner’s judgment – Maintenance planners should be well-equipped and have the necessary experience required to accurately estimate job plans. They should have access to job histories, technical resources, and any other crucial information so they can plan appropriately. Rather than relying on one piece of data alone (such as a previous work order file) to estimate task duration, the planner should also take into account their own technical expertise. Other team members should trust the dedicated planner’s judgment when it comes to time estimates.
- Plan for future work – Job planners should be solely focused on the work that’s ahead of the maintenance team, rather than the tasks they’re currently completing. This means building a work backlog that extends a minimum of one week into the future, so all jobs are completely planned and ready to schedule with plenty of advanced notice.
- Utilize component level files – Because equipment maintenance is highly repetitive, it’s important for planners to create and update component-level files that match other equipment tag numbers. This makes it easier for planners to collect, compare, and analyze equipment data to improve their work plans moving forward.
- Know and effectively utilize the skills of your technicians – Maintenance planners should always have seamless access to the details around technician skills and experience. Using this information, they can create job plans that include only the most essential specifics needed to complete the task. If, for example, a technician has 15 years of experience in working on a particular piece of equipment that needs repair, the planner does not need to spend excess time creating a highly detailed job plan for that tech.
- Use work sampling – As is the case with nearly any process, measuring performance is vital to making improvements. Teams should use certain metrics, like wrench time, to uncover potential issues that hinder their technicians’ work. Wrench time is the amount of time technicians are actually performing their planned tasks, and understanding this KPI can help planners identify the factors that cause delays and better plan for future work.
What is Maintenance Scheduling?
Maintenance scheduling (also called scheduled maintenance) refers to the timing elements of planned maintenance. It includes details like when and where the job will be performed, as well as who will complete it.
Organizations with a strong maintenance program know that planning is only half the battle. Without a strong scheduling process to carry those plans out, your team likely isn’t as efficient or productive as possible. Successful maintenance scheduling is based on these key principles:
- Schedule for effective job plans – Your job plans should act as the backbone of your schedules. All of the planning details—like necessary equipment, number of technicians required, estimated job time, etc.—will help schedulers build more accurate schedules that make the most of their technicians’ time.
- Prioritize jobs – Not only does job prioritization improve worker productivity, but it also increases employee satisfaction. Weekly schedules should be built upon the urgency of each job and should enable maintenance and operations teams to plan their work ahead of time. Of course, there will always be emergencies that pop up from time to time, but prioritizing planned work can help mitigate the stress that those last-minute issues otherwise create. This makes for a more productive, stable workforce; and one that can easily address jobs based on their urgency.
- Schedule based on skill level and availability – At the start, schedulers should schedule jobs about a week in advance based on workers’ skill sets and availability. As time goes on and performance is measured and analyzed, schedulers can begin building schedules several weeks ahead of time with a more accurate understanding of worker capability.
- Utilize all work hours – To avoid issues in under- or over-utilization, schedulers should assign jobs for 100 percent of the available work hours for each technician. This ensures all technicians are used to their full capabilities and are not waiting around to receive their next assignment.
- Leave day to day scheduling to crew leaders – No matter how effective your maintenance program is, there will always be daily tasks that need assigning, as well as last-minute changes that need to be addressed. Schedulers should handle weekly schedules, but crew leaders and supervisors should be responsible for any day-to-day assignments.
- Measure performance with schedule compliance – Your maintenance program generates lots of valuable data, so make sure you’re putting that data to use. There are several KPIs you should be using to measure performance, but evaluating schedule compliance is a quick way to find and fix any issues that may be negatively impacting productivity.
Benefits of an Effective Maintenance Program
Planned maintenance scheduling helps organizations maintain asset standards and perform at an optimal level. By optimizing both their planning and emergency scheduling with modern technology, companies can boost their workforce productivity.
As we continue to see labor shortages, organizations struggle to find and retain talent with the knowledge to perform their most critical jobs. With an effective maintenance program, they can ensure employee knowledge is kept within the company—enabling them to operate as efficiently as possible.
With the right end-to-end processes and a powerful scheduling tool for support, businesses can reap the benefits of a strong maintenance program, including:
- More jobs completed per day – When planners have all the essential details they need at their fingertips, they can accurately account for how many jobs their technicians can complete. They’re able to plan and schedule jobs for 100 percent of the available work hours, so technicians don’t waste time wondering when they’ll be assigned to the next task. Instead of relying on a constant break/fix strategy (which interrupts employees’ workflow and disrupts their productivity), the right scheduling tool can help teams better plan for maintenance up front and sufficiently plan for downtime. The result is a more productive team that can complete more jobs without risking premature burnout.
- Ability to prioritize emergency jobs/situations – There’s already copious amounts of information to keep track of when it comes to planned maintenance; and when you consider the unavoidable emergencies that occur from time to time, remaining organized can seem like an impossible feat. An effective maintenance program enables teams to prioritize jobs based on urgency and adjust regularly planned maintenance accordingly, so nothing falls through the cracks. Everything runs like a well-oiled machine, so those instances of reactive maintenance don’t throw the entire operation off kilter.
- In-house information retention – In order to continuously improve your maintenance processes for optimal results, your team needs a whole lot of historical and real-time data. Equipment history and details are a large part of this equation, as they help teams determine the best course of action for maintenance work. But scheduling data is equally crucial, as it allows teams to build more effective maintenance plans, ensure proper resource utilization, and eliminate time-consuming obstacles that may be hindering productivity.
- Employee satisfaction – Workers want to know that their skills are being put to good use, and that their time is valuable to their employer. With a strong maintenance program and tools that empower employees, each worker’s time and expertise is utilized to the fullest extent. Planners can accurately account for the skills required for each job, and schedulers can match those requirements to the right technician, which reduces those frustrating errors associated with a more reactive maintenance strategy.
- Customer satisfaction – Organizations must maintain their compliance with customers, and proper maintenance planning and scheduling allows them to do so. An effective program helps teams meet their service-level agreements (SLAs) by enabling them to maintain the assets that perform important functions for their customers. By using an asset-centric system, teams are alerted to any potential issues with performance and can prioritize those assets, as well as schedule out regularly-planned maintenance for each asset. This ultimately leads to happier, more satisfied customers who are confident in the organization’s ability to meet their SLAs.
- Risk mitigation – Pre-planned maintenance allows businesses to avoid those otherwise costly, time-consuming emergency breakdowns. Planners have historical data at their disposal to accurately estimate any necessary downtime, so customers aren’t left wondering when their critical assets will be up-and-running again. Plus, regular maintenance helps technicians confirm that equipment is in working order, reducing the risk for unexpected failures.
3 Strategies for Successful Maintenance Planning and Scheduling
Improving your organization’s maintenance program starts with optimizing your business operations; especially scheduling. The right strategies can help your team overcome the challenges of planning and scheduling to boost productivity, eliminate workflow challenges, and meet (or exceed) your customers’ expectations.
Here are three powerful strategies for getting started:
1. Engage with leadership
Getting buy-in for the process changes and potential technology investments you’ll need to bolster your planned maintenance and scheduling practice might take a little maneuvering. Senior-level leaders may not initially understand the benefits of shifting from a reactive approach to one that’s more forward-thinking, so make sure you’re clear about the advantages.
It is true that adjusting or improving your maintenance strategy can be time consuming, require additional resources at the onset, and make your cheaper, more traditional tools (e.g. scheduling spreadsheets) obsolete, so don’t ignore those potential obstacles. Instead, directly compare and contrast them with all the cost-saving, productivity-boosting benefits of making the switch. Be sure to highlight the pros that are most important to leadership, like:
- Increased asset and equipment lifespan
- Smoother day-to-day operations
- Reduced unexpected costs
- Safer, more compliant working environments
- Better resource utilization
2. Analyze current operations
There are many operational elements that can make or break your maintenance planning and scheduling program if not properly accounted for, so be sure to take a look at what’s currently happening. Are there existing maintenance tasks that aren’t necessary? Is there equipment that might benefit from more frequent maintenance? What does your current backlog and capacity look like?
In addition to maintenance-specific analysis, take a look at other operations across your organization, as well. How do your planners, schedulers, and technicians work together on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis? What does their current performance look like? Are there workflow processes that need to be adjusted to better align with a planned maintenance approach?
Hopefully you already have plenty of data to help you answer these questions, but if not, you might want to consider leveraging technology that enables you to pull everything together for better-informed insights. That way, you can confidently plan and execute your maintenance strategy based on what’s already working, what’s not, and what you hope to accomplish.
3. Enable planners and schedulers with technology
If you think you can pull off a sophisticated maintenance planning and scheduling operation with outdated or manual tools, you might want to reevaluate. It’s a complex, ongoing initiative, and one that requires your team to keep track of copious amounts of information.
Any one planner, for example, might plan the work of 20 technicians over the course of a week, with each working 40 hours per week. That’s 800 hours of work the planner must account for, which gets complicated pretty quickly when you consider job descriptions, estimated times, necessary skills, required tools, and more. The scheduler, too, must use all those details to determine the right person for the right job based on availability, location, qualification, preferences, and other key information.
As you build out your maintenance planning and scheduling program, make sure you’re empowering your team with technology that makes their jobs easier. Planned maintenance software (like CMMS tools, ERP software, and EAM systems) are a great place to start, but they’re not enough to ensure sustainable success.
Your team also needs technology that improves workforce visibility, supports multi-layered workflows, and handles the complexities of their scheduling requirements. Intelligent scheduling software can bring everything together in one centralized place, for a truly integrated approach to maintenance planning and scheduling.
The right scheduling tool can automatically match the right technician to the right job, automate the scheduling process, optimize worker routes, enable data collection in the field, and take the guesswork out of resource utilization. Make sure the software you choose puts all your valuable data (from all of your existing critical systems) to work for your team and offers meaningful, data-backed insights that drive operational improvements.
Robust Software for Successful Maintenance Planning and Scheduling
Consistently high quality maintenance requires both effective planning and scheduling, but implementing a successful strategy is often cumbersome. This is particularly true for organizations that lack the proper tools and real-time data for support.
Skedulo’s scheduling software for energy and utilities companies turns maintenance planning and scheduling into your company’s competitive advantage. With tools for automated scheduling, intelligent job matching, efficient resource utilization, route optimization, field data collection, and more, Skedulo can help your team eliminate wasted time and resources, reduce the risk of equipment failure, and improve client relations.
Learn more about how Skedulo can transform energy and utilities workforce management, or book a demo today.