John Crossan | Manufacturing Ownership Blog
Maintenance Planning "10-1=16 1/2" PDF Print E-mail

I'm a big fan of podcasts, and one I listen to regularly is a financial/economic podcast put out every month by Bill Gross of PIMCO the giant bond fund house,. He was one of the few, over the last years, voicing serious concern about the huge financial house of cards being built. (In early life a professional blackjack player, who better to know about houses of cards?) Although always somewhat sobering, he is obviously a really smart guy, and tends to be right, pretty much, most of the time.

Recently, in the house of cards context, he quoted the famous financier, Bernard Baruch, who many times made the statement that, "Two and two, still and always will, equal four".

This, some would say, quaint concept, has fallen out of favor, more and more, in recent years, as clearly the restrictiveness of basic arithmetic is not something that should continue to bind us in today's brave new world.

Much more useful if two and two can equal:

  • Whatever analysts are expecting it to be (or better).
  • Whatever my boss wants it to be.
  • Whatever will make this current project justifiable.

Keeping this in mind, some odd looking math that actually works in plant maintenance, is the rule that:

"10 minus 1 equals 16 1/2".

This rule is a huge help with another rule that is always pretty much true:

"In most plants, there are never enough maintenance people".

If I have 10 maintenance mechanics and the backlog just keeps growing. How can I get more maintenance work done?

  • Hiring more people is usually a long and difficult process, and always, the longest most difficult part is getting the approval and usually, rightly so.
  • Contractors are an option, and will definitely get the work done, (and usually best for specialized tasks), but can eat up my budget pretty quickly.
  • Overtime eats budgets too, and also burns people out after not too long a while.
  • I can also just beat on everyone to get more done, but that becomes counterproductive pretty quickly. And since we’re typically working in a really broken process to begin with, how much more can we really get done? Work ethic (except in a small number of cases) isn’t the problem. But frustration can be.

Or, I can just live, (or try to) as many do, with the anxiety, excitement, frustration and consequences of not getting done what really needs to be done.

But suppose I take my best, most organized mechanic and put him in a planning role, charging him and the group with using him solely as a resource to work with them:

  • To identify the best quickest way of doing a job.
  • To identify materials, tools etc. needed to do that job in the best way. So they can be prepped ahead of time.
  • To work with the Supervisor (or scheduler) to build a schedule based on realistic resource times.

So that we get more done with the people we have, by just not wasting their time. (And believe it or not, the majority actually like this.)



Many times, of course, the response to this proposal is a variety of colorful expressions, all unflattering, and casting unkind doubt about various attributes, and the heredity of the proposer.
Milder ones being:


  • “How can we afford to give up a mechanic to become a planner?? There’s just too much work to get done. What dumb son of a #^*%& came up with that?"
  • “You want us to take our best mechanic out of the workforce and have him do paperwork? Are you *&^%#* nuts?”

But numbers that various reputable surveys have pulled together over the years, typically and consistently, show that the usual unplanned maintenance work setup results in an actual working time (or so called wrench turning time) of about 35% of the available time of mechanics.
The rest of the time is spent in many other ways

  • Traveling time to and from the job site and various other places, (maintenance shop, parts room, lunchroom, washroom, receiving dock, supervisor’s office, engineer’s office, production manager’s office, etc)
  • Waiting for equipment to become available (behind schedule because of an earlier breakdown)
  • Determining how to do the job, and what materials, etc are needed, (traveling to all those places above and consulting with those there.)
  • Getting materials (after we find them)(if we don’t, then we have to go through our determining process again)
  • Getting tools. (Unless someone else is using them, or didn’t put them back, then we have a finding process)
  • Getting help when needed.(traveling and consulting again)
  • Job cleanup (If we ever get done)
  • Tool cleanup (If we ever get done)
  • Etc..

The same surveys typically show that on a well planned, scheduled basis, actual working time rises to about 65% of the available time with all the nonworking time components being significantly reduced.

So if I convert one mechanic, of my ten, to a planner, and now I have nine mechanics working at 65% vs. the previous 35%, then effectively I now have 16 1/2 of my current 35% mechanics.

I just added six and a half mechanics by moving to planned and scheduled work.

Or "10 minus 1 equals 16 1/2".
Or "Buy 1 and get 6 ½ free"

Based on this how can we afford not to commit to a planner?

Now if we chose to, we could cast unkind doubt about various attributes and the heredity of those rejecting the planner proposal. But, of course, we are not ones who would do that.

So how does this actually happen?

Some would say “Most of our work is emergency work anyway with no time for planning, so how can a planner help?”

Well the key is just to start.

There has to be some work being done in scheduled downtime, where there is some time for planning. Start with that.

If we start to get the scheduled repair work done much faster and better (or even just close to the time we estimated) in the scheduled downtime, then amazingly, we start to be able to get the PM Work done in the scheduled downtime rather than skipped, because on an unplanned or poorly planned basis the scheduled repairs took way too long, and we just ran out of time. (Skip PMs? Who ever heard of such a thing?)

Without PM inspections, there is no hope of getting away from a lot of emergency work. But with them there is.

Inspections generate workorders for more non-immediate repair work that can be planned and scheduled, that we actually get done (and done right). Emergency work the most inefficient use of resources begins to go down. We begin to start a cycle of goodness.

Many other good things start to happen too, a major one being, we begin to get more credibility. And that opens a lot of doors.

Of course dramatic reduction doesn’t happen overnight, there is individual and group training, developing the process, getting acceptance and commitment to get the process going and some system set up. But it does begin to have effect really quickly. Just start, and get better as you go.

OK. So I don’t get all my additional mechanics right away, but I start to get some.

And even if I don’t get the planning scheduling system good enough to get them all, I’m still well ahead of where we were.

The comment I always heard after a planning system was in place is, “We’re just getting a lot more work done”.

And it’s amazing how that helps.