On smaller maintenance teams, everyone wears a lot of different hats, with the maintenance manager just as likely to be setting the schedule as rolling up their sleeves to work on equipment. But when your operations start to grow in both size and complexity, you need someone on the team focused on all the little details but never losing sight of the big picture. Someone who can not only work with the team but also across departments.
You need a maintenance planner.
As always, it helps to start with basic definitions.
What is a maintenance planner?
Maintenance planners make sure the maintenance department gets the most from its techs, tools, and time by ensuring everyone has what they need to work efficiently. It's their job to plan out the work the techs are going to do, match the right techs to the right tasks, and then control inventory so the team has exactly what it needs right when it needs it.
That covers their strategic role in the department. But what about their tactics? What are the specific steps they take, day to day, to reach those objectives?
What are a maintenance planner's responsibilities?
Planners start by making sure they understand the department's capabilities and its responsibilities, including estimating both what the team needs to get done and how long each job should take. They also need to look at the overall organization's business goals, so they know how best to support them through maintenance activities.
From there, they work out which maintenance strategies to implement for each asset, and then set up and schedule preventive maintenance programs. They also need to set up a series of workflows for dealing with on-demand work orders, including ways to review requests, prioritize work, assign work orders, and then track completion rates.
A lot of their work focuses on activities for the maintenance department, but one of the key skills is also being able to support key performance indicators (KPIs) across the organization, up and down the org chart. So, they know they need to schedule inspections and tasks for the maintenance team, but they also know they have to try to them around the production schedule.
For example, when maintenance needs to take a press offline to test or change the lubricant, the maintenance planner tries to schedule it for between production runs, minimizing downtime.
What is the difference between maintenance planner vs maintenance scheduler?
If you've heard about maintenance schedulers, you might be wondering about all the overlap between the two positions. The reality is that planning and scheduling are in fact two separate jobs, but depending on the size of the operation, they might all be done by one person.
If the maintenance department is large enough to have both a planner and a scheduler, the planner would focus more on making sure the techs have what they need to work well, including the right tools and parts, while the scheduler would look after deciding when techs did the work, including carefully prioritizing work orders and balancing maintenance and production needs.
If they deliver so many benefits, why doesn't every maintenance department have a planner?
It's the same reason why even if a department has a planner, they still might not have a scheduler. It all comes down to the size of the operation.
So, in cases where the size of the facilities, the number and complexity of the assets and equipment, and the size of the maintenance department don't require a full-time maintenance planner, the maintenance manager does all the maintenance planning and scheduling themselves.
It's a general truth about all organizations: the fewer people in the band, the more instruments each of them has to play.
What are the ways to become a maintenance planner?
There's no royal road, but some routes are more common than others. A lot of planners start out with a university or associate degree, often in facility management or something related to engineering. From there, they study project management.
But because this is maintenance, there are also the traditional apprenticeships. It's possible to start out in a planning assistant position, gain a lot of on-the-job training and direct experience, and then try to move up from there.
Regardless of route, future maintenance planners need to be detail oriented multitaskers who never lose sight of the big picture.
And they need to be convertible using a variety of different technologies, including computerized maintenance management software (CMMS).
How does a CMMS make life easier for maintenance planners?
If a maintenance department is big enough to have a maintenance planner, it's too big to be running on paper and spreadsheets. There are too many moving parts for old manual methods. The right CMMS makes it possible to stay on top of work and a step ahead of trouble by automating critical workflows, helping you keep your data safe, secure, and accessible.
Here's just two of the ways a CMMS helps.
Remember, the big difference between manual methods and a modern CMMS solution is that the software helps you keep all your data in one spot, a central database where everything is safe, secure, and accessible to everyone on the team.
And that makes scheduling much easier. Instead of trying to organize everything on post-it notes or across hard-to-read spreadsheets, the maintenance planner can see all the tasks and inspections they need to assign on intuitive calendars. When they need to change the schedule to accommodate a new on-demand work order, they can quickly drag and drop assignments to new dates.
With paper and spreadsheets, it's impossible to accurately track parts and materials because of human error. And even if everyone always writes in the right numbers, the time lags between when the team uses parts and when they update the records means you're always a bit behind. You might have good numbers on what you had last week, but you're never sure what you have right now.
With a CMMS, those problems disappear. Instead of having to trust techs to keep count, the software helps you do it automatically. When the maintenance planner sets up a work order, the can associate the required parts and materials inside the software. Then, when the techs close out, the CMMS automatically updates the inventory counts.
And as soon as levels hit the customizable minimums, the CMMS sends out an alert, so the department knows to arrange an order.
A maintenance planner works to ensure the maintenance department gets the most from its tools, techs, and time by carefully organizing inspections, tasks, and schedules. Although they work from inside the maintenance department, they often coordinate with the production side of the organization to make sure every is able to meet their specific goals and KPIs. For example, they would try to schedule planned downtime between production runs.
Not all maintenance departments have a planner, and on smaller teams, the facility manager or maintenance lead does all the planning. On larger teams, though, there might be both a planner and a scheduler.
Regardless of number of techs and assets, maintenance planning is made easier with a modern CMMS. Instead of trying to plan and track work using easy-to-lose, hard-to-read slips of paper or spreadsheet files, you can keep all your data in one spot, updated in real time. And because you've automated inventory tracking, your numbers are accurate and up to date, you never have to worry about running out of critical parts or materials.