Myth Busting 6: Planning by trades

Myth Busting 6: Planning by trades

This myth, planning should be done by the trades, has a big impact on common practice, but when you talk to those who do it, they’ll often agree that planners are needed. That is an apparent contradiction and it arises due to sloppy use of terminology in the maintenance world.

Many companies have heard that planners should be skilled trades and misinterpret that to mean that your skilled trades should do planning. No, no, no.

There are two distinct roles here.

It is a good idea (and successful practice) to have experienced trades doing planning work, but that doesn’t mean planning is done by trades. The planners plan, they are not people executing the work in the field. Planners should have trades experience. They need it to know enough about the work that needs to be done to be able to plan it well. A good planner can keep a number of trades very busy with his planned jobs. Trades productivity rises as a result. In fact, the reason for planning and scheduling is to optimize the productivity of the trades in the field.

On the other hand, having the trades do their own planning is a recipe for chaos. While this meets the requirement for people with trade skills doing the planning, it fails miserably at doing planning proactively. That proactivity is key to success with any schedule, with the timely provision of parts and materials to support the schedule and with the reduction in reactive work (i.e.: emergencies).

Jobs should not be planned just before they are being executed. Doing so results in having little to no time to acquire needed resources such as parts and materials in a timely manner. Tradespersons do not usually manage their own work backlog. They do not have a list of jobs that can be scheduled when all the materials arrive. More commonly they have a list of work orders to execute. If planning is done by your trades’ persons, then they will do it as a first step in executing the work orders they’ve been assigned. Chances are that you’ve given them those work orders expected action sooner rather than later. If they can’t get the parts they need right away, then those work orders will wait and the trades’ person is now the one managing his or her own backlog, perhaps telling your planner, or not.

In those cases, your planner isn’t a planner. Chances are your planner is a parts chaser. Scheduling is a futile exercise. Operational people will see that you can’t stick to whatever schedule you promise and they will be assigning every work order a top priority (emergency). Your trades are planning, but the plans are doing you very little good. Planning needs to be a separate activity done well in advance of the actual need to execute the work. Doing that requires a planner that plans, material support that is driven by plans and schedules (not by emergencies) and a schedule that you can rely on.

When it comes to planning and scheduling there is a lot of misunderstanding about roles and just who should do what. Even the words get misinterpreted.

Often, when maintainers speak about planning they are really talking about “scheduling.”  They even hold “planning meetings” when the only topic for discussion is really the schedule. Why? Sometimes it is because the planner (whether he is a true planner or just a parts chaser) runs the meeting. Plans often include two main elements: work scope and timing information. For maintenance, the work scope and how to do execute it constitute a plan. The timing of tasks relative to each other is a part of the plan. But the start date for the job overall is part of a schedule. Maintenance schedules and plans are two different things – one is about what and how the other is about when and who.

Bottom line:

If you have trades doing planning, then you are telling the “who” to do “what” (usually in broad terms) and “when”, but letting him decide for himself, on “how” and whether or not he can do it based on material availability. You really aren’t in control of that process at all.

So, yes, have skilled trades working as planners, but don’t have you planning done by your skilled trades. Keep the planning and work execution jobs separated from each other.