With the new year right around the corner, it’s time to start getting your list of maintenance manager resolutions in order. But let’s be honest. If you’re starting just now, you’re already late. “Right around the corner” is days away.

The good news is that you can likely use the same list from last year, the one you wrote because you hoped to move to more preventive maintenance, rewrite your work orders, and finally set up proper maintenance planning and scheduling to boost wrench time.

Wait a second. That isn’t good news, is it?

The good news is that everything you put on that on that list, and it doesn’t matter when you put it there, is do-able. There are solid steps you can take to implement maintenance planning and scheduling. And there are also a lot of things you can do to get all those new year maintenance resolutions to stick. 

But first, let’s make sure we’re working from a common set of definitions.  

What is maintenance planning? 

Maintenance planning is what a maintenance planner does to create a maintenance plan.  

Maintenance planning is the process of deciding which assets and equipment need maintenance, what combination of inspections and tasks they require, and how often all this needs to happen. Once you know the work and frequency, you can set up the surrounding ecosystem of parts and materials.

If the maintenance team needs to check the fan belt on a critical asset every three weeks and then replace it every six months, you know you need X number of spare fan belts in inventory.  

The goal of maintenance planning is boosting uptime and cutting downtime by ensuring you’re looking after your assets and equipment, finding and fixing small issues before they grow into expensive, frustrating problems.  

What are the differences between maintenance planning and maintenance scheduling? 

Maintenance planning answers questions directly related to:

  • What
  • How often
  • With what  

So, a maintenance planner decides the maintenance team needs to check and lubricate the rollers on the conveyor belts every six months. It’s the work, how often the team does it, and the parts and materials they use. 

Maintenance scheduling answers one question: When does the team do the work? So, a maintenance scheduler might look at the workload for the week and determine there’s an open slot Wednesday morning when the team is available and the production lines are already scheduled to be offline, so they don’t have to worry about locking and tag the belts. 

How does preventive maintenance fit into a maintenance plan? 

As soon as you start thinking about planning ahead for maintenance, everything starts to sound like preventive maintenance. But even though you might have a lot of preventive maintenance inspections and tasks in your maintenance schedule, you can and should include other maintenance strategies.  

If the maintenance department has implemented reliability-centered maintenance, then you’ve already paired your critical assets and equipment with the strategy that makes the most sense, the one that gives you the biggest bang for your maintenance buck.

In some cases, it’s preventive maintenance. But in others, it could run-to-failure or condition-based maintenance.    

What should you include in a maintenance plan? 

Remember, a maintenance plan answers questions about what, how often, and with what.  

A maintenance plan includes:

  • Maintenance inspections and tasks 
  • Step-by-step instructions 
  • Schedules 
  • Associated parts and materials 
  • Inhouse technicians and third parties 

For schedules, you’re not trying to say when the team does the work. Instead, you’re thinking about how often. So, if it’s according to time, you could set the maintenance window for every six months. With some work on some assets, it makes more sense to look at usage. So, for a pump, you might focus on cycles.   

What are the steps for setting up a maintenance plan? 

On the most basic level, you’re creating and then putting together the different parts of the maintenance place, which are the inspections and tasks, instructions, schedules, parts, and people. 

Maintenance inspections and tasks 

Look at your assets and equipment and decide which ones have the highest criticality. Basically, the ones that cause the most headaches and cost the most money when they fail. Be careful to look at each asset and piece of equipment as an individual.

So, instead of looking at all AC units as equal, consider their individual roles in the facility. The ones cooling the breakroom are important. But the ones cooling a server room running software the entire organization relies on are critical. 

Once you know where you need to focus your attention and resources, you can start to make instructions for the team. 

Step-by-step instructions 

Consistency is critical. One, you want the team to be doing the right work the right way, all the time. But even when they’re doing the work wrong, you want them to be consistently wrong, always wrong the same way. If everyone is doing the work wrong in their own way, it’s harder to narrow down the variables and make the right changes. 

Good instructions also help you share all your senior techs’ hard-won know-how, making it easier and faster to train new maintenance technicians.  


With newer assets and equipment, the only real option for schedules is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations so you don’t void any warranties. With older assets and equipment, you should be able to look at your failure KPIs and get a good sense of how often you need to check and/or do work.

It’s one more way a good modern enterprise asset management (EAM) solution makes maintenance management much easier. Once the data is inside the software, you can run reports to leverage it into actionable businesses insights.  

Associated parts and materials 

Once you know what work to do and how often to do it, you can add in the parts and materials you need. For each inspection and task, make a list of the associated parts and materials. The goal is to be able to include this information on all the work orders, so techs can arrive onsite with everything they need to work efficiently.  

It also helps you with inventory control. You know what you need and how often you need it. 

Inhouse technicians and third parties 

Just as important as what’s going to get done is who’s going to do it. For many of the inspections and tasks, you can assign the maintenance team. But there are times when you need outside help. 

For example, you might need to bring in electricians or plumbers to complete or sign off on some work. There are also times when you need a technician with a specific certificate to work on an asset without voiding the warranty. For all the work in the maintenance plan, make sure you know who can do it. 

What are some of the common problems with maintenance plans? Where do they come from, and how can you avoid them? 

Just like all those other New Year’s resolutions, when it comes to setting up a maintenance plan, success is not guaranteed. In fact, if might feel a bit like things are actively working against you. 

But by planning ways around the most common pitfalls, you can increase your chances of long-term success. 

Forgetting to get buy-in, above and below 

Maintenance planning isn’t only for the maintenance manager. It’s for the whole maintenance team. But not everyone on the team always embraces it. For nearly every project, there’s a vocal minority that wants things to stay the way they are. “Why fix what ain’t broke?” they ask. 

Because it is broken. And many times, getting buy-in means reaching out and reminding people on the team of the everyday problems they’re facing and then re-enforcing how better planning can make everything easier.  

And maintenance planning is not just for the team. Cutting costly downtime helps everyone across the organization. When asking for extra time or funding to get the program off the ground, it’s important to talk to people in a language they understand.

For the CEO, you can focus on the return on investment (ROI). But for operations, you can point to increased uptime. Every department and even every position has its own set of KPIs, and to get people’s support, you need to answer what’s likely their first (and maybe only question): What’s in it for me? 

Taking on too many changes all at once 

And even when everyone is all for the changes, you can’t make them all at once.  

It would be the same if you wanted to adopt some healthier habits and lose some weight. It’s not going to work if that first week your new diet is one spoonful of oatmeal breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s too much change (and not enough food). 

Because your focus should be on your most critical assets, you can start there. After a bit of time and with some successes under your belt, you can expand to include more assets and equipment. One of the advantages is getting to make mistakes one at a time, and then applying lessons learned going forward.  

When you make a lot of changes all at once, you make a lot of mistakes all at once, too. 


Maintenance planning is the process of determining what work the team does, how often they do it, and what they need to get the work done. It’s the inspections and tasks, frequencies, and associated parts and materials. For many maintenance managers, the maintenance plan has a heavy focus on preventive maintenance, but if you use reliability centered maintenance, you can find the best maintenance strategy for each asset.

When creating a maintenance plan, make sure to include the work, detailed instructions, schedules, all associated parts and materials, and if it’s in-house techs who do the work or vendors. It’s important to get buy-in for a successful implementation. Make sure to focus on what people care about: The CEO likes ROI while the operations manager wants to hear about uptime.

Also, by starting small and expanding once you see some positive results, you avoid overwhelming people while giving yourself a chance to learn from your mistakes and course correct.   

About the author

Jonathan Davis

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