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Separate but Equal: The 3 Planning and Scheduling Steps Towards Continuous Improvement – T.A. Cook

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T.A. Cook





Mike Asquini, Senior Consultant

When discussing maintenance work, planning and scheduling are inevitably linked. So much so, that distinguishing between the two disciplines can be difficult. They are interconnected, but in order to produce a functional schedule, planning and scheduling must be treated as individual processes that support one another. Only when both have been properly carried out can efficiency during execution and constant improvement be achieved.

Step one – planning prerequisites

Planning involves taking the scope of work, verifying the location and gauging both the location’s accessibility and the validity of the request. This is done by reading the description of the desired work, filling the gaps by discussing the work with the requestor if needed, visiting the job site, identifying any concerns in the performance of work (safety or space limitations for example), and verifying that the conditions that provoked the work order do actually exist. This is the prerequisite to constructing a complete and accurate plan.

The plan should then be composed by identifying the appropriate steps to perform the job as a whole. Each step should include a detailed description of the task to be completed and the resources needed for it. This includes – but is not limited to – craft and number of craft needed, parts, types of permits required, personal protective equipment, special tools not necessarily part of the normal toolkit, technical specifications required to meet the service conditions and any accessibility equipment.

Step two – effective sequencing

The second part of planning is often mistakenly considered scheduling. The planner must link the steps to complete the work through the use of relationships. These relationships tell the scheduler and execution personnel what sequence steps should be performed in.

Relationships come in three varieties: finish to start (such as an electrician disconnecting a motor prior to rotating equipment uncoupling a pump); start to start (such as an equipment operator working with a boilermaker crew to pull a bundle out of an exchanger); and finish to finish (such as a crane operator assisting a crew of fitters to bolt up a run of piping). After the relationships have been established, the planning process is complete: jobs can be marked as ready to schedule when all parts are in hand.

Step three – ready to schedule

The precursor to assembling the weekly schedule is the prioritization of work from the available backlog by operations personnel. Additionally, the craft capacities for the coming week must be confirmed and adjusted, as staffing levels are affected by planned and scheduled absences such as vacation or training. Selected jobs should then be included in the schedule using craft hours from the weekly capacity. Schedulers must monitor key crafts during the addition of work to the schedule, while ensuring that the schedule remains level loaded.

Once capacities have been consumed, the addition of work must stop, leveling can take place, and work can then be added to the next key craft. The cycle completes when all crafts have been consumed according to agreed-upon capacity utilization levels. It is imperative that the schedule is both shared for review and locked once stakeholders agree that all work can be supported during the following week. Schedule compliance and break-in work must finally be tracked and measured from the locked schedule.

Two distinct disciplines

While planning and scheduling are two recognizably different disciplines, they must work together in order to create an executable schedule which meets the needs of operations personnel. They must be coordinated properly in order to function well and be effective in the field during execution. Better preparation – from the very first planning stage to adding the final touches to a functional schedule – can increase efficiency by as much as 20%: by ensuring that planning and scheduling are correctly carried out, the foundations for a cycle of continuous improvement can be laid.

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