MRO Magazine

How Work Order Process Flow helps a CMMS succeed

Back in 2004, I wrote in this column about the challenges of work order management (Machinery & Equipment MRO, Work Order Worship, June 2004 and September 2004). Since that time I've travelled ext...

Machinery and Equipment Maintenance

February 1, 2006
By Peter Phillips

Back in 2004, I wrote in this column about the challenges of work order management (Machinery & Equipment MRO, Work Order Worship, June 2004 and September 2004). Since that time I’ve travelled extensively throughout North America and the United Kingdom and I’ve seen one consistent theme. CMMS work order systems are still not being managed properly.

So based on that observation, I’m going to revisit that topic with some new insights into work order process flows. I’m also going to tell you about some of the functionality that new enterprise management software offers to help with the planning and scheduling of work orders.

Visiting plants, universities and other institutions over past months has revealed that many organizations are having failed attempts at launching and maintaining an effective work order system. If you have read my previous articles on this subject, you might remember a phrase I use to address the systemic approach to work order planning and scheduling. It’s “discipline to the process,” the process being how a work order is routed through the CMMS and maintenance department, and discipline meaning everyone adhering to the process for each and every work order.

So what exactly is a Work Order Process Flow and how is it developed?


First, we need to examine where work orders originate (see the flow chart). Work orders come to the maintenance department from several different avenues. They come from people requesting work on equipment or on the facility, and from PMs generated by the CMMS system and by the maintenance department, as well as projects, etc.

Next, we need to decide what path each work order will follow from the time it is created until the work is completed and the work order is closed in the CMMS.

This path may sound simple but once you look at what is required for each work order, it becomes a little more complicated. I particularly like playing a devil’s advocate when working with companies that want to develop a process. A few specific questions about the work order usually reveals steps in the process they haven’t thought about before.

Developing an effective and complete work order process flow takes at least a full day of concentrated effort by the people involved to successfully map out the process. It’s an eye-opening exercise to participate in. People come to understand why their previous system failed and how to keep the same fate from happening again.

Another common thread I’ve seen is the lack of the correct number of people to operate a successful work order system. Depending on the size of your facility, you need some key positions in place. At a minimum you need a planner, a scheduler, and a stores or purchasing person.

Each of these people has distinct responsibilities for the work order system. Of course, these responsibilities are carefully mapped out. The people should be well-trained in the use of the CMMS and know how to use it quickly and effectively. I wrote about training in my previous column, so you may want to refer to it (Machinery & Equipment MRO, December 2005).

Of course, there are other players in the process. The maintenance crew also needs to know its part in the process and must follow it on each and every work order.

There are three other basic activities that need to be developed beyond the work order process. They are Daily, Weekly and Shutdown activities.

In other words, you must know what needs to be done daily and weekly in order to maintain an effective work order system. What are the ‘must do without fail’ activities that must occur inside the CMMS system and what are the physical activities that must occur outside the software? Make sure everyone knows and fulfills their obligations.

Shutdown activities are no different and must have a routine. Planning and scheduling of a shutdown needs to be done well in advance to ensure everything and everyone is ready.

One CMMS system that I work with has a function called Screen Flows. These are screens that are assembled sequentially within the CMMS. Basically, they guide the users through the program. Screen Flows are built for the Daily, Weekly and Shutdown activities. The users simply choose the appropriate Screen Flow icon and the program steps them through the screens they need to use to complete the activity.

I’ve found this function really speeds up the time needed to complete the work order process. It works really well for new users because the Screen Flows baby-sit the user through the program.

Well, there we have it. Do you want a successful work order system that contains meaningful information? Then design your system around your Work Order Process Flow and stick to your guns.

Next issue, we’re going to explore CMMS Key Performance Indicators. KPI’s tell how you are doing in the execution of the maintenance plan and its corresponding activities.

Peter Phillips of Trailwalk Holdings, a CMMS consulting and training company based in Nova Scotia, can be reached at 902-798-3601 or by e-mail at He will answer your questions on CMMS issues or problems. His previous columns can be viewed at