With the right long-term maintenance plan, you get cost-effective facility and maintenance management, helping you see the best possible return on investment. And it’s not just the overall ROI for every budget dollar. When you can create a plan that keeps you and the rest of the team out ahead of the maintenance curve, life is just easier, less stressful. But before you can have a maintenance plan, you need maintenance data.

You need reliable, repeatable processes and procedures that help you pull the guesswork out of maintenance.

Not every department uses the same terms the same ways, so it’s important to first create some shared definitions.

What is a maintenance plan?

This sounds sort of obvious, but a maintenance plan is the result of maintenance planning. So, the next question is “What is maintenance planning?” And the best way to answer that question is to ask, “What is the difference between maintenance planning and maintenance scheduling?”

Here are all the answers. Maintenance planning is the process of looking for where things can go wrong and then standardizing systems to address them before they have a chance to develop into expensive problems. So, you start by looking at failure modes, followed by writing up a combination of maintenance inspections and tasks.

You also include all the parts and materials required for each job, as well as creating and running a program to ensure you have the right parts when you need them. Depending on the size and structure of your maintenance department, planning can also include processes for arranging the parts and materials into kits and then staging them onsite.

For example, you might look at a forklift and determine that one of the ways it can fail is when the brakes wear out, either from age or use. So, you write up a preventive maintenance work order that includes an inspection checklist and step-by-step instructions for replacing them. Using inventory control, you know you have the parts you need in stock when you need them.

Maintenance planning is all about taking control of the what, why, and how.

Once you have a maintenance plan, you can start maintenance scheduling, which is all about the who and when. So, for example, once you know what the techs need to do with those brakes, you find the right time and people to complete the work.

Together, maintenance planning and maintenance schedule make up your maintenance program.

What is maintenance data?

It turns out that here, too, you can answer this question by starting with a related question, “What is the difference between maintenance data and maintenance documentation?”

Theoretically, they’re the same. Both are the data you have on your assets and all the programs you have in place to keep your assets and equipment up and running. So, maintenance documentation can include:

  • Policies
  • Procedures
  • Checklists
  • Manuals
  • Schematics
  • Diagrams
  • PM schedules
  • Warranties

The common denominator here is the generally static nature of the data. In most cases, these don’t change, or they change, but slowly.

Maintenance data includes:

  • Work orders
  • Inventory levels
  • Inspection results
  • Maintenance metrics
  • Maintenance KPIs

Maintenance data is different than maintenance documentation because it’s not static. It’s not that it’s always changing. It’s more that it’s always growing.

When planning maintenance, you can dip into both types of data, but you’re likely to look more closely at your maintenance data. It’s what you’re going to use to improve your maintenance documentation.

What are the three steps to constructing a maintenance plan using data?

Even though the steps are listed in order, the process itself is iterative, which means you don’t run through it once and then you’re done. Instead, you should keep going back to some of the steps, so you have a chance to review and redo your work.

Step One: Set up a team

Maintenance planning needs to be a separate project from the schedule of maintenance inspections and tasks the team usually handles. There are both mostly philosophical and completely practical reasons for doing it this way.

In theory, setting up a maintenance plan is all about focusing on the future, which is an important part of the basic definition of planning. So, you can’t have it mixed in with day-to-day maintenance.

In practice, if you have your planning people helping the rest of the team, they never get any planning done. There’s always be another work order for them to get pulled into, another fire the team needs them to help put out.

Step Two: Create the maintenance plan using data 

Once you have your planning team, you need to provide them with the data they need to understand the assets and equipment. They need maintenance data related to: 

  • What can go wrong with those assets and equipment 
  • What went wrong with your assets and equipment 
  • What maintenance and repairs the team did 
  • How well those maintenance and repairs worked 

So, they can start with some form of reliability centered maintenance analysis, looking at potential failure modes and ways to avoid them. Here, it makes sense to review any maintenance documentation from asset and equipment manufacturers.

Even a cursory review of the suggested preventive maintenance inspections and tasks in the original OEM manuals can give you a good sense of potential problems. If it says to check the pistons every three months, you know that the pistons play a part in one possible failure mode. 

From there, the team can start to look at the past work orders for each of your assets. Generally, it makes sense to start with assets and equipment with the highest criticality, the ones that cause the most trouble when they unexpectedly go down.

By looking at an asset’s maintenance and repairs histories, the planning team can find any failure modes not in the documentation. Or they might find that failures are happening at a rate faster than the suggested PM schedule can find and fix.

It might be the case that the OEM manual wants you to check those pistons every three months, but your maintenance data has related on-demand work orders every two months. Time periods matter. 

On top of looking at work order frequency, you can also use historical asset data to better understand what work the team did as well as how long those fixes lasted. Here, you want to look at your classic maintenance failure KPIs,mean time between failures (MTBF) and mean time to failure (MTTF). 

Armed with insights from the data, maintenance planners can start reworking the maintenance documentation, including preventive maintenance work orders. Here, planners need to look at not only the inspections checklists and maintenance tasks but also how much time the department needs to allot for the work, which becomes critical later during scheduling. 

Step Three: Circle back and fine-tune the maintenance plan 

Even if you were able to put together the all-time best maintenance plan, it wouldn’t be the all-time best for long. Failure modes change over the life cycle of your assets, so you need to adjust your planning to best match them. You start off looking for early life failures but closer to the end of useful life, you need to focus on wear-out failures. 

And you’re not going to be able to put together the all-time best maintenance plan. There are so many variables, you can get close to great, but never reach greatest. There is always room for improvement, so you should always have room for feedback.  

How does an EAM help with constructing a maintenance plan with data? 

The answer is right there in the question. It helps you “with data.” If you’re still struggling with paper or spreadsheets, there’s no reliable, repeatable way to capture, safeguard, update, and leverage your maintenance data. Everything is trapped on slips of paper or spreadsheets that live as email attachments. 

With a modern enterprise asset management system, you have all your data in one place, giving you a source of truth that’s always up to date and accessible by the whole team from anywhere. And with automated data capture, you can trust you’re getting clean, accurate data. 

Later, when you need to leverage that data into actionable insights and business intelligence, you can use the software to run reports for all your critical maintenance metrics and KPIs. 


A maintenance program has two main parts, a maintenance plan and a maintenance schedule. With planning, you determine the what, why, and how of your overall operations. Scheduling then lets you set up the who and when.

Creating a maintenance plan starts with your maintenance data so you know what can go wrong, what went wrong, how the team fixed the problems, and how well those fixes worked. Based on what the data tells you, you can set up a maintenance plan, focusing on avoiding the problems you know can crop up and fixing them properly when they do.

When creating a maintenance plan, it helps to have a modern EAM solution, so you have easy access to data you can trust. Using the software, you can also easily run reports on your maintenance metrics and KPIs.    

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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