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Myth Busting 7: Planning meetings

This myth, planning meetings are for planning, is based on a misuse/misunderstanding of correct planning and scheduling terminology. Planning meetings are normally run by your planner, but they are not, or shouldn’t be, about planning. They are about scheduling – i.e.: when work will be executed. Planning defines what work (scope) will be done, how to do it (instructions, guidance, specs, etc.) and what is required to do it (resources, skills, permits required, etc.).Scheduling is done to define when the job will be executed and by which resources (skilled trades).    

Scheduling is done to define when the job will be executed and by which resources (skilled trades).   People are sometimes shocked when I tell them that their planning meetings can be as quick as 60 seconds (yes, seconds, not minutes). How can that happen?  First of all, the so-called, planning meeting, is really a schedule confirmation (or scheduling) meeting. Its purpose is to agree on a schedule, not create the schedule and certainly not to plan the work that must go into the schedule.

Making it a short meeting that doesn’t waste time needlessly, requires preparation. The schedule must be prepared before the meeting – in draft form. That schedule is circulated to all those who need to know and approve it (e.g.: maintenance supervision, production) BEFORE the meeting and with enough time for them to review it. In that review, they should be checking that they can accommodate the work in the proposed scheduled time slot. For instance, the maintenance supervisor, who assigned the people to the work, must check to see that she has the right people available. The operations/production supervisor must make sure that her crew can prep the machine for work (i.e.: shut it down, empty it of product, isolate it, shut down all energy sources, lock it out) to accommodate the work schedule being proposed.

If the work cannot be accommodated in the proposed time, then the scheduler for maintenance (who is usually your planner) should be told so that she can adjust the schedule. If that cannot be done before the meeting, then the exception should be raised at the scheduling meeting.   In the meeting, the schedule is confirmed. Minor adjustments can usually be made then and there, but the whole schedule should not need to be revamped – certainly not in the meeting.

The work that is proposed for the schedule when it is sent out prior to the meeting is already known to be doable in the time frame for which it is proposed. The scheduler has checked the plan’s requirements against what is/is not available. Parts are known to be on-hand or due for delivery (from a reliable supplier) before the scheduled date. Needed trades are known to be available based on their vacation and training schedules, making allowance for some reasonably forecastable amount of illness/absences. In short, the job is entirely ready for execution before it is scheduled.

Most companies use a weekly scheduling cycle for maintenance – that is what seems to work best for most. If you have regular downtime (e.g.: production on 2 of 3 shifts), then most work is scheduled for the shift when equipment isn’t needed. If you produce 24/7, then most work will disrupt production and the proposed time for any given job must be agreed with operations. The scheduling meeting is when that is done formally, but before the meeting, a conversation between scheduler and production can help smooth the process. Remember, the meeting is for agreeing on the schedule, not for working out the details. Those should all be done in advance.

If your scheduling meetings are being used to discuss the availability of key parts or tools or contractors, or to juggle most of the work around among the week’s available working time slots, then you are not doing it right.