Subject Matter Experts for Maintenance Technicians, Managers and Engineers

Summary: Building the Plant Maintenance Shutdown Plan

  1. Defining all of the work of the plant maintenance shutdown project
  2. Estimating the resources required to complete the work
  3. Estimating how long it will take to complete work
  4. Estimating the total cost of the work
  5. Sequencing the work

Plant Maintenance Shutdown: A Different Animal

A plant maintenance shutdown project in a regulated industry is a different animal than the typical product or service-oriented project model. It is of relatively short duration, but often has as many or more components to it, including:

  • multiple equipment scheduled PMs
  • equipment and facility services and modifications
  • building repairs
  • add-ons or modifications
  • validation activities, and more

In our version of planning a shutdown, you abbreviate or throw away a lot of the classical project components and get down to a lean project plan. That is what we will show you how to do in this post.

In my last two posts, I described the issues you need to consider when you’re just getting ready to plan–before you even sit down to write a project plan. There’s a lot of valuable information in those two posts, so if you haven’t read them, you might want to go back and take a look at Planning a Shutdown is a Piece of Cake, Right? and Follow These Steps and Your Maintenance Shutdown Will be a Success.

Many Moving Parts

Plant maintenance shutdowns in most plants are multi-faceted affairs with various departments conducting projects and activities simultaneously. Some of those projects have nothing to do with facilities and maintenance. But often, projects from other departments, especially Engineering, will be included in your shutdown. In a traditional project, the completion of the project delivers a product or service and lasts months, if not years. In contrast, the typical shutdown lasts from one to three weeks and the deliverable is a properly running plant that is GMP-compliant.

Planning your plant shutdown should definitely not be a solo effort. There are a lot of elements to deal with and expertise that you may not possess on your own. The best way to proceed is to delegate brainstorming and workgroup sessions involving other department stakeholders to other members of your team. Give yourself and your team plenty of time. By now, your team should have been expanded to include real stakeholders:

  • those who want the work completed
  • those who will do the work
  • those who will most influence the project

I have worked for companies that started planning the next plant maintenance shutdown right after finishing the last shutdown. Give your team at least six months to get the planning done, depending on the complexity of the shutdown. Why so much time? Because Engineering, as well as other departments, will be developing parallel projects that will be included in your master shutdown project and you need time to plug their efforts into yours along the way.

Assuming you’ve completed your initial rough pre-planning document (Project Overview Statement) and it has been approved by your management team, it’s time to get “down in the dirt” and explain the details that will fill your plan.

The Basic Steps to Planning the Plant Maintenance Shutdown

You might do things in a different order, while others will happen concurrently, but the following few steps are the main ones you need to worry about. Although quantifying the requirements for a shutdown can be daunting at first glance, if you “digitize” it—that is, break them down into their separate components—the tasks will be far easier than you might think.

Your information regarding deconstructing, estimating time and cost of the work can come from many sources, including:

  • industry standards
  • your own company’s historical data
  • the vendors and contractors who might be doing some of the work
  • your company’s SMEs

Your technicians and engineers have probably done some of this work before, so their input counts, big time.

Step 1: Define the Work to Be Done

The process starts with what’s called in Project-ese, the Work Breakdown Structure. That simply means taking the various projects and sub-projects and deconstructing them down to a single action-level task (work package, or a task you can take action on) that should meet the following criteria:

  • You can measure the status and completions
  • You can set a start date and an end date to each activity
  • You can define a deliverable for each activity
  • You can easily estimate time and costs
  • You follow the 100% rule: the work represented by your WBS must include 100% of the work necessary to complete the primary project goal
  • You define all activities as mutually-exclusive: don’t include a sub-task twice or account for any amount of work twice
  • You can assign each activity or work package to a specific team or individual, which can include outside consultants and contractors

Generally speaking, most branches have about three levels, including the project name, the summary of the activity and the action items. However, this is not a rule, but a guideline. Do what your plant maintenance shutdown project dictates.

EXAMPLE: Work Deconstruction

Spreadsheet showing how to identify resources for Plant Maintenance Shutdown Plan

Step 2: Identify the Resources Required to Do the Work

Who is going to do the work? Will it be your technicians, engineers, vendors or contractors? You need to know these things to provide the information about estimated time and costs. Most likely, your company will require a bidding process for any and all outside activities performed by vendors or contractors. The bidding process unearths time and cost estimates from vendors and contractors. You should already have access to rates for your inside resources, including the cost of benefits and availability times.

This is where the issue of make versus buy becomes a factor in your planning. How much of your plant maintenance shutdown work is going to be executed by your in-house staff and how much are you going to farm out? That question depends on the skill level of your staff, the amount of staff you have available and the specialized service actually needed.

Outsourcing is now widely considered to be an integral part of an organization’s business strategy, and is becoming more and more a factor in shutdown planning. Outsourcing can include vendors, contractors, and temporary staffing. Integrating outsourcing in your planning, at least as a contingency, is a pretty good strategy to consider.

EXAMPLE: Identify Required Resource

Resources for Plant Maintenance Shutdown Planning

Step 3: Estimate the Duration and Time to Perform the Work

Once you have broken the project segments into their actionable tasks and have identified the resources that will perform the work, you need to estimate duration of each task. You need to estimate how much time each resource will need to complete each task. Sometimes, if there are several resources working on the same task together, you’ll need to combine hours and, later, rates for each task. Collecting the resource time and effort, along with sequencing, will provide you with the tools to create the master schedule. Yes, it does get a little hairy sometimes. That’s why a tool like Excel or a good project planning tool is indispensable, not only for capturing the data, but for calculating all of the time and costs involved.

Some people get confused about the difference between duration and effort. A useful definition is: Work effort (also referred to as Work) is the actual time required to complete the task (work package). Duration is the total amount of time in which the user has to complete the task. For example, you might have a task that only takes 2 hours to physically complete, but that task can be completed anytime over the duration of the next week.

EXAMPLE: Estimating Time

Spreadsheet showing time breakdown per resource in plant maintenance shutdown planning

Step 4: Estimate the Costs and the Budget

When calculating your costs, your will be looking at inside labor rates, multiplied by the estimated work times, plus parts, materials, equipment, and contractor and vendor estimates.

Your estimates can come from expert judgement, historical data, company, and industry sources as well as intelligent guesses. Your costs will likely change throughout the shutdown project and you should refine the cost estimates as you go.

Cost estimates should also reflect the potential cost of your risk assessment analysis, which will be covered in the next article. Stuff happens and you should plan your worst case costs accordingly.

After you have done your cost estimating, you should enter the cost-budgeting phase. This, simply put, is to plug your estimates into your work breakdown structure (WBS).


Spreadsheet budget for plant maintenance shutdown planning

Step 5: Sequence the Work

You’ll bae the sequencing of the work on the relationships between tasks, task connections and what constraints will affect the work. It may sound complicated, but it is pretty much an exercise in common sense. While some tasks will be done in parallel, others can’t happen until another task is done first. That’s what we call a dependency. There’s a specific order in which tasks need to be done.

For example, if one task is to replace a valve control with a new control device, first you need to complete the task of ordering the new control device. Replacing the device is dependent upon ordering the new device first.

EXAMPLE: Sequencing the Work

Plant maintenance shutdown planning, sequencing tasks for

Step 6: Build the Schedule

Now you have defined the activities down to their action level items, or work packages. You’ve identified the resources to perform the work and estimated the time to complete each work package. It’s time to put it all together and build your master schedule. If you have done everything I described in this post, scheduling should be fairly easy, right?

Well, not so fast. Remember, there are probably a lot of other activities going on at the same time that your plant maintenance shutdown work is being performed. Those could be engineering, validation, building and construction, special cleaning activities, and even training projects, among others. Don’t forget that you have to coordinate time and schedules with outside vendors and contractors. And, remember that parts and materials have to be at the job site, so you’ll need to order those ahead of time

All of these issues can impact your schedule, not to mention the availability of people involved, and their schedules. To think you can create your schedule without input from others is a big mistake. Shutdowns are not serial events, they are parallel in nature. So, communicate with these other groups and get your schedules together so that you can make informed choices when putting that master schedule together. I like using a tool like Microsoft Project, especially when I am actually putting a schedule together that I want to track and change. Other programs are available, so use what works for you.

EXAMPLE: ScheduleExample schedule in Excel with Gantt Chart for Plant Maintenance Shutdown Planning

Questions to Consider

  1. Do you have past historical data from prior plant maintenance shutdowns to rely on for scheduling estimates?
  2. Will your plant shutdown require multiple shifts and/or weekends?
  3. How many hours a day do you expect each individual to work?
  4. Have you received your vendors’ schedules for providing parts, supplies, and services?
  5. Have you coordinated your efforts with other involved departments?
  6. What is the the longest duration of time you’ve calculated from all your tasks? This is your critical path: the sequence of project activities that add up to the longest overall duration.


At this point, I hope I’ve given you some basic insight into both the Initiating and the Planning of your plant maintenance shutdown up to the point of building a schedule. Remember, schedules, like many aspects of a project, are subject to change, so expect to make modifications as you go.

In the next article I will discuss some of the less obvious issues that you need to consider when making your final Shutdown Plan, including:

  • Shutdown risks to plan for
  • Quality and your shutdown
  • Communications in your shutdown
  • Managing change
  • Writing the shutdown plan document
  • Scheduling the planning meeting to get approval

Reprinted with permission of the author.