Work orders are the engine of your maintenance operation. They power your team and move work from point A to point B. But there are millions of engines in the world, from rusted duds to high-powered studs. This article is about mastering the maintenance work order so your operation can run as smooth as a luxury sports car.
What is a work order?
A work order is a document that provides all the information about a maintenance task and outlines a process for completing that task. Work orders can include details on who authorized the job, the scope, who it’s assigned to, and what is expected.
Work orders are are crucial to an organization’s maintenance operation. They help everyone from maintenance managers to technicians organize, assign, prioritize, track, and complete key tasks. When done well, work orders allow you to capture information, share it, and use it to get the work done as efficiently as possible.
While a work order and work request sound similar, they have a few key differences. A work request is used by non-maintenance staff to make the maintenance team aware of a task. For example, a machine operator might submit a work request when equipment breaks down. The work request is reviewed by a maintenance manager, who adds extra information, schedules the task, and assigns it to a technician. The work request is now a work order.
The work order process
Every maintenance work order has a lifecycle with three main phases — creation, completion, and recording. These phases can be broken down into several steps. Understanding each step and having a solid work order process ensures tasks don’t get stuck in one phase and turn into backlog.
Step #1: The task is identified
Maintenance tasks fall into two groups, planned maintenance and unplanned maintenance. Planned maintenance encompasses all the jobs you know of ahead of time, like routine inspections, and unplanned maintenance includes all the tasks you can’t foresee, like an unexpected breakdown.
Step #2: The maintenance request is created
The details of the job are put together and submitted to the maintenance team for further action. For example, when a machine breaks down, an operator creates a work request and submits it to maintenance. If a task is planned, a work order is created and triggered at the proper time.
Step #3: The work order is prioritized and scheduled
Some jobs are more time-sensitive than others. A burnt-out light bulb doesn’t need to be fixed immediately, but a broken conveyor belt might. That’s why you need to prioritize every work order that hits your desk.
After prioritizing, it’s time to schedule. Work orders can be scheduled based on a set deadline, planned maintenance triggers, or dedicated blocks of time. Setting a deadline keeps everyone accountable and informed so nothing falls through the cracks.
Step #4: The work is assigned and completed
It’s time to turn those words on a page into action. The work order is assigned to a technician, who completes the task. This can be a five-minute check of equipment, or it can be a complex repair job that takes several days.
Step #5: The work order is closed and documented
Once all the terms of the work order are completed, it can be closed. Managers may need to sign off on the work order for compliance requirements. Once closed, the work order is filed away. A properly organized work order log is crucial for building asset histories, reviewing past solutions, preparing for audits, and more.
Step #6: The work order is analyzed and/or reworked
Closed work orders contain valuable information. They can provide insight into your processes and systems that can be used to fine-tune your operation. Having a work order log also allows technicians to quickly spot any missed steps or alternate solutions if an issue flares up again.
How to create a maintenance work order
Work orders are like anything else your facility produces — they must be made well and free of defects. If one part of the process is off, it can affect the entire line. So what information makes up a great work order?
- Asset: What piece of equipment needs work?
- Description of issue: What’s the problem? What did you hear, see, smell, or feel at the time of failure or leading up to it?
- Scope of work: What work is required to get the job done? What skills are needed?
- Parts and tools required: Are there any parts that need to be replaced or special tools that need to be used?
- Health and safety notes: What safety procedures and equipment are needed? Have there been any accidents or near-misses while working on a similar issue or asset?
- Date requested: When was the work order created and submitted?
- Requester name/department/contact: Who created and submitted the work order?
- Expected completion date: When should this work order be completed?
- Actual completion date: When was the work order completed and closed?
- Expected hours of work: How many hours should it take to complete the work order?
- Actual hours of work: How many hours did it take to complete the work order?
- Task checklist: Is there a step-by-step guide to completing the required work?
- Priority: How important is this work order? High, medium, or low?
- Assigned to: Who will be doing the work? Is more than one person required? Is an outside contractor required?
- Associated documents: Are there resources that can help the work order be completed more efficiently, like SOPs, manuals, diagrams, videos, asset history, purchase orders, or images?
- Notes: Are there any other observations that might be helpful in completing the work order or reviewing the work order after it closes, such as the frequency of an issue, troubleshooting techniques, or the solution reached?
Maintenance work order management
Simply creating a great work order doesn’t guarantee success. That work order must also be managed properly. A solid system for managing the lifecycle of a work order ensures it is passed smoothly from one step to the next. This helps you avoid all sorts of problems, like a lack of accountability, high costs, increased downtime and crushing backlog. Let’s look at the pros and cons of a few work order management systems and how they measure up.