Maintenance schedules as boundary objects for improved organizational reliability

  • Stéphanie TillementEmail author
  • Jan Hayes
Original Article


Organizations that manage complex technologies use planning in various forms to determine priorities and structure work with the goal of controlling both production and system reliability. In addition to this purely functional view of planning, there is a social dimension that also has important system safety implications. Drawing on 53 semi-structured interviews with workers at a nuclear fuel processing plant, this paper addresses the role of the schedule for planned maintenance work. Characterizing the schedule as a boundary object highlights the socio-material dimension of high reliability organizing. It sheds light on the negotiation that takes place at the boundary between five worker groups around the schedule, which allows cooperation without the need for consensus thanks to the interpretive flexibility. Diversity of views is acknowledged, but resolved sufficiently. A ‘reliable’ schedule is one that is accurate enough to facilitate necessary conversations without providing unnecessary constraints. It is a balance between what should be brought to light and what should deliberately be left in the shadows. Yet, the possibility for the schedule to act as a boundary object and to support interdepartmental coordination and organizational reliability depends on organizational and occupational conditions. When managers see the schedule as an object of control, they seek to impose additional standardization. Taken to the extreme, introducing rigidity into the system is aimed at organizational invariance that HRO researchers warn is not the key to reliable operations. The role and legitimacy of planners is also discussed, as a safeguard against the schedule becoming a fantasy plan.


Reliability Boundary objects Maintenance Planning Nuclear Schedules 



We would like to thank the RESOH chair who funded this study and especially Stéphanie Gentil who actively contributed to the collection and analysis of empirical data in the field. For their helpful comments and advice, we want to express our gratitude to the members of the RESOH operational committee. Finally, a special thank you goes to our informants at NucCo for their friendship and patience over the last 3 years.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IMT Atlantique, LEMNA, UBLNantes cedex 3France
  2. 2.RMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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