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 the engine of your maintenance operation. They power your team and move work from point A to point B.
Work orders 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.
Work order vs work request
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.
Types of work orders
There are five main types of work orders used in CMMS software, including general work orders, preventive maintenance work orders, inspection work orders, emergency work orders, and corrective maintenance work orders. Below are details of each type of work order and when to use them.
General work order
A general work order includes maintenance tasks that do not fall under the category of preventive maintenance, inspection, emergency, or corrective maintenance work orders. General work orders may include tasks like setting up new equipment, taking down equipment no longer in use, or painting.
Preventive maintenance work order
Preventive maintenance (or preventative maintenance) work orders are scheduled routine maintenance that is done on assets to prevent costly equipment failure and unplanned machine downtime. Preventive maintenance falls between reactive maintenance (or run-to-failure ) and predictive maintenance. Preventive maintenance work orders include resource requirements, instructions, checklists, and notes for each task. They are also put on a schedule to ensure the maintenance task is performed at a specific time interval.
Inspection work order
An inspection work order indicates when a maintenance technician needs to audit or inspect the condition of an asset. This is usually based on a predetermined period of time, similar to preventive maintenance work orders. During an inspection, a maintenance technician may identify a problem and then create a new work order to correct that problem.
Emergency work order
An emergency work order is created when an unplanned asset breakdown occurs and needs to be repaired right away. An emergency work order records and tracks reactive maintenance that is performed. The maintenance technician can add details in the work order about why the asset resulted in the unexpected breakdown, what maintenance work was done on it, and information on how to prevent the breakdown from happening again.
Corrective maintenance work orders
A corrective maintenance work order is created when a maintenance technician discovers issues while conducting preventive maintenance, inspection, general, or emergency work order tasks. Corrective maintenance is performed to identify, isolate, and solve the issue so that the equipment, machine, or system can be restored to its correct condition. Unlike an emergency work order, a corrective maintenance work order is planned and scheduled because the failure was identified in time. A corrective maintenance work order may consist of repairing, restoring, or replacing equipment or equipment parts.
What is the work order lifecycle?
Every maintenance work order has a lifecycle with three main phases – creation, completion, and recording. These phases can be broken down into six steps, including task identification, requesting a work order, scheduling the work order, assigning and completing the work order, documenting and closing the work order, and analyzing the work order to help improve the process for next time. Understanding each step and having a solid work order process ensures tasks don’t get stuck in one phase and turn into backlog.
How to write a good work order in six steps
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.
What should be in a work order?
A good work order will have 16 different sections to provide the necessary details for maintenance workers to effectively understand and complete the task at hand. The 16 components are listed below. 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.
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?
5 best practices for managing a work order
Just like company assets, work orders also need standard operating procedures (SOPs) to give you a baseline for creating, reviewing, and optimizing maintenance tasks. Five best practices for improving the management of your work orders are to establish your maintenance goals, KPIs, and maintenance metrics, define roles and responsibilities, decide on work order frequency, build work order triggers, and conduct work order post-mortems.
#1: Decide on goals and measurements for your work orders
Before setting up your work orders, it’s necessary to know what information you want from them. You can follow a four-step framework for this. First, start by identifying your organization’s maintenance goals. Second, define your maintenance KPIs so you know what needs to be quantified. Third, identify your team’s metrics and what they should be measuring. Fourth, use this information to guide your maintenance strategy.
#2: Define work order roles and responsibilities
Create clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each part of the work order process. Outline who can create, assign, prioritize, complete, and review work orders. This will help you avoid duplicate or unauthorized work and miscommunication.
#3: Decide on work order frequency
The frequency of when you should perform maintenance work will vary depending on the equipment and the operation it is performing. You can follow the manufacturer guidelines to help determine scheduled frequency and inspection so that assets do not fail unexpectedly. Creating a preventive maintenance schedule will help protect against costly reactive maintenance.
#4: Build work orders triggers
Determine the best way to trigger work orders automatically within your operational processes. This includes triggers that create the initial work request as well as follow-ups for failed PMs, compliance documentation, or extra work that needs to be done on the asset. There are five common types of maintenance triggers include breakdown, time-based, event-based, usage-based, and condition-based. It’s important to understand when and how to use each one to achieve maximum efficiency and reliability at your facility.
#5: Conduct work order post-mortems
Big projects and big problems deserve hindsight. Create a plan to find what went right and what went wrong on these major jobs. Then apply your learnings to the work order process.
5 benefits of using work order management software
Overseeing all the maintenance tasks across your company is definitely a challenge. Regardless of best efforts in trying to keep up with manual tasks, there will always be things that fall threw the cracks. Work order management software benefits maintenance technicians and facility managers by bringing overall efficiencies into operations. Five benefits of using work orders to manage maintenance tasks include having a centralized system where all the work order details can be found, no more need for paperwork, better budgeting and planning, easy access for maintenance workers, and regulatory compliance.
#1: You get one centralized system for all maintenance tasks
Work order management software allows you to create and track maintenance tasks all in one place. That means only one source to reference versus having to look through multiple systems to find the necessary information. With work order management software, maintenance teams can handle multiple tasks at a time, like assigning labor hours, estimating and monitoring labor and parts costs, and keeping track of safety procedures and downtime. With all work order information in one place, it becomes easier to schedule and prioritize orders according to need and urgency.
#2: You reduce your paperwork
Work order management software is able to record information automatically. As soon as you enter data into the work order, it gets saved by the system. This eliminates the need to manually enter data into paper records. In addition, maintenance technicians have 24/7 access to all the necessary work order information on their mobile devices or computers. Work order management software helps you save time by eliminating the need to sift through piles of files or clipboards in search of specific information. The system provides real-time tracking and record keeping throughout the work order process.
#3: You’re able to budget and plan more accurately
Work order management software provides a treasure trove of real-time data that enables you to accurately measure maintenance performance. Work orders keep track of every part of the process, including what work needed to be done, who did it, what did it cost, and how long did it take to complete. Having a work order management system is vital for keeping your records accurate and up-to-date. Using this information, you’re able to plan and budget better in order to reduce or eliminate stoppages and interruptions.
#4: You have easy access to information whenever you need it
Work order management software enables maintenance technicians to access work order information at their fingertips. Whether by mobile, laptop, or desktop computer, the information goes where they go. That means they have work order access no matter where they are conducting maintenance, such as in the factory or in the field.
#5: Easy to maintain regulatory compliance
Work order management software is required to comply with both national and international regulatory standards. All the work is already incorporated into the software, so this reduces the amount of time and paperwork it takes your maintenance team to prepare for an audit. Instead of getting stressed and spending hours in preparation, all you need to do is generate reports of previous work orders done through the system. In the long run, compliance becomes easy to trace and reduces exposure to noncompliance penalties.
Learn how to build work orders easier with software
Work order software vs pen and paper
Work orders have been managed with pen and paper since the day they were invented. Written work orders are cost-effective and familiar. Paper is a tool everyone is comfortable using. It takes next to no training, the upfront costs are fairly low, and there’s a paper trail for when you need to check past work.
However, this system has some serious flaws. Paper files are easily misfiled, lost or damaged. They are cumbersome and take time to find, retrieve, and sort. Inaccurate information is more likely to make its way onto a work order as details are often recorded after an incident. Response time to work requests is also slower. These factors, combined, make work less efficient and could cost you a lot of money down the line.
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.
Work order software vs whiteboards
Whiteboards are another old standby for maintenance departments. The cost of materials doesn’t stretch the budget too far and it’s certainly easy to have all work orders available to view and update in one, central place.
Like pen and paper, whiteboards have some severe limitations. Keeping records is a huge headache and it’s extremely difficult to extract information from any records you actually manage to get. This makes it almost impossible to create asset histories, prepare for audits, and build work order reports. The work order management process also gets bogged down as operators and technicians need to go to a central location to submit or view work requests.
Work order software vs excel spreadsheets
Excel spreadsheets are a step up from pen and paper and whiteboards. It makes records digital, so files are less likely to be damaged or lost. It’s also easier to search for information and create reports using this information.
But while spreadsheets raise the bar slightly, there are some factors that make it a shaky foundation for managing maintenance work orders. Some spreadsheets are locked into single computers, which makes it difficult to see up-to-date information on a work order. Even if they are cloud-based, spreadsheets don’t have the ability to automatically trigger work orders, which makes preventive maintenance extremely difficult to achieve. Inputting data and creating reports require long periods at a computer and know-how. There’s also a limited ability to track the progress of work orders, which leaves you a step behind.
Work order software vs CMMS software
Work order software is a stand-alone solution to creating and managing work orders. It ensures maintenance departments can assign work efficiently so it can been completed in a timely manner. Work order software also creates comprehensive work histories for each asset, and offers real-time updates on completed work and scheduled work. Many vendors also offer a mobile solution through an app, making it easier to document work correctly in real-time and make informed decisions on the spot.
A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) goes beyond basic work order management, and also includes a scheduled maintenance planner, asset profiles and management, and inventory management.
Finally, one of the biggest advantages of computerized maintenance management systems is their use of mobile and cloud technology. This kind of maintenance work order software allows everyone in maintenance to create, track, complete, and analyze tasks in real-time, from anywhere—whether that’s at the scene of a breakdown or a beach in Hawaii. Technicians can bring work orders, asset histories, documents, and images wherever they go. They are also notified of new work orders as soon as they are submitted or triggered. Reports mine the data in maintenance work orders for cost, efficiency, and other metrics. For those outside of maintenance, submitting a work request through a CMMS can give them a greater sense of ownership over that work. They can track the status of their requests and it eliminates duplicate work orders. This is a key way to grow TPM at your facility and reduces the need to get updates or clarification on the task.
While CMMS software is the way of the future, it comes with costlier upfront prices, requires exceptional training and culture to make the system successful, and often necessitates more advanced maintenance techniques. However, the long-term benefits of the system more than make up for any initial shortcomings. To learn more, read our blog detailing the top 20 benefits of a CMMS.
The bottom line
Work orders are a pillar of great maintenance. When managed properly, they give your team the stability and structure it needs to be efficient. A well-built maintenance work order and work order process makes it easier to establish a preventive maintenance program and react to unplanned maintenance. Roles are defined, workflows are smoother, tasks are tracked, and information is well-documented. Choosing the right tools and systems to manage work orders is the crucial final piece of the puzzle. When it all comes together, your operation can master the fundamentals of maintenance and look for new ways to grow and succeed.
Maintenance analysis has changed a lot over the last decade or so. New tools and technology have increased our ability to collect and interpret data. It’s enabled us to make informed decisions that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.
But if our understanding of maintenance analysis has changed, why do we still rely on the same handful of metrics we did 40 or 50 years ago?
Metrics like overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and mean time to repair (MTTR) dominate almost every list of go-to industry measurements. But experts agree that they’re flawed. Not only are these traditional metrics prone to bias and inaccuracy, but they also often don’t have a purpose. And when data doesn’t have a purpose, you can’t use it to make key decisions, like whether to hire an extra technician or increase the frequency of a task.
That’s why we’ve put together 10 useful metrics you won’t see on any other list and some tips for how to use them to improve your maintenance program.
10 maintenance metrics for better maintenance analysis
#1 – Time spent supporting production
What is it?: The total time that the maintenance team spends on production-focused activities. Usually measured weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
How can you use it?: Everyone has to pitch in to complete a big order once in a while. But when once in a while turns into every day, maintenance suffers. This metric helps you catch an unhealthy backlog before it happens and reallocate resources to prevent it. It also helps you advocate for a higher headcount on your team or an increased training budget to help production staff learn minor maintenance tasks.
#2 – Follow-up work created after inspections
What is it?: The number of corrective work orders created from routine inspections. Usually measured monthly, quarterly, or annually.
How can you use it?: There are many different ways you can use this metric for maintenance analysis. You can sort it by machine, shift, or site to get insights into how your assets or team are performing. But the most useful is by task.
It’s a good sign when regular preventive maintenance includes follow-up repairs. It means your schedule is accurate and that you’re preventing bigger problems. It allows you to flag common repairs and build processes to make them more efficient. For example, you can create parts kits for quicker access.
If the failed inspection percentage is low, you can increase preventive maintenance intervals. This will reduce the amount of time and money spent on tasks without increasing risk.
#3 – Cost of follow-up maintenance vs expected cost of total failure
What is it?: A comparison between the cost of corrective maintenance (i.e. labor and parts) and the cost of asset failure if maintenance is not done (i.e. lost production, labor, and parts).
How can you use it?: Use this type of maintenance analysis to plan your maintenance strategy. For example, if regular inspections cost you more than failure, you can likely go with a run-to-failure approach for an asset over a preventive one.
You can also use this metric to prioritize tasks and backlog, and figure out how to allocate your budget.
#4 – Cost by maintenance type
What is it?: The total cost of maintenance (i.e. labor and parts) by maintenance type (ie. preventive, emergency, follow-up). Usually measured monthly, quarterly, and/or annually.
How can you use it?: Higher costs are usually the result of broken processes. This view allows you to find out which processes need work so you can increase efficiency.
For example, are work orders unclear and leading to increased repair times and labor costs? Try clarifying instructions.
Are you bringing outside contractors in to do emergency repairs? You could invest in more training for your team or hire a specialist.
#5 – Clean start-ups after maintenance
What is it?: The number of times a production line starts without stoppages or waste after completed maintenance. This is measured monthly, quarterly, and annually.
How can you use it?: Include this metric in your maintenance analysis to draw a direct line between your team’s work and increased output.
If clean start-ups are low, it gives you another chance to spot problems in your processes. For example, you might find that the specs for a production line may be out of date. This will lead technicians to rebuild components incorrectly and the line to stall. Updating the specs is a simple tweak that could lead to higher output.
#6 – Size of backlog
What is it?: The total number of hours of overdue and scheduled maintenance tasks. Track this metric weekly and monthly.
How can you use it?: This metric can be a godsend when it comes to getting your team some much-needed relief. Quantify the gap between available labor hours and your total backlog hours. You might find that the amount of backlog far outpaces how much your team can do. Use that to make a case for more budget to spend on extra overtime, hiring another technician, or bringing in more contractors.
#7 – Top 10 assets by downtime
What is it?: This is your heavy hitters list—the equipment that breaks down most often or takes the longest to repair. Keep tabs on these assets weekly, monthly, and quarterly.
How can you use it?: This metric keeps your biggest problems visible. You might raise an eyebrow at that, but highly visible problems get solved the fastest. This kind of maintenance analysis can help you prioritize your problem-solving efforts, make decisions quickly, and measure their impact.
For example, if you know asset A is at the top of your downtime list, you can start by isolating the reason why. Is it because repairs take longer on that asset? Is work being delayed? Does that piece of equipment break down again and again?
The answer to these questions will give you an idea of how to prevent failure in the future. You might get rid of obsolete parts that keep breaking. Or put an extra technician on a job. Or clarify how much lubrication should be used on a bearing. If all else fails, conducting this type of maintenance analysis helps justify a capital expenditure on new equipment.
What is it?: The ratio of planned maintenance to all other types of maintenance over the last 90 days.
How can you use it?: This is a measure of progress. Going from reactive to planned maintenance doesn’t happen overnight. The time frame allows you to make a clear connection between action and results. You can draw a line between what happened and its impact on your end goals.
For example, if your percentage has dropped, you can look at what happened in the last 90 days to cause that drop. That could be a massive, unexpected breakdown. Or an increase in production support during the busy season. If you want to increase the percentage, try creating a better work request process to uncover problems earlier. Or shorten inspection intervals on assets with the highest instances of unexpected downtime.
#9 – Wrench time (last 90 days)
What is it?: The amount of time technicians spend working on a piece of equipment as part of the total time it takes to complete a job. This is usually measured by job or as a weekly, monthly, and quarterly average.
How can you use it?: Wrench time is a common tool for maintenance analysis, but it’s often used the wrong way. Technicians usually (and unfairly) get the blame for low-wrench time. It leads to wrench time inflation as technicians fudge the numbers to avoid trouble.
Low wrench time usually has its roots in broken processes, not the ability of the technician. That leads to bigger backlogs, more reactive maintenance, and avoidable labor costs.
To use wrench time in your maintenance analysis, start with the jobs that have the lowest scores. Review these jobs step-by-step with technicians. Work together to find out where unclear or incomplete processes cause delays. You’ll spot bottlenecks easier when breaking the task down into smaller pieces. The result is more value for your team’s time and money.
#10 – Health and safety work orders completed
What is it?: The number of work orders completed for health and safety or compliance purposes. This is usually tracked monthly, quarterly, and annually.
How can you use it?: Some metrics are quantitative. Others are qualitative. This one is the latter. And it’s essential for measuring the performance of your maintenance team and the impact it has on your business. A safe workplace keeps accidents low, and productivity and morale high. Passing audits and remaining compliant is crucial to staff safety and avoiding fines.
Three big goals you can accomplish by combining these metrics
All the metrics mentioned above are powerful in their own right. But when combined, they supercharge your maintenance analysis and help you achieve three common goals:
Get a bigger budget and more time for maintenance
Metrics to combine:
Cost by maintenance type
Clean start-ups after maintenance
Top 10 assets by downtime
Getting more money and time for maintenance means winning over whoever divvies up the budget, and whoever leads production. The quickest way to get them on board is to align your plan with their goals. The three metrics above will help you get there.
First, highlight the cost-benefit of preventive maintenance. Regular preventive maintenance might seem expensive. But just one instance of emergency maintenance can cost up to $250,000. If you’re tracking cost by maintenance type, you can highlight how much the company is losing with reactive maintenance, and how much it can save you by investing in preventive maintenance.
Next, it’s time to sway the production team. Use clean start-ups after maintenance to show production that you have their best interests in mind. It emphasizes what is good for maintenance is often good for production.
No one is going to give you more resources without a plan. Your list of bad actors is a blueprint for how you’re going to make the most of your extra time and money. It quantifies the problem and makes it very clear where you’ll focus your efforts.
Get your maintenance team to buy into change
Metrics to combine:
Planned maintenance percentage (90 days)
Wrench time (last 90 days)
Follow-up work created after inspections
Change sucks. And that makes it hard for your team to get on board with a new system or process. The best way to change the mind of naysayers is to show them how your plan is eliminating their biggest pains. Tracking the metrics above is one way to do this.
These data points give you a chance to compare how you operated before a change (i.e. lots of reactive maintenance and frustration over guesswork) and what you’ve accomplished since implementing a new system or process. Seeing the pay-off first-hand makes it easier to convert any critics and expand your project, whether it’s setting up a CMMS or allowing machine operators to do routine maintenance.
Build a preventive maintenance program that would make most other companies jealous
Metrics to combine:
Cost by maintenance type
Follow-up work created after inspections
Cost of follow-up maintenance vs expected cost of total failure
The best preventive maintenance programs don’t have the most PMs. Instead, they have the most efficient PMs. That means doing the right work at the right time. These metrics will help you achieve this balance.
Measuring cost by maintenance type helps you allocate resources to preventive tasks and gauge the efficiency of your PMs. You can track if cost-cutting strategies are working and make sure they’re not leading to reactive costs down the line.
Keeping tabs on follow-up work is one way to optimize PM frequencies. If an inspection isn’t leading to corrective work, you can increase inspection intervals. That means you can use fewer labor hours and parts, and spend that money and time elsewhere. Similarly, comparing the costs of corrective maintenance and total failure ensures you’re not spending money on proactive tasks that aren’t worth it.
The best maintenance analysis is constantly evolving
The best maintenance metrics have a purpose. They are collected and used consistently. They guide decisions and inform you on how to run your maintenance program on a daily basis. This is the backbone of successful maintenance analysis.
On the flip side, all maintenance analysis is a work in progress. Revisit your metrics on a regular basis to make sure they’re still relevant to your goals and the way your maintenance team works. Some of the metrics listed above might work for you now, but you might find others are more effective in six months. Or maybe five years.
Lastly, the best maintenance analysis incorporates data that other departments find useful. If you can connect the metrics above to solve the challenges of other business units, you’ll be well on your way to creating a world-class maintenance program.
Data: It’s the backbone of any maintenance program. It’s what you use to measure success. It tells you what assets need more attention and how that will impact your schedule. It’s what helps you survive maintenance audits unscathed. In short, data is the language that helps you tell the story of your maintenance team.
But not all data is created equal. And it could be that yours is failing to say what it needs to. Jason Afara, a Senior Solutions Engineer at Fiix, experienced this when he was a maintenance manager.
“We had more technicians than we did CMMS licenses, so we had people logging in after they had already completed a work order, just trying to fill in all the details they could remember,” he says. “We were always trying to catch up, and that impacted our credibility.”
The cost of bad maintenance data
That’s just it—when your data is off, it’s harder to go to bat for your team. It’s not as easy to justify buying a new piece of equipment, trade production time for maintenance or make a new hire if the data isn’t there to support that request.
It can impact your team on a day-to-day basis as well. For example, a technician might wait until the end of the day to log completed work. This gap in time could lead them to misremember how long it took them to do a job. Maybe they round down. No big deal, right? Except it is.
That one mistake could cause a domino effect. The next time you go to schedule that job, you plan less time for it. Now the technician is rushing to complete the work, increasing risk for both them and the machine. You’ll also lowball the cost of labor hours in your budget, putting you in a tricky situation with your finances.
Let’s dive into where your data can go wrong, and how you can audit it to start steering things in the right direction.
Where bad maintenance data begins
Bad data is often born from the best intentions. That makes it hard to spot. But there will always be a silver lining to go along with these issues—you have a data-driven culture. You know the numbers are key and the insight you get from them is even more valuable. That’s the most important ingredient for finding and eliminating bad data.
Here are two aspects of maintenance programs that most often contribute to bad or incomplete data.
Trying to boil the ocean
A lot of maintenance teams try to do too much, too soon with their data. Having the ability to track things is great, but if you don’t have a well-thought-out plan in place for what you’re going to measure—and why—you’ll run into problems.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. The advent of IIoT technology, like sensors that track every second of an asset’s behaviour, has introduced seemingly infinite ways to capture data. The trouble for maintenance managers doesn’t come from having too much data, but from not knowing how to pull out the data that matters.
Brandon De Melo, a Customer Success Manager at Fiix, puts it this way, “Let’s say you have a sensor that’s pulling machine data. That’s great, but you can’t stop there. You have to consider all the things that factor into that data, like downtime or other external factors that could affect it.”
Not thinking critically about metrics
Every maintenance team is held to certain KPIs—but are they the right ones? As Stuart Fergusson, Fiix’s Director of Solutions Engineering, points out, it can be easy to get caught in a cycle of tracking a number like labour hours simply because it’s the metric that comes from your boss (or their boss).
It’s important to take a critical lens to maintenance metrics and really think about whether they should be measured.
“At the end of the day, you need to be measuring the metrics that support your department,” says Fergusson. “Not enough people understand why they’re measuring what they’re measuring.”
Where bad maintenance data lives
We know what contributes to bad data, but where does it show up? Bad data is really good at blending in with clean data, so it’s not always obvious. But knowing the telltale signs of inaccurate information will help you spot it without pouring over dozens of reports. Here are the most common places where you can find bad maintenance data.
In your storeroom
Bad data can lurk alongside bearings and motors on the shelves of your storeroom. There are a few ways this can happen.
Firstly, it’s easy to have an out-of-date inventory count if you have obsolete parts sitting on shelves. If you don’t check in on your inventory to make sure it matches up with what’s actually available, you’ll run into problems when you have to pay for a part you weren’t expecting.
And then there’s the danger of fudging the numbers to make the bottom line look better.
“Let’s say it’s near the end of the month and you have to replace a $3,000 part,” says Afara.
“Some maintenance managers will say, ‘You know what? Let’s just wait for that repair so it actually hits our books next month.’ It turns into a bit of a game.” This hesitation can negatively impact the whole business if what’s in the books is valued over what’s actually needed to improve production.”
In your preventive maintenance schedule
Every maintenance team has their regular PMs—but how many of them are actually necessary?
“Maintenance can get really emotional really quickly,” says Afara. “You’ll have what’s called an emotional PM, where the team is doing a regular check just because there was a failure six plant managers ago and no one’s changed it.”
When maintenance teams inherit PMs, it’s easy not to question it, but it’s easy to see how things can snowball and tell an inaccurate story of which work actually needs to be done.
In your work order and asset histories
It doesn’t take much for data to go haywire when documenting work. Attention tends to go to the wrong places when a plant’s priorities are out of sorts.
“What commonly happens is, there’s such a focus on technician time,” says Afara. “A message comes from the top that every minute needs to be accounted for, and the result is that technicians are just making up time on work orders to show that they’ve done the eight hours they’ve been asked to.”
As we touched on earlier, the root problem here is a lack of specific planning. You’re worrying about the metric at the expense of strategy, which results in data that doesn’t tell the truth and can’t be used to drive real change.
In your reports
Every data set has its spikes and dips. The important part is how you’re making sense of the fluctuations that show up in your maintenance reports.
“Do you actually have anything in place to explain why, for example, a drop can happen in September and then happen again in January?” says De Melo.
Without critical analysis or an understanding of what contributed to an anomaly in the data, tracking those fluctuations is useless. You need to understand what happened before you can begin to understand what you could have done differently.
How to audit maintenance data
Now that we have a clearer picture of where maintenance data can go wrong, how can you start fixing it?
The answer will be different for each team, but the right place to start is wherever you’re having a problem with no way to explain why you’re having it.
“Let’s say you can’t figure out why you have so much unplanned downtime, and looking at the data isn’t helping you at all,” says De Melo.
“In this scenario, you’d want to talk to the production manager and start asking questions like, ‘How is this being tracked? Is there a system in place?’ There will always be a process of tracking down the right information, but you can’t just sit there and just twiddle your thumbs, hoping that the answer is going to come to you.”
In terms of creating a data audit checklist, again, your best bet is to approach it from a strategic perspective.
“Sit with some key stakeholders, like plant managers and technicians, and do some brainstorming around what you want to improve and understand better,” says De Melo.
“Once you know what you’re looking for, you can build a checklist that makes sense.”
The best maintenance data is data with a purpose
Taking a critical and thoughtful approach to auditing your maintenance data ensures that everything you’re tracking and analyzing is being examined for a reason. This helps you understand how each piece of data is connected. Then you can make actual improvements to your maintenance program instead of making smaller, less impactful changes around the margins.
“If you really understand your maintenance activity, everything else is just going to flow in behind it,” says Fergusson.
“Your plant leadership may not understand maintenance backlog or OT, but when you tell them that delaying a maintenance window is going to cost another $250,000 in our plant maintenance budget because of X, Y, Z, and you have the right data to back it up, they’ll listen.”
When all is said and done, the data is the easy part.
“If you have the culture and the metrics and the right people and processes in place to track everything, and you just don’t have the actual data, no problem. You can get that up and running in a week,” says Fergusson.
“More often, though, it’s the opposite. You have all the data, it’s all flowing somewhere, and everybody’s looking at different pieces of it, but none of it’s building to a true story.”