Before you can successfully implement planned preventive maintenance, you need a solid understanding of what it is, how it’s different from other maintenance strategies, what it can deliver, and why it’s not always the best choice for every asset.

Here’s everything you need to get started. 

First, some fundamental definitions. 

What is planned preventive maintenance? 

We can pull apart the name to understand what it all means. 

“Planned” here the same as scheduled. It’s maintenance inspections and tasks we add to the maintenance team’s schedule ahead of time. The opposite is on-demand, which is work we do when there’s already a problem. 

Checking the oil on your car once a month and changing it after so many miles in planned maintenance, but changing a flat tire is on-demand work. You don’t do it until that tire is first flat. 

“Preventive” gets at the heart of why you’re doing the inspections and tasks ahead of time. The goal is to prevent bigger problems by finding and fixing smaller issues before they have a chance to grow. 

Quick side note: Is there a difference between calling it preventive maintenance and preventative maintenance? For a while there, it was a bit of a tossup between people using preventive or preventative. But it looks like these days, most people have settled on preventive maintenance. 

Back to working through the definition. The word “maintenance” is simple. It’s all the work you do to keep your assets and equipment up and running.   

Another way to define planned preventive maintenance is by looking at its benefits. What is preventive maintenance? It’s a program that delivers: 

  • Increased productivity 
  • Lowered costs 

And best of all, it does it with a lot less stress on your end. No more running around putting out fires. Instead, you’re able to head out early, find pockets of smoke when they exist and get things under control with the least amount of effort. 

So, you can also define planned preventive maintenance as a program to make life easier. 

What are the benefits of preventive maintenance programs? 

Staying on the topic of preventive maintenance benefits, we can expand that list a bit. Preventive maintenance should deliver: 

  • Reduced unplanned downtime due to asset failure 
  • Better margins and profits due to less downtime 
  • Longer asset life cycles, more value for your effort and budget 
  • Fewer interruptions to vital operations as timely, routine repairs mean fewer large-scale repairs 
  • Increased safety and less risk of injury 

Increased safety also ensures that organizations are in compliance with rigorous OSHA standards.  A bit more on this topic: Organizations should always put employee safety first. It’s hard to imagine something worse than an accident that injures an employee. On top of that, accidents can be very expensive in terms of both real dollars and intangibles like costs to reputation.  

Are there ever any disadvantages to preventive maintenance programs? 

Yes, there are. It’s a great maintenance strategy, but you have to use it on the right types of assets, and you have to set it up properly. When you don’t, you can run into problems. 

So on that level, it’s like everything else in life: you need to use it in the right place at the right time and in the right way. Otherwise, it’s not going to work for you. A Ferrari is a great car, but it’s terrible for taking the kids along when you go grocery shopping. At the same time, that minivan is not winning any races any time soon. 

But are there disadvantages specific to the strategy? 

There are some, but it’s likely better to just call them hurdles. If you can get over them, you’re in the clear. 

Start-up and ongoing costs 

The first is that planned preventive maintenance takes some planning and set-up, which shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s right there in the name. But planning means resources, time, and money, which can be challenging for smaller organizations. 

Getting everything set up is a multi-step process that can require help from departments across the organization. 

For a rough idea of what’s involved, you need to collect: 

  • Comprehensive list of assets and equipment, including maintenance and repairs histories 
  • Associated documentation, including O&M manuals and warranties 
  • Input from senior maintenance techs on current and desired inspections and tasks on every asset and piece of equipment 

Traditionally, the first big hurdle was that in a lot of cases, there was no existing information to collect. You actually needed to create it first. The second biggest hurdle was that you’d then need a place to keep it, organized and safe. 

For departments trying to stay on top of maintenance with paper or spreadsheets, this second hurdle basically kills their preventive maintenance program before it even has a chance to get off the ground. Without an easy, reliable way to keep, access, and update data, simple preventive maintenance is a lot harder than it should be, and really good preventive maintenance is basically impossible. 

There’re two good pieces of news here, though. One is that successful preventive maintenance delivers a concrete, steady ROI. You need to do some work at the start, but it all pays off in the end. 

And the other good news is that a modern CMMS solution makes it a lot easier to do all that early-on work. With a central database where you can keep your data safe and secure, easily accessible and updatable, you’re not wasting time chasing paperwork and clicking through endless, disconnected spreadsheets. Once you go to all the trouble of getting all that data, you can be sure you’re not going to lose it. 

Risk of doing too much maintenance 

One you get everything set up, you might run into the next hurdle, which is where you’re doing too much maintenance. 

Is it possible to do too much? Isn’t the issue usually that departments are doing not enough? The answers are yes. And yes. If you’re looking at implementing preventive maintenance, it’s likely because you’re not doing enough. But at the same time, once you get your program set up, you could be doing too much. 

Here’s why: you’re scheduling preventive maintenance either by time or meter. When do you switch to winter tires? Just before winter starts, and it doesn’t matter how much you drove during spring and summer. You do that maintenance according to time. But what about checking and changing the oil? You could schedule it by season, but it makes a lot more sense to wait until you’ve driven the car a set mileage. It doesn’t matter what season it is; after you’ve driven a certain number of miles, it’s time to change the oil. 

In both cases, the calendar date and the meter reading are estimates. There’s no way to know exactly when you should be doing the maintenance; you’re always making educated guesses. 

And those guesses might be a bit too conservative, leading you to over-maintain your assets and equipment. Some might say, that’s fine because you can never be too careful. 

But you can be too careful. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much money in the budget. When you’re too careful, you’re burning through your hours, resources, budget without seeing any added benefits. When you change the oil too soon on your car, you’re not helping the engine. You’re just throwing out good oil. 

The solution is not to give up on preventive maintenance. The solution is doing preventive maintenance with a modern CMMS platform that makes it easy to track your operations.


Once you know who is doing the work, what they’re looking for, what they’re doing, and how often, you can make even better educated guesses, scheduling everything to reduce the risk of breakdowns while still getting maximum value from your team and assets. With the right data, you can Goldilocks your preventive maintenance schedule, always doing enough but not too much. 

How is planned preventive maintenance different from predictive maintenance? 

One way to ensure you’re not throwing out value is to collect and crunch your maintenance data into a preventive maintenance program. 

But there’s another way: predictive maintenance. It’s worth looking at because if you want to understanding preventive maintenance, it helps to know how it’s different from predictive maintenance. 

With predictive maintenance, you collect a constant stream of data from an asset, pull that data into sophisticated software, analysis it using complex algorithms, and then based on the results, know exactly when you need to perform maintenance. 

Take an engine, for example. Imagine you have a web of attached sensors, so you now have a steady stream of data related to temperature and vibration. Based on that data, your predictive maintenance software can sort of see into the future and tell you when you’re going to have problems, allowing you to jump in, perform the right maintenance tasks, and avoid them. 

It’s not the same as condition based maintenance, which is basically what you already have for the engine on your car. Here, once the temperature gets too high, your dashboard lights up, warning you to pull over. Predictive is one step further because it gives you the heads-up before there’s even a problem. 

So the question is, if predictive maintenance offers a crystal ball that actually works, why bother with any other maintenance strategy? Why not just get the best one? 

It’s because predictive maintenance is only the best one for a small subset of asset and equipment types. Considering the costs of the sensors, software, and the people to set up and run it, predictive makes sense only for expensive, critical assets. In a lot of other cases, it’s overkill. 

Is preventive maintenance the right maintenance strategy for every asset and equipment type? 

So, predictive maintenance is not the best idea for every asset and equipment type. And neither is preventive maintenance. 

Run to failure tends to get a bad name, especially when people talk about the benefits of a good preventive maintenance program. But there are lots of assets where you’re better off running to failure. There’s no other way to pull all the value out of an asset, piece of equipment, or part. 

If something is cheap to carry, easy to swap out, and has a low criticality, preventive maintenance is generally not the right answer. 

The classic example is a light bulb. They’re usually cheap, so it’s not like you’re investing a lot of money in light bulb inventory. They’re also easy to keep around because they don’t require special conditions, and they don’t tend to spoil. On top of that, they have a low criticality. If one burns out, it’s not going to stop the production line. One more important thing about light bulbs is that there’s no practical way to maintain them, anyway. You can’t really visually inspect one, and even if you could, there’d be no practical way to go in and do some quick work on the filament. 

So, preventive maintenance is a great maintenance strategy, but it’s not a great choice for every asset. 

What are the key performance indicators for preventive maintenance? 


More specifically, this refers to emergency labor hours. An effective preventive maintenance schedule should see a significant drop in emergency downtime and an increase inn overall productivity. 

Equipment downtime 

The total breakdown downtime for equipment, a plant, or even an entire facility indicates the level of effectiveness of a PM program. 

Equipment costs 

The cost of repairs includes the cost of labor, materials, extra labor hours as well as any direct or indirect maintenance cost. This plays a major role in indicating improvements after implementing a PM program. How does it cut materials costs? When work is scheduled in advance, you have time to order the parts and materials you need and have them shipped at the lowest possible cost. But when things break down without warning, and you don’t have the right parts in inventory, you’re forced to use expensive overnight delivery. 


Being able to get ready in advance when everything is easier, cheaper, and less frustrating is a defining characteristic of preventive maintenance. 

Preventive maintenance efficiency 

This would go over the number of work orders generated from a preventive maintenance program. These should see a rise when a preventive maintenance program is installed since it would highlight whether the developing equipment problems are being identified more proactively. 

What are the types of preventive maintenance work orders? 

The three main categories are: 

  • Inspections or tasks 
  • Mandatory or non-mandatory 
  • Pyramiding or non-pyramiding 

Inspections involve looking for problems, but if you don’t find any, you don’t do anything. The classic is the visual inspection, where you’re really just looking at an asset to see if anything looks out of place. Checking the oil on your car is a good example. Is the oil the right color? Does it feel gritty? 

Other inspections might involve checking gauges and meters. 

Maintenance tasks are often the next step. If the oil looks or feels off, you change it. If the fan belt has just about hit the end of its useful life, you swap it out. 

Mandatory PMs are the ones you must perform at all costs when they are due. They may involve OSHA, safety, EPA, and license inspections, among others. 

Non-mandatory PMs are inspections or service PMs that you can postpone for a short time or even eliminated for the present cycle without risking immediate failures or performance penalties. 

Pyramiding PMs are generated each time they come due. When there is already a PM due, and then the next one comes due, the first one should be canceled, with a note written in the equipment history that the PM was skipped. Make sure to include the due date from the canceled PM, so you know just how overdue the task was. 

Some companies, however, choose to make their PMs floating or non-pyramiding. They follow the same scenario as above, except there’s nothing in the system showing that the earlier PM was missed. Basically, throw away the original PM and just add the new one to the system. It’s like the first one never happened. 

Next steps 

If you’re ready to make the move to planned preventive maintenance, it’s time to start reaching out to CMMS providers to learn more. Once they have a sense of your current operations and what you’re hoping to achieve, they can help you better understand your options.

That’s a lot of info. Can you give me a summary of preventive maintenance programs? 

Preventive maintenance is the collection of inspections and tasks the team does to make sure, small simple issues are caught and corrected before they have a chance to develop into complicated, expensive problems. It’s a lot easier to adjust a misaligned belt than it is to rebuild a busted motor. 

Preventive maintenance is not the only way to look after assets; in fact, it’s one of many perfectly good maintenance strategies like predictive and condition based maintenance. The trick is matching the right methods with the right assets.   

To make it all work, you need an easy, reliable way to track data and schedule PMs. The right CMMS solution can help you make it possible. 

About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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