Mike Johnston CMRP, Senior Consultant
Determining where to assign precious human resources and materials can be a delicate juggling act, making planning and scheduling complex when resources are limited. Reducing a backlog and maintaining its size is an on-going function every maintenance group should be performing on a set schedule: neglecting to do so could result in gratuitously expending resources and lives being made unnecessarily difficult. A backlog that is artificially inflated means additional time for the planners to sort through what is valid as well as creating an inaccurate resource demand picture.
Establish a review team
Most authorities agree that a manageable backlog should consist of 4-6 weeks of work per craft. This means one craft’s backlog may consist of more (or less) line items compared to another’s, depending on the number of individuals contained in that particular craft group.
A dedicated backlog review team should be assembled consisting of Operations, Maintenance Supervision and Crafts, Planning/Scheduling, Reliability/Engineering and Inspections. These are the groups that will be able to provide the in-depth information and background regarding the backlog data and are best positioned to make decisions on the final disposition of rationalizing work.
Next, duplicate requests should be located and eliminated by the team to ensure redundancies are not pending for the same piece of equipment. Frequently, these can be combined into one work order with the relevant information compiled onto a single request. Items whose removal may demand extra authority must then be clarified. These generally consist of Inspection Work Requests such as environmental and regulatory issues and include requests that can be eliminated from the backlog if the work has been performed but the order left open.
Whether Turnaround/Shutdown functions are encompassed in the routine maintenance backlog should also be determined. Ordinarily, these are handled separately by a dedicated planning group and should be reassigned to the appropriate party responsible for their planning.
Break it down
The backlog then needs to be sorted by age – oldest to newest – and the associated priority for the work examined. Work requests with a high priority older than 6 months are suspect and their status should be closely checked: if the work was genuinely required, the reasons it has not been carried out need to be fully understood. Why such work remains in the backlog and has not been performed should be strongly questioned and if the work has not been undertaken and there have been no consequences, then again the reasons for inclusion should be validated.
The equipment the work is associated with should then be checked as to whether it is still operational, has already been removed or been abandoned in place, invalidating the request. Items where non-completion of the final step of a job are the cause of the work order remaining open need to be identified, such as in situations where scaffolding has not been removed.
Clean it up, keep it clean
The quickest means of reducing the backlog in real time is by addressing the work requests needing to be closed, removed, altered, combined and reprioritized. Each review team meeting should be conducted “live” within the site’s Computerized Maintenance Management System and the required action regarding each work request identified for amendment taken immediately. Meetings also need to be conducted at a set frequency to constantly sift through the backlog and keep it current, relevant and optimized. In this manner, it can be ensured that the work scheduled reflects the best use of resources and material and that the right work is performed at the right time.