What Is Planned Maintenance? | 6 Benefits & Workflow

While planned maintenance and scheduled maintenance sound like the same thing, some essential differences exist between them. Simply put, planned maintenance details how and what work will be completed; scheduled maintenance determines who will complete the work and when it will be completed.

What Is Planned Maintenance?

Planned maintenance is the process of detailing what materials, tools, tasks, and services are required to solve a problem. The purpose of planned maintenance is to determine what work needs to be completed and how it needs to be done.

Planned maintenance starts with a problem and identifies the materials, tools, and tasks necessary to work on the problem. The planning process involves inspections, part ordering, process descriptions, and work prioritization. These responsibilities fall on the maintenance planner’s shoulders. The planned maintenance program for a facility may include scheduling, but sometimes scheduling occurs separately via a maintenance scheduler.

Planned Maintenance Workflow

The workflow for planned maintenance involves several steps as illustrated below.

planned maintenance workflow diagram

1. Identify the Problem and Create a Work Order

Planned maintenance begins with outlining the scope of the work to be completed. This is often done in response to a work order, though it may also be based on a repeating schedule. In either instance, exact information is necessary. The operator or supervisor who detects the issue needs to get the right information to the maintenance planner. This information includes details about the problem, the asset in question, and any additional problems that may be related to it.

2. Inspect the Asset and Premises Where Work Will Be Performed

After collecting all the necessary information and pinpointing the exact problem, the maintenance planner outlines the details of the work to be performed. This includes the scope of the work, what tools will be required, and whether replacement parts or specific materials are needed. In addition, it’s vital to inspect the worksite—temporary equipment, materials, and scaffolding may be in the way, which could affect how work is conducted.

3. Order the Necessary Parts and Prescribe a Process to Complete the Work

It's also important to detail the procedures needed to complete the work successfully. Items such as shutdown procedures, access requirements, and safety precautions are all vital to the completion of a maintenance task, and it’s important to outline those considerations during the planning phase.

4. Add a Priority Level to the Work Order

Once the work is outlined, it needs to be prioritized, and any necessary materials should be ordered. The maintenance planner should handle these tasks to make sure the work is ready to go once it’s scheduled.

The priority levels assigned may be as simple as low, medium, or high:

When assigning priority to maintenance tasks, planners should consider equipment criticality, the risks those tasks treat, and the resources currently available.

Tip: Many facilities use a scale from 1 to 5 when prioritizing tasks. High criticality assets and high impact tasks are given priority over less critical work.

5. Schedule and Complete Planned Maintenance

When the planning process is complete, the scheduling phase begins. The maintenance planner may handle scheduling, or a separate scheduler may take over. Scheduling maintenance is a separate process from maintenance planning, but the two rely heavily on one another to make sure preventive maintenance is completed successfully.

5 Major Benefits of Planned Maintenance

Planned maintenance offers various benefits to companies on top of reducing unplanned downtime. These benefits include:

1. Reduced Maintenance Costs

Planned maintenance creates an incredible opportunity to reduce maintenance costs. By outlining a preventive maintenance plan, small problems and easy repairs can be caught before they turn into big failures and costly repairs.

2. Extended Asset Life

Frequently servicing assets increases their life cycle. Maintaining equipment and keeping it operating in good condition will extend its operational time, so it won’t need to be replaced as often.

3. Increased Workplace Safety

Preventing equipment failure is in everyone’s best interests. Not only do you reap the cost savings discussed above, but also operators and other workers in close proximity to your equipment are safer with minimized risk of disaster.

4. Improved Workplace Culture

Planned maintenance reduces not only equipment downtime but also employee downtime. Planning out preventive maintenance tasks, and relieving the stress of unexpected equipment failures will keep employees active, collaborating, and overall happier.

5. Planned Maintenance Decreases Downtime

Left unattended, any asset will eventually fail. Faults, failures, and breakdowns interrupt entire production processes, and that could result in hours, if not days, of unplanned downtime. That downtime is expensive, especially considering how labor and operations costs continue to mount, while productivity is at a standstill.

Planned maintenance allows minor issues to be resolved before they develop into major breakdowns. The process of gathering data and prioritizing maintenance tasks makes sure the most pressing issues are handled first, thereby preventing key assets from deteriorating further. The planning process also ensures all requisite materials and tools are available. As a result, planned downtime is kept to a minimum, as work is carried out on time.

Planned Maintenance vs. Unplanned

Obviously, the opposite of planned maintenance is unplanned maintenance, and it’s generally preferred to have a higher percentage of planned tasks. Unplanned tasks take two different forms, including emergency and so-called “free-effort.”

Emergency Maintenance

Emergency maintenance often occurs when critical pieces of equipment break down. In most cases, maintenance teams will want to minimize the amount of emergency maintenance needed in their facility.

To keep emergency maintenance to a minimum, maintenance teams can:

Tip: While preventive maintenance is generally preferred, sometimes breakdown maintenance is best for certain non-critical assets, so unplanned tasks aren’t always a bad thing.

"Free-Effort" Maintenance

Any non-emergency maintenance tasks that are performed without being planned out first are referred to as “free-effort” maintenance (also known as minor maintenance). Free-effort tasks are typically simple, and they may not require a lot of planning.

However, sometimes maintenance technicians will find and fix an issue on the spot without having the necessary tools or parts readily available. That can translate into the same kinds of waste as emergency work, such as:

  • Time spent fetching needed equipment or replacement parts.
  • Time spent on LOTO procedures (hard when equipment operators aren’t expecting it).
  • Potential over-servicing of equipment.
  • Task delays the completion of work orders already assigned.

As such, these tasks should be kept to a minimum. At the very least, free-effort work should be restricted to low-risk tasks that wouldn’t require much planning anyway.

10 Ways to Improve Planned Maintenance in Your Facility

Planned maintenance is most effective when it’s done well. Some of the ways your facility can improve maintenance planning include those listed below.

1. Improve Incident Reporting

Any maintenance planning process is only going to be as good as its information, which means incident reporting should be complete and as up-to-date as possible. Any time something happens in the facility, personnel should be encouraged to report it, even if they might technically be at fault for it.

One way to facilitate incident reporting in your facility is to make it a penalty-free process. That can be accomplished by making work requests anonymous.

In addition, encouraging people in other departments to report breakdowns or equipment problems can help round out your incident-reporting in general. For example, the maintenance team should keep in consistent contact with operations crews in order to facilitate communication.

Tip: Coordination between maintenance and operations is a key component of best maintenance practices anyway. The two departments should be in consistent contact.

2. Get Away From the Desk

Maintenance planning is not a desk job. Whenever an issue is reported, maintenance planners should go to inspect the issue themselves. Doing so will help them understand the problem better, and it will also make them aware of any factors that could impact the work being planned.

For example, if some scaffolding or shielding would prevent access to a part that needs replacement, then it will be important to take that into account when planning the task. There may be specific lockout-tagout procedures that need to take place as well, both for the asset to be worked on and for others in the production line.

3. Shift From Firefighting to Prevention

While current maintenance trends are shifting away from reactive maintenance and more toward preventive tasks—80% of maintenance personnel favor preventive maintenance—much of the work done in most facilities is still reactive. The “firefighting” mindset of only solving problems after they occur costs companies a great deal, and it can actually negatively impact maintenance planning as well.

With reactive work, the timeframe is almost always tight, which means the planning process may have to be rushed. On the other hand, a well-executed preventive maintenance plan can make planning easier. There’s more time to get needed materials and skillsets together, and the work can be performed on a more calculated basis.

4. Involve Senior Leadership

Another key to planned maintenance is to make sure you have support from senior leadership. If they’re not shown the practical benefits of planned maintenance, there’s likely to be little support for the cultural shifts that may be needed to move away from firefighting and toward preventive maintenance.

To convince senior leadership to devote resources to maintenance planning, the following should help:

  • A strategic plan demonstrating how planned maintenance will result in cost savings.
  • A budget showing what’s needed to carry out the plan.
  • A work program showing how resources are used to fulfill the tasks prescribed in the strategic plan.

Going to senior management without any of these components may result in budget cuts that leave your maintenance team short the resources they need. As such, a complete planned maintenance strategy is needed to get them on board.

5. Optimize Existing PMs

Preventive maintenance offers cost savings above a reactive approach, but it can still result in waste if it’s not optimized. Part of that waste includes time spent planning tasks that might not accomplish anything.

Preventive maintenance tasks that don’t provide real benefits to your facility’s equipment should be eliminated. On average, that could mean cutting out about 30% of PMs, which can help your planners use their time more effectively.

In addition, PM optimization can improve equipment reliability overall, which means less time spent planning reactive maintenance tasks after breakdowns.

6. Control “Free-Effort” Work

As already mentioned, free-effort work should be either carefully defined or kept to an absolute minimum. If operators or technicians notice that something is wrong with a given piece of equipment, they should be encouraged to fill out a work request rather than fix it themselves.

The exception, in this case, is if the work wouldn’t require any specialized equipment, tools, or procedures to complete. Typically, free-effort work should be restricted to tasks that:

  1. Can be performed with tools already on hand, and;
  2. Wouldn’t take more than a half-hour to complete.

In addition, focusing on key performance indicators can further encourage maintenance personnel to limit unplanned tasks. Planned maintenance percentage (PMP) is the main key indicator to track in this case.

7. Consider Workers and Backlog

The time your maintenance planners spend creating work orders depends on a number of factors, including your current backlog and capacity. For instance, if your crew consists of 15 technicians who each work 40 hours per week, then your maintenance planner will have to plan about 600 work hours total.

Some of that work should consist of recurring PMs, and the current backlog may fill up a portion of that time as well. A large backlog of work should be prioritized. If it’s particularly large, there may be less time to spend working out the details on those beyond a basic description of the job plus the time, tools, and skills needed to complete it.

8. Optimize MRO Inventory

Maintenance planning should take MRO inventory items into account. If the MRO inventory is not optimized, then it could mean the planner needs to allow for more hours in each work order. In addition, it might mean delaying certain tasks until the right replacement parts can be obtained.

To support recurring PMs and overall maintenance efficiency, MRO inventory should be well-organized and properly stocked. The maintenance planner should also be aware of how the facility’s inventory works, so that they can account for lead times and other related factors.

9. Schedule Recurring PMs Through a CMMS

Maintenance planning takes time. If that time can be reduced by making some planning tasks automatic, it can only serve to improve your maintenance planner’s productivity and effectiveness.

Using a CMMS to automatically generate recurring PM tasks can reduce your maintenance planner’s workload, while also supporting reliability in your facility.

10. Track Maintenance Data

As previously mentioned, maintenance planning is only as effective as the information available. To make sure you have the information you need, it’s important to track maintenance data. Work order completion times, MRO inventory turnover, frequency of given tasks, PMP, and other metrics should be taken into account when planning maintenance work.

Over time, the data may show a need to make adjustments to your maintenance planning practices. For instance, if a given piece of equipment doesn’t seem to benefit long-term from increasing certain PM tasks, then the frequency of those tasks might need to be adjusted. The key is to keep a close eye on trends in the data and make changes as needed.

Tip: A CMMS provides a convenient and simple way to track maintenance data.


Planned maintenance is a key component of any facility’s maintenance process. When it’s well supported and properly executed, it can improve the quality of maintenance work as a whole in the facility.

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