Four Reasons Maintenance Software Can Suck

There is a scene in the movie Office Space where the three main characters take out their rage on a printer with a baseball bat. The machine is nothing but rubble by the end.

It’s an incredibly therapeutic two minutes. Probably because we’ve all been there. We’ve all dreamed of smashing our computer or phone because a piece of software has driven us crazy.

That includes maintenance and manufacturing software.

When Bryan Sapot, CEO of manufacturing software SensrTrx, asked his LinkedIn followers why the industry’s software can suck so much, it hit a nerve. It also got us wondering about the root cause of this frustration. Why does maintenance and manufacturing software suck sometimes?

We sat down with Bryan, Scott Deckers (Fiix’s Director of Customer Success), and Rob Kalwarowsky (host of the Rob’s Reliability Project podcast) to talk about it. You can watch the full video below or download it as a podcast. You can also scroll down to read the top reasons these experts think maintenance and manufacturing software can suck and how to avoid the pitfalls when searching for software.

Here’s the link:

#1. The reason for using software sucks

What it means

Software is almost certainly doomed to fail if you’re not crystal clear on the reason you want it. When you don’t know what you want to achieve or what problems you want to solve with software, it usually ends with a system that doesn’t work for your team or your organization.

What the experts are saying:

“If you’re going to search for any tool, you need to know what you’re going to do with it. Too often, we see people saying, ‘Somebody told us we need to buy a CMMS, so we’re buying a CMMS’…That’s not the type of buy-in or leadership you want to see.”

– Scott Deckers

What you can do about it

Like any repair job, you need to know what’s wrong before you can fix it. That’s why the first step is to determine what problems software will solve. There are three steps for doing this:

  1. Gather a team of people who will use the software and ask them what’s wrong. People won’t use the software if it doesn’t solve their problems. This post has a few tips on who to include in this consultation stage.
  2. Dig deeper into the problems. Here’s where you can apply root cause analysis to your project. Keep asking why until you find the real reason for a problem.
  3. Align your goals. Figure out which problems are the biggest and which ones will have the largest impact on both your organization and people.

#2. The data sucks

What it means

If there’s a problem with your data, you’re going to have a problem with your software. There are three potential problems you can have with data: It’s inaccurate, it’s the wrong kind, and there’s too much of it. Because software often relies on data, having these issues can make it look like the system itself is to blame.

What the experts are saying

“Less is more…If you have to sift through all these different metrics and all this different data to try to find something meaningful, then you don’t have any meaningful data.”

– Bryan Sapot

“If you’re not actioning work, not actioning improvement projects, not using the data to run the equipment better, then why bother? How is it going to improve your processes? What are you going to do with this information?”

– Rob Kalwarowsky

What you can do about it

Bad data is really good at blending in with good data. That’s why the secret to exposing bad data is a laser focus on one part of your operation. Look at one piece of equipment or one task and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I collecting the right data? Does it tell me something I can act on?
  2. Am I collecting too much data? Can I find what I’m looking for in a few seconds?
  3. Is my data accurate? Do my records match what’s happening in real life? Am I recording data incorrectly because there’s no easy way to log it?

#3. The buy-in sucks

What it means

Your software project is going to fail if you can’t get buy-in from the people using the software. Period. When people don’t want to use the system (or don’t know how to), it ends in one of two situations: The software is used incorrectly or not used at all.

What the experts are saying

“The shop floor leadership is arguably more important to making sure software sticks, making sure it’s driving value, and making sure everyone knows the value it’s driving.”

– Scott Deckers

“You can put the most beautiful application out there on the floor that’s so easy to use and requires a minimal amount of input, but if you don’t have the leadership…and the structure in place, and people understanding why it’s there, it doesn’t matter.”

– Bryan Sapot

What you can do about it

Leading change and driving software adoption is a huge topic. In fact, we hosted a whole webinar about it. If you’re short on time, we distilled a few tips from the discussion:

  • Tell people what’s in it for them. Finding out what users care about, what pains they have, and what goals they want to achieve. Then tell them how software is going to help them with these things. Back it up with numbers. Tell people that they’ll save an hour a day instead of saying that they’ll be more efficient.
  • Select a software champion. This is someone who will lead and advocate for the project. The perfect champion is also a user of the software so they understand both the benefits and challenges.
  • Have a detailed plan. Having a software implementation plan takes a lot of uncertainty and fear out of change by making roles, timelines, and expectations clear, which makes it easier for your team to commit to change.
  • Do lots of training. People forget about 75% of what they learn after just six days. Don’t rely on just one training session to turn your team into pros at using software. Make time for regular training and account for growing pains as users learn a system on the job.
  • Promote your successes. While success doesn’t erase every frustration people have with software, it makes those problems seem a lot smaller. Keep track of every win you accomplish with software, no matter how small, and tell everyone you can about it.

#4. The processes around software suck

What it means

Poor processes lead to software letdowns. For example, CMMS software can be an easy way to create and execute PMs. But if you have no process to follow up on a failed PM, your whole preventive maintenance program will crumble.

What the experts are saying

“Technology is only as good as the systems in place beneath it. A hammer doesn’t swing itself.”

– Scott Deckers

“You need to worry if you’re doing the right processes the right way before you worry about measuring them with software.”

– Rob Kalwarowksy

What you can do about it

Building solid processes has a lot to do with a couple of points we’ve already covered: Defining the what and why, and starting small to find gaps.

First, identify the processes you want to facilitate, track, and improve with maintenance and manufacturing software. The word ‘improve’ is very important here—if you only monitor processes and don’t improve them, the software will most likely disappoint.

Then go to work auditing these processes. Break processes into smaller chunks to see where they might be broken. For example, in the webinar, Rob mentions that it’s important to make sure you’re doing the right PMs, in the right way, and with the right frequency.

The ultimate takeaway: Maintenance and manufacturing software is not a silver bullet

It’s not the software’s fault. That’s the big lesson we’ve learned after looking at all the reasons maintenance and manufacturing software can suck. Software is often touted as a silver bullet solution. This is a recipe for disaster. It takes a clear objective, full buy-in, solid processes, and great data for software to help your team. Building up this support system will help you use software as a tool for improvement and take your business to new heights.


A short guide to designing work orders for better preventive maintenance, data, and more

How a bad work order can wreak havoc

A few words can make or break a maintenance team. Work orders are proof of that.

“In the past, bad decisions were made because we didn’t have accurate work order information,” said Tim Davison, Asset CARE planner for MillerCoors, in this case study by Reliable Plant.

A failure-prone fan at a MillerCoors site is proof of this. The fan failed three times in 18 months. A vibration analysis had found anomalies a month before the third failure, but maintenance wasn’t scheduled or prioritized before the fan failed.

The lesson: Work orders weren’t set up properly, causing important maintenance to be missed.

If this can happen to one of the world’s biggest brewers, it can happen to anyone. That’s why this article is going back to basics and exploring strategies for creating world-class work orders. It will provide the building blocks for great work order processes, from start to finish.

Five key strategies for managing maintenance work orders

Just like every asset at your company, your work orders need standard operating procedures. SOPs give you a baseline for creating, reviewing, and optimizing every job you do.

#1: Deciding on goals and measurements for your work orders

It’s important to know what information you want from a work order when you set them up. Work order and maintenance metrics deserve their own article entirely, but the chart below will give you a good framework to start from.

#2: Define 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 your work order frequencies

OEMs and the knowledge of veteran staff usually decide the frequency of scheduled maintenance. This can give you a good baseline, but it’s not an exact science. Decide how often to review frequencies so you can spot work you’re doing too often or not often enough.

#4: Build work orders triggers

Outline how work orders can be triggered at your operation. 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.

#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.

How to create work orders in nine steps

Creating and optimizing work orders means reviewing, tweaking, and optimizing thousands of fields. Pro tip: Start small. Pick one field, review one group of work orders with it, and apply improvements to them as needed. Then move on to the next group.

  1. Naming conventions: These are the labels you use to identify the maintenance type, work order, and asset being worked on. Great naming conventions have three things: Consistency, clarity, and meaning for the people reading them.
  2. Description of issue and scope of work: Be as specific as possible with these fields. Instead of saying that there was a leak, identify how bad the leak is and where it is on the machine. Be clear about the skills, tradespeople, contractors, and permits needed.
  3. Required parts and tools: Add information that can help technicians locate parts or supplies faster parts as well as best practices for using them. Use these lists to build emergency kits for critical equipment that can be accessed quickly after breakdowns.
  4. Health and safety notes: Include a list of required PPE on every work order and note common risks, safety procedures, and accidents/near-misses associated with the work. Add compliance information for equipment where necessary, including follow-up tasks.
  5. Requester and date requested: These fields offer a glimpse into the source of problems. For example, are the right people requesting work? Were there too many requests on one day?
  6. Expected and actual labor hours: Elevate this section by adding the amount of time expected for each task. Cross-reference the notes of completed work orders and zero-in on tasks that took longer than expected so you can tweak processes as necessary.
  7. Task lists and associated documents: Eliminate vague task lists at all costs. Don’t stop at “Lubricate bearing.” Add the type of lubrication and amount. Use every chance you get to attach manuals, SOPs, or other resources that might help to work orders.
  8. Assignment and priority: The priority of the work order and the people it’s assigned to should match the type of maintenance being done. Define exactly what different priority levels mean so everyone on the team is on the same page.
  9. Notes: Work with experienced technicians to add notes to common work orders or failure modes so this knowledge can become standardized and accessible.

How to make maintenance work orders that give you better data

Information from completed work orders is your main tool for optimizing processes. Getting that information can simply mean making a work order field standard (like labor hours or parts used). Other sections require work to ensure you’re getting the data you’re looking for.

  1. Failure codes: Limit the list of failure codes to only the most common ones to avoid “other” becoming the default for technicians short on time.
  2. Completion notes: Every technician has their own way of describing the work they did. Standardize and streamline the process by giving specific prompts or questions. For example, ask if any tasks took longer than expected and why.
  3. Costs: Provide technicians with a template for noting extra resources that were necessary so it’s easy for them to fill out and easy for you to calculate additional costs.
  4. Follow-up actions: Describe the proper follow-up actions for common scenarios, like a fault found during a routine PM. This will streamline the process for technicians, and help you track compliance issues, potential failure, PM frequencies, and more.

Everything you just read in three sentences

  1. Move slowly by starting with work orders you do most often or on assets with the highest criticality.
  2. Consistency is the key to good habits, scalable success, and good, clean data, so make sure all your processes are airtight, like work order templates and follow-ups guidelines.
  3. Balancing clarity and being concise in work orders is key so technicians have all the information they need without being overloaded with extra work they see as nothing but a chore.


Why Work Orders Deserve More Love From All Of Us

We’ve been looking at work orders all wrong

The average maintenance department handles 45 work orders every week. That’s over 2,200 work orders every year. Or a new request every four hours. In other words, the maintenance team impacts your business almost constantly. And that impact is huge.

For example, the average cost of an unplanned downtime incident is $17,000. If only 5% of scheduled maintenance work orders prevent downtime, it could mean saving millions of dollars.

There’s just one problem: Work orders rarely get the attention needed to make this potential a reality. Take common work order metrics, like planned maintenance percentage, for example. They can be useful for maintenance teams, but they don’t tell you much about the impact work orders have on business. And businesses are suffering because of it.

Companies can’t tell if they’re hiring the right people, making the right decisions about capital expenditures, or promising their customers the right things without knowing if work is being done the right way.

That’s why it’s time to stop looking at work orders as just a task on a to-do list. When you put thousands of them together, they tell a much bigger story about human behavior, asset performance, processes, and more. It’s time we read that story.

Why bad work orders are bad for business

Broken work order processes are one of the quickest ways for minor maintenance problems to get out of hand. For example, at Liberty Oilfield Services, poor work orders led to massive amounts of missing inventory and unnecessary costs.

The team at Liberty was getting “just a fraction of what really happened. There was no failure analysis, no context, no insurance for our mechanics,” in the words of Jack Featheringill, Liberty’s US Maintenance Manager.

For Rambler Metals and Mining, bad work orders processes were wasting everyone’s time.

“Whoever was finishing up their 12-hour shift would have to write pages of notes,” says Scott Britton, GM of Operations at Rambler. “Writing those notes could take up to an hour, and the next person would have to spend the first part of their shift going over the notes.”

The issues that poor work order processes cause often spill off the shop floor and into other parts of the business. You just have to look at the problems Liberty and Rambler had to see the potential ripple effects.

How inaccurate records and missing inventory affect a business

When finance, purchasing, and maintenance aren’t working with the same information (or any information), it could cause:

  • Lower throughput and higher operating costs: Missing the spare parts you need is the cause of 50% of all unscheduled downtime, and keeping parts you don’t need in the storeroom adds an extra 12-20% on average to a company’s operating costs.
  • Undershooting on your CapEx planning. It’s easy to miss the warning signs of asset failure if you don’t have context around inventory purchases. That leads to some nasty surprises when looking at the final numbers.
  • Allocating resources to the wrong places: If you’re missing the whole story around parts, failure, and performance, you’ll never know what sites need more people, money, training or tools.

How handwritten notes and wasted time affect a business

When maintenance processes are broken, it usually causes inefficiencies to pop up across your organization, like:

  • A massive backlog bill. Spending almost 10% of your shift creating work orders (like Rambler did) means less time on the actual work. The result is deferred maintenance, and every $1 in deferred maintenance costs $4 in future capital renewal needs.
  • Unexpected delays at the worst times. Spotting bad habits (like the same part wearing out) is almost impossible without standardized work orders. Adjusting maintenance plans becomes difficult and the results are inevitable—a breakdown during production.
  • Missed follow-ups and failed audits: Mistakes and burnout are inevitable when work orders are complicated and time-consuming. Failed PMs without follow-ups are sure to follow, as are break downs, compliance issues, safety risks and increased costs.

Enough with the doom and gloom. Good work orders can also have a huge positive impact.

  • It took Rambler just three months to increase its productivity by 15% after standardizing its work order process. Technicians were able to spend almost two extra hours every shift doing work instead of writing it down.
  • Dredging company Callan Marine reduced downtime (which can cost over $1,200 an hour) just 90 days after starting to track maintenance costs and activities in work orders.
  • Optimizing work orders led to a 50% average increase in asset performance, according to data collected from Fiix customers.

Next steps: Getting really good at work order fundamentals

Now that we know how big of a deal work orders are, it’s time to get really good at them. That starts with a good foundation. The next part of the work order academy will take a look at how to build your work orders so that they become the superstar of your maintenance team and the ace up the sleeve for your company.