Episode 13: What to Avoid in Maintenance Planning and Scheduling with Erik Hupjé
This week on Masterminds in Maintenance, we hear from Erik Hupjé, founder of RoadtoReliability.com, joining our podcast all the way from Brisbane, Australia. Together we discuss the do’s and dont’s of Maintenance Planning and Scheduling.
Erik Hupjé is a maintenance and reliability leader with 20+ years experience in the Upstream Oil & Gas sector worldwide. He has worked in the oil, gas, and energy industry and has a range of experiences in asset strategy, reliability, maintenance improvement, technical integrity, process management, and more.
Erik argues that if the bulk of the plants around the world adopt some of the basic technological practices in maintenance and reliability and really get them under their belt, they would see a massive transformation in their performance. Learn more in this episode of Masterminds in Maintenance!
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00:06 Ryan: All right, welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance, a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host, Ryan. I’m CEO and founder of Upkeep. Each week, I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes, their idea failed. Sometimes it made their business more successful, and other times their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today I have with me Erik Hupje, joining us all the way from Brisbane, Australia. Erik is the founder of roadtoreliability.com. Welcome, Eric.
00:38 Erik Hupje: Hi, Ryan, thanks for that. It’s good to be here.
00:40 Ryan: All right, well, I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a very long time. You know that I’ve been following you for quite some time now. I’m really glad that we can finally have this time to connect over Masterminds in Maintenance. So maybe, to kick things off the ground, we’d love to start off with you sharing a little bit more about your background and how you got into this industry.
01:01 EH: Yeah, sure. As you can probably hear from my accent, I’m not a native English speaker. So I actually grew up and originated from the Netherlands. I went to school there, went to university there, and I left in 1998. And since then, I’ve been around the world, initially working in the UK. Then spent about seven years in the Philippines, and moved with the family to the Middle East where we lived for five years. And back in 2013, we came, with the family again, to Australia, here in Brisbane. And that’s where we’ve been since, and that’s what we intend to stay. And in fact, since 2017, we’ve become proud Australians.
01:35 Ryan: All right, well congratulations. It sounds like you’ve traveled the world. You’ve called… You’re now calling Australia home. I’m curious, Erik. How did you get into the field of maintenance and reliability? What’s your background?
01:50 EH: Yeah. So I started in an engineering position initially in the UK, did minor, applying changes and modifications, worked on a major offshore project. And then, after about four or five years, I moved to the Philippines in a role that was more a business role and asset strategist. And that was all about setting up systems for a… To help the organization move from a mega project environment to an asset management environment. So those are very, very different. You need very different ways of working, which was a great experience. But I wanted to get back into a more… Into a technical role. And the plan was to become the project engineer on a project that was due to kick off. Unfortunately, the project was uneconomical and cancelled. So I then had a conversation with the asset manager who I knew well, and I said, “Well, now what?” And he said, “Well, why don’t you go and have a look at our maintenance performance because we have a lot of issues, our equipment isn’t pretty, especially off-shore.” It was in pretty bad shape. “The plant is not reliable. We’re spending a lot of money. So why don’t you spend some time there and have a look and tell me what’s going on”. So yeah, that’s how I got started. I started doing some analysis and some improvement, and that got me into maintenance.
02:53 Ryan: All right. And what has been your journey since then? Moving into this industry, moving up into this industry. And then I would love to dig deeper a little bit into you starting Road to Reliability.
03:08 EH: Yeah. So after that initial role, I did that for about a year, a year and a half. I then picked up the executional role. So I was responsible for leading the maintenance execution onshore and offshore, which I learned a lot from, especially on an asset that was in a pretty bad shape. We were very reactive as an organization because of the condition of the asset. I did that for a while, and then in the Middle East, I did basically the maintenance build for a new mega project. So I was setting up all the CMS, writing maintenance strategies, etcetera. So, I’ve seen the full spectrum across the life cycle. In terms of why I set up the Road to Reliability, it’s probably two things that I’ve noticed and that’s frustrated me over the years as I’ve traveled across the world and worked in different places.
03:47 EH: And there’s two main things. And first is that, I really think we make maintenance a lot more complicated than it needs to be. There’s a lot of technology and a lot of the advances that a lot of people can use. But if you look at the typical plant around the world, then there’s of course to tens of thousands of these plants. And they struggle with the basics. They struggle with planning and scheduling, the struggle with improving their PM program, getting basic defects out, all those basic things. And I really think that if the bulk of the plants around the world would adopt some of those basic practices and really get them under their belt, they would see a massive transformation in their performance. And the other thing I’ve found is, when I worked in the Middle East or when I worked in Asia, I found out it was really hard to get access to good training.
04:33 EH: If you’re on the US or if you’re in Europe like the UK, or you’re here in Australia, you just go online and there’s plenty people who can offer training. And they can come and fly to your plant or you can go on and attend a public seminar. But if you’re in the Philippines, or if you’re in Oman, or you’re somewhere in Africa, that’s not the case. And flying out trainers can be very expensive. And I really believe that when you want to build and improve maintenance reliability, it all comes from knowing what you need to know, understanding the basics, and getting that in place. So those were the two main things that drove me to to set up the Road to Reliability. Out for a very simple framework that is around planning and scheduling, defect elimination, joining that with some good leadership and behavioral practices and culture building. And eventually, I intend to support that with online training courses to help people all in world access that kind of knowledge.
05:19 Ryan: That’s amazing. And how long has it been for you running Road to reliability?
05:24 EH: Well, it’s still very much a side thing. So I kicked this off about a year and a half ago, I think, two years ago. I built a website. I’m in the process of building the first course around maintenance planning and scheduling that will launch early next year. But as I said, it’s a side thing. I still have actually two… Not two anymore, but I have a job. So it’s something that takes a lot of time and I’m really passionate about it. But to do it well, it’s taken a bit longer than I thought it would do, but that’s how it goes.
05:53 Ryan: It always happens that way, Erik.
05:55 EH: Yeah, absolutely. And I do strongly believe that if you would do these things, you gotta do them well. So that course, it’s taken… It’s been a bit of a labor of love in a way. So, it’s taken longer to get it ready than I thought.
06:06 Ryan: All right. Well, I’m looking forward to taking that course and that learning everything that you’ve learned through all of your knowledge throughout the last few years. So you mentioned planning and scheduling a few times and would love to focus this conversation around that. The first one, the first question for me is, how did you become so passionate about planning… Maintenance planning and scheduling? Where did that come from?
06:30 EH: I think. That was a hard lesson back in the Philippines when I was basically took on the role of maintenance execution right ahead of maintenance execution, and we had an asset, like I said, that was plagued with a lot of integrity issues from the original installation and design phase, we had a lot of equipment failures.
06:51 EH: We were highly reactive because of that because we were not very good at prioritizing work, everything had to be done urgently. Being offshore, logistics are hard labor is constrained, and it was near impossible to get on top of our issues. And what I found was that, Yeah, we were not prioritizing. We’re working on everything at the same time, rather that really focusing on what had to be done first, and we were just not efficient. Read the book from Dr. Palmer. Everybody must know that by now.
07:16 EH: But that’s a fantastic book, I highly recommend it, for anybody who’s interested in planning and scheduling. Get the book on the maintenance scheduling handbook, I think. It’s a fantastic book. And started implementing that, and over the months and maybe a year, a year and a half, we really saw an improvement in terms of how much work we could do and getting on top of it and became less reactive. And by doing that, by getting ourselves more time we finally got some time from the guys at the front line to start thinking about. Okay, what’s going wrong? Where are we really struggling? And we got some time to start doing some RCA sensing and defect elimination, and it was just really, really important. So that was when I learned the importance of planning and scheduling. If you don’t have good planning and scheduling, you’re gonna be set up to fail for the long run.
08:02 Ryan: Yeah, Eric I recently read one of your blog posts. You mentioned a pretty bold statement that without planning and scheduling maintenance will fail. Why is that? What happens if you don’t have good planning and scheduling what have you seen?
08:16 EH: Yeah, so that’s exactly what I was describing there. If you don’t have good planning and scheduling, so you end up with an organization that is inefficient, that becomes that falls into firefighting. Is not working on the right priorities, and so you become reactive, reliability goes down and cost will go up. So maintenance planning and scheduling is all about, creating a stable work environment for the guys at the frontline, making sure that they have the tools and the resources and the people they need to do the jobs to do them well, and then continuously improve that. Maintenance is repetitive, right? Preventive maintenance obviously is repetitive by definition, but even most of our corrective maintenance we do over and over just because we have dominant [08:58] ____ in our assets, and that’s where planning and scheduling becomes really comes in, because you prepare the jobs, you get them ready and then you execute them and then you review and you do it better next time, and that’s how you drive this efficiency in your organization.
09:11 EH: And being efficient in executing your maintenance means you get time to start thinking about, Okay, well, what is going wrong, where can we do better? And if you don’t have that stability in your working environment, that gives you the ability to look ahead and start thinking become proactive, you’re stuck in the reactive firefighting mode, which unfortunately a lot of assets around this world are stuck in and it’s a pretty depressing and pretty sad place to be.
09:34 Ryan: I mean, it definitely takes a toll on you working in this fire-fighting mode all the time. We’ve seen so many of our customers be in that mode, but there is something to say about maintenance, there is very often a component of being reactive. You can’t always predict failure. So how do you bake that into this idea of planning and scheduling?
10:00 EH: Yeah, so there’s a couple of things there. I think the most important thing you absolutely right, is, and obviously we’ll have corrective maintenance when things fail, and we need to fix them. The most important step, there I believe is that when you have corrective maintenance that comes in, you have a failure, you do a good prioritization that basically make sure that you understand, okay, what’s the consequence and the likelihood of what I’m dealing with here? So you do it kind of a risk assessment and say, “Okay if I don’t do it is job right now, how much longer do I have, and that gives you really some stability instead of saying I’ve got a failure, I’ve gotta fix it right now. You can say I’ve got a failure, but actually I can manage that because I can stand by a pump or actually, I have another way of dealing with it and give yourself a couple of weeks or longer, to basically live without the impending failure and so that you can plan the job properly, you can get your resources together, you get your materials ready, you get a clear scope of work package it up, and then execute.
10:53 EH: And so this is why that front step in the planning and scheduling process of prioritization is so important because that creates stability in the rest of the process. If you let all these emergencies come in, then you’re back into that reactive firefighting. So that prioritization is key to filtering that out to some degree.
11:08 Ryan: That’s a good point. I think a lot of teams that we see will take every single thing that comes up, whether it’s a break down and say We need to prioritize this drop everything that we’re doing, prioritize that amongst everything else. Kind of forget about what’s the priority of this in the grand scheme of things, of the other 100 things that we’re working on. So, I definitely see your point there.
11:34 EH: Yeah, and it doesn’t have to be much work. It’s a simple process, where I’ve seen this work really well in assets in organizations and where I’ve training people to do is, is very simple. Every day, you look at the new work request that’s come in and you do with team with operations and mentions there because operations understand, usually better the impact on the plant and maintenance understand the technical requirements. You do a quick review. And you may have five or 10 new work requests and it should take you 15-20 minutes and then that sets up the process for the rest of the weeks.
12:06 Ryan: Yeah, absolutely, so of the maintenance planners and schedulers that you’ve seen where do you see most people get wrong there? What do most people go wrong with a maintenance planner and scheduler?
12:19 EH: There’s quite a few things that rarely can go wrong there, but I think one of the biggest confusions I see in organizations is especially with organization as a whole is we confuse planning with scheduling. That becomes because we treat the moments as synonyms, but really in the planning and scheduling process, they’re very different steps and phases. So planning is all about getting the work ready to execute, it’s about making sure that you understand what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, the spare parts, the tools, the materials, the resources, and getting that all packaged up and being ready to do the job.
12:50 EH: Scheduling is all about, “Okay well, when is this the most efficient way to do it, or time, I’ve got five jobs on a piece of equipment, alright let’s schedule them together and take that piece of equipment down and do all five jobs rather that doing it this week one, and then again, another week and another week and another week. Because in most environments, we have to isolate our equipment during lock out, tying out and all those kind of things that takes time. And if you do that five times instead of once and campaigning it, you can drive a lot of efficiency. So I think planning and scheduling is a big one where people get it wrong and even when people do understand that another big problem is that we have maintenance that we burden them with admin, we get them to do invoices we get them to do…
13:33 EH: Make sure vendors are paid and all this kind of stuff. But a good maintenance planner needs to be out in the plant, scoping jobs, talking to technicians and pulling all that together. And if you bury him with admin or her with admin, you won’t get the value of that planning role. And the other thing is, you’ve done the planning and sit stuck behind this desk and doesn’t get out to the plant, doesn’t get a chance to go and speak to the technicians or to the supervisor, or have a look at the job site, which then leads to inefficiencies in the job. The other thing I’ve seen happen a lot in an organization is they say, “Oh, yeah. Planning and scheduling, that’s great. Let’s go and do this.” And they’ll roll something out.
14:07 EH: They’ll maybe even get people trained and they might even write a procedure or a process how they’re gonna do it. But then, they’ll not spend enough time to think about how they’re gonna impact the people who are working in the process and how that changes their work life and their ways of working. And they’re not focusing enough on the change management and sustainability and so they pushed this into the organization. It works for six months, maybe 12 or 18 months, while the people are pushing it are busy pushing. But then eventually, another initiative comes along or there are people who are driving the process move on, get promoted, or leave the company. And so often, I’ve seen people or organizations two or three years down the line, they go, “But we had a planning and scheduling process. What’s happened? It’s all fallen apart?” Because they never set themselves up for kind of long-term success.
14:51 Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. It’s trying to do too much with too little and really focusing on one core competency. So knowing that you brought up this idea of the maintenance planner and scheduler going out into the actual field, seeing technicians, seeing the job site. Do you believe planners should be involved in the actual maintenance practices? So we’ve heard two different trains of thought. One is, you need someone who has field experience to know actually what it takes, but we’d also heard this other component that core focus on just maintenance planning and scheduling is absolutely key. Where do you think a maintenance planner and scheduler should come from and what should their day-to-day look like?
15:40 EH: Yeah, absolutely. I strongly believe that a good planner is somebody who has the understanding of how the job needs to be done and how the equipment works. But let me take a step back because what happens a lot people talk about planner and schedulers and merge to two roles. But like I said, I see those two really as quite distinct task planning versus scheduling and they have different kind of competency requirements. Somebody who’s a planner, who is preparing the job for somebody else to do needs to understand how to do that job, needs to understand what materials are required and that’s really somebody who has a technical trade background, a craft background. A scheduler is could be somebody with a trade background but can also actually be somebody who just has a good understanding or an oversight of how the plant works. It could be somebody with an ops background or even somebody with the more administrative background, but it’s all about managing your data in your CMS or whatever system you’re using. They’re quite different. But I do absolutely believe that a planner needs to be somebody who understands the technical work that he or she is planning.
16:38 Ryan: Got it, absolutely. So then the next question always comes down to resource allocation. So how do you advise companies… Where do you currently fall in terms of how many maintenance planners and schedulers do you need for your team? What if there’s only resource for one, then what do you do in that case?
17:01 EH: So first of all, I think there’s no magic ratio. There’s plenty of ratios being quoted around, but it all depends on the maturity of your plant. If you were in a highly reactive plant and you’ve got no decent PM program and you’re just continuously fire fighting, you’re going to need a very different ratio of planners to technicians than if you are in a plant with very stable operations, a very good PM program that you’re just tweaking and you’ve got a few correctors coming through each day. So the ratio could be 1:20 or 1:30. So 20 or 30 technicians to your planner if you have a stable plant with a very good PM build set up and everything else. If you’re just starting out in a highly reactive environment with a lot of issues and everything else, the ratio could be 1:5 or 1:10. But the one thing I always say to people, I say, “You gotta approach it also a little bit different. You got to see your planners and schedulers as the whole implementation planning and scheduling as an investment that you’re making.”
17:55 EH: So what you wanna do is… And this is what I’ve recommended but a little tool on my website, I also where people can use is you just do an assessment and say, “What is your productivity at the moment?” And then typically, most maintenance plans will have a productivity of say, 25-35%. So if you have a crew of say 20 technicians working at 25 or 30%, and you now take two guys out or two people out, one planner, one scheduler, and you can raise that productivity to 45%. You’ve actually can create your capacity even though you took two people out. You’re actually gonna get a lot more work done and that’s the way to approach it. So it’s not like, “Oh, I’ve only got one slot.” Now, it’s an investment. You take those two people out and you’re gonna train them to implement the process. And you’re actually gonna get a lot more work done.
18:34 Ryan: Absolutely.
18:35 EH: It can be hard sell sometimes, especially, up in the food chain but that’s something to work on.
18:43 Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. I think so many of our customers have seen the great impact that better planning and scheduling have made on the bottom line for their business. Also, it’s a big culture win, too. Always fire fighting is tough on the team, right?
19:02 EH: Absolutely.
19:03 Ryan: So not just the better productivity at the bottomline, but also from a morale and a culture perspective of the maintenance team, I think, would go up quite drastically.
19:16 EH: Yeah, absolutely. So this is actually one of the things I’d often talked about with people. When it comes to trying to sell planning and scheduling, you need to have to think about who your stakeholders are and who you’re talking to. So if you’re talking to your CEO or your ops manager, you probably wanna express this thing in dollars to save. This is the amount of dollars we can save by implementing it, but if you’re talking to the front line guys, you can say, “Look, you’re gonna have less frustration, you’ll gonna have less re-work. It’s gonna be a better place to work.” And that’s the kind of arguments and the reasons to implement planning and scheduling that sells to the front line guys ’cause it makes their life, their day-to-work work better.
19:47 Ryan: So as a maintenance planner and scheduler, any advice for doing that role and being better in that role? What have you seen make the biggest impact for someone who may be in this role for the past couple of years?
20:02 EH: I think probably the most important thing is to realize that it’s all about continuous improvement. Right? So it’s because maintenance is repetitive, because we’re doing these jobs all the time, always just improve. So when you’ve planned a job and it gets executed, make sure you get feedback from the crew and say, “Okay, what went well? Were all the materials there? Were the right materials there? Was the job duration correct? Were the step sequence correct?” Get that feedback and then there always will be feedback, or almost always. Take that feedback and update that plan and then next time it comes out, it’s gonna be better. If you do that on a regular basis and you set up a system where you save your document, save your drawing, save your pictures, everything you need for the work pack, life is gonna get a lot better. And then don’t just do this for your preventive maintenance, but do the same for your corrective maintenance because most plans will be doing the same corrective jobs over and over again.
20:48 Ryan: Wow, Eric, I definitely learned a ton about maintenance planning and scheduling. There’s a lot to digest there. I would love to pivot a little bit into what do you wish people knew more about in the maintenance and reliability industry?
21:05 EH: There’s lots to talk about. That’s a good question. Honestly, I think the one thing I would like people to take away is that it doesn’t have to be too complicated. So if you go on to the typical websites of people who sell improvements in maintenance performance or reliability have big complex triangles with 20 elements in there. And what I really would like people to understand is if you just do the basics well, the basic process, you’ll make a massive improvement and then you can start thinking about some of the more advanced things.
21:32 EH: So there’s a really great piece of work done by Winston Ledet who founded The Manufacturing Game. Right? And they did a benchmarking study way back in the 1980s. I think it was called Best of Best, and they basically fleshed out the practices that made the biggest difference. And this is what my Road to Reliability concept was very much based on. It’s about doing planning and scheduling, having a good PM program, and then supporting it with defect elimination to drive out those defects that give you the repeat failures. And if you get those three elements in place, you will make a massive change. Really, that’s the one thing I always say to people, “Just focus on those three, and then two, three, four years down the line you can see what else you can do.” And you will have a massive difference.
22:16 Ryan: Eric, in this culture of always trying to be better and never just taking status quo the way that it is, where do you go to continue to be better and to learn more? What resources do you use?
22:31 EH: I use the web a lot, I mean I use LinkedIn. There’s a lot of great resources there. I listen to webinars from the SMRP, look at some of the resources from Reliabilityweb, haven’t done many conferences in recent years because I’m just too busy with my day job. But you can learn a lot from speaking to other people and reading articles. And to be very honest, we can all learn a lot by actually reading some of the literature that has already been published. There’s a lot of really good books out there. So that’s another thing is people tend to think that they can go out and buy a fancy piece of software or expensive tool, and that will give them reliability or give them better maintenance performance. But it won’t unless you actually improve the underlying business process. So, yeah some of the cheapest investments you can make is buy some good books for your crew, buy that Doc Palmer book or buy a book from Mowbray or somebody else on the RCM, understand it, then start to apply it. It’s fantastic.
23:26 Ryan: What are all the different ways that our listeners can connect with you and follow you?
23:32 EH: Well, I’m on LinkedIn, that’s probably the easiest place to reach me. LinkedIn or through my website, roadtoreliability.com. There is a contact form there. There’s a community there that’s free for anybody to join and discuss and raise questions. So those really are the two best places, either on LinkedIn or through my website, roadtoreliability.com.
23:51 Ryan: Awesome. Well, thank you again, Eric, for joining us. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan. I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can connect with me as well on LinkedIn and directly at [email protected] Until next time, thanks so much, Eric. I really appreciate it.
24:09 EH: Thanks, Ryan. Cheers.