Work Leveling Your Lubrication Excellence Project

Noria Corporation

 In my column in the September issue, "So You've Got a Lubrication Program … Now What?", I wrote about the challenges we face when implementing a program of any kind. Lubrication excellence programs are especially difficult to plan for implementation. This is because most of the equipment involved in the program will need to be pulled off-line to do necessary work like minor modifications, oil or grease changeouts, etc. One of the best ways to plan the implementation phase is to level the workload.

Resource Leveling
In project management, when we plan for initiatives like program implementations, we attempt to level the work based on the resources available. Resource leveling, as described by the Project Management Institute, is "any form of schedule network analysis in which scheduling decisions are driven by resource management concerns such as limited resource availability."

Most of us are trying to accomplish more with less these days, and limited resources are just another hurdle to jump over. Whether we've strategically tried to level the work on a project to make the implementation easier, or if we were forced to level the work due to limited human resources, such a task requires input daily.


Figure 1. Resources in Various Phases

Resource Loading
To understand the concept of work leveling in a project management sense, see Figure 1. This represents typical resource loading in a project. Many projects, such as minor modifications to support oil analysis or contamination control, are multiphased projects over time. In Figure 1, the red line represents the resources required at any given time over the life of the project. The blue line represents the resources that will be available during the project, at any given time, over the life of the project.

There are three distinct areas where the resources required and the resources available are far from equal. During the first and final phase of the project, we have a resource surplus. This is having more people available than required to do the work. During the intermediate phase, we have a resource shortage, which means there are not enough people to perform the work scheduled for that phase.

Possible Problems
Resource problems can occur during any period of a project. It is common to see resource shortages and surpluses before and during a plant-wide shutdown. Just before the shutdown, it's common to have plenty of staff available to do work.

Because the plant is ramping up for a major shutdown to embark on large, priority projects, nonshutdown-related projects typically are not started just before the shutdown. Instead, they are postponed until after the planned downtime. Therefore, it is possible to see a lot of free time not scheduled. Conversely, during the shutdown, it is common to find more work than people needed to accomplish the work.

Implementing Modifications
Let's explore the example of installing minor modifications on oil-lubricated components to support oil analysis, contamination control and machinery lubrication initiatives. The first phase of this implementation is to create a bill of material for the hardware needed, procure the hardware and kit it up for installation in the next phase.

Depending on the number of components requiring these modifications, the tasks in this first phase can be performed by one or two people. The next phase is the installation phase. Mechanics will be assigned kitted hardware for individual components. They will be given appropriate procedures to complete the work and assigned to do the job within the allotted timeframe, which in this case is four days during the annual shutdown.

The mechanics are expected to complete modifications on 12 components each day. There are 350 components to modify and only seven mechanics to do the work. Based on the goal of 12 components modified per day by each mechanic, the maximum number of modifications that can be expected to be completed is 336. The final phase is verifying the installations are complete and closing the project, a task which requires only one person.

The problem in this example is the resource shortage encountered during the installation phase. This is referred to as the peak resource loading period. There is usually one peak resource loading period in any project, and it is typically nonlinear over the project life cycle, as shown in Figure 1.

Solutions to a Resource Shortage
The resource surplus during the first and final phases is easily dealt with by placing the surplus of personnel back into the available workforce and assigning them to other projects. To combat the resource shortage during the installation phase, there are a few options:

  • Schedule overtime

  • Postpone the completion date

  • Use slack/float to reduce or eliminate through leveling

  • Outsource for critical periods

Overtime is perhaps the most common way to solve peak loading in projects like this, although the advantages are sometimes far-reaching. Overtime can be flexible in many cases. It's offered only when needed and does not exist when it's not needed. Overtime can be offered almost immediately. It also offers continuity of staff, which usually means the quality of work will have a certain amount of continuity as well.

Overtime can also be free in many cases. Salaried employees who work extra hours are typically not compensated for their extra time. Of course many disadvantages exist as well. Productivity tends to rapidly decline during overtime shifts, and therefore sacrifices quality and safety. Extra hours bring about burnout and fatigue, adding to loss in productivity and quality.

Move the Date
Postponing the completion date is not an option in many cases. Although it would reduce stress and eliminate scheduling conflicts, it is often impossible, especially during a plant shutdown when all or most of the equipment is required to be brought back online at the same time.

Slack or Float
Another option related to moving dates is to explore using slack or float. In our modification example, there may be many cases where it is possible to perform minor modifications to equipment while the machine is operating. Individual equipment trains may be taken off-line at various times during normal operation. By using proper planning and communication with production teams, you may be able to start earlier than anticipated and level the work to meet resource availability.

Outsourcing during critical periods can also be a common solution for peak loading periods. Although outsourcing will eliminate the need for overtime, it may increase costs past allowable budget constraints.

Outsourcing can also slow down the pace of the project when the need for training or extra supervision is required. In most cases, outsourcing works well with repetitive, routine work. For technical or potentially complex work like modifications for oil analysis, contamination control and machinery lubrication, the time to train people may outweigh the benefits.

Though one solution is unlikely to fit all peak resource loading problems, there are several that can help ease the conflict. The success of any one project depends on the quality of the plan. Using tools like charting and graphical representation, such as the peak loading chart in Figure 1, will help illustrate where and when a surplus or shortage will occur, and enable you to plan around them.


1.  "So You've Got a Lubrication Program ... Now What?" Practicing Oil Analysis magazine, September 2007. 

2. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Third Edition. 2004.

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