MRO Magazine

Work Order Worship (June 01, 2004)

Work orders come in severalvariations, ranging from pre-ventive maintenance tasks (PMs) to projects to various other maintenance activities. All combined, they can make a long list of work to be done.

June 1, 2004 | By Peter Phillips

Work orders come in severalvariations, ranging from pre-ventive maintenance tasks (PMs) to projects to various other maintenance activities. All combined, they can make a long list of work to be done.

We talked about work orders that are generated and manually created using CMMS software in the February 2004 issue (page 33) of Machinery & Equipment MRO. There, we discussed several types of manually created work orders.

I’ve worked with manufacturing companies that generate several hundred-work orders per month. You can imagine that it takes considerable effort to plan and schedule this number of work orders. Whether you create a few work orders or many hundreds, the management of them is tremendously important. After the weeks and months of work you’ve put into the implementation of your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), this is really where the rubber hits the road. Regardless of the size of your facility, there’s a good chance that work orders will become overdue, backlogged, lost and incomplete. As a result, there is a continual growth in the number of work orders in your system.

Once you get behind, your PM tasks will get off schedule and things can get out of hand quickly. Left alone to manifest itself, a backlog of undone work orders will most likely lead to equipment reliability problems. If you remember, this was one of the major reasons you purchased the software to begin with — to help with equipment repair and reliability.


So what can you do to keep your system under control? In a word, you need to manage it just like everything else you supervise. Daily effort must be put into reviewing the status of work orders. Have they been planned, scheduled and completed? If not, where are they now?

There are several reasons why work orders aren’t completed on time. Let’s have a look at a few:

1. Not completed due to production demands. How many times have you heard from the production department that you can’t have access to the machine to do maintenance because product needs to be run? This causes the maintenance team problems and leads to frustration. First of all, the maintenance department needs to do the scheduled maintenance to keep the equipment reliable so production can run to begin with. It’s an old story and not likely to go away anytime soon. The best thing you can do is try to get a commitment from the production department to schedule time for maintenance. This will take some negotiating and both parties will need to be flexible. Together you need to look for opportunities to get the work done.

2. Incomplete work orders. Perhaps the maintenance crew ran out of parts or time during the work. In either case, the completion of the work order will need to be rescheduled. Having parts available to do the work is crucial. Check beforehand to make sure parts are available and on site. If time runs out, then choose another date when the work can be completed fully.

3. Lost and poorly completed work orders. These usually indicate the lack of system management and a commitment to the work orders generated by the CMMS. It’s not unusual for a maintenance person to lose a work order from time to time, or to forget to fill in all the details. However, if this is a commonplace problem, you need to talk to the people involved. Lost work orders may mean the work never got completed or even started. How is this going to affect reliability? It’s also important to fill out the details on the work order so a meaningful history of the equipment can be created.

It’s not unusual to visit a maintenance department and see hundreds of open work orders. They’ll have scheduled start dates that are months old and in some cases years overdue. There are either a host of explanations for it, or you find that nobody knows much at all.

My advice normally is to close all the work orders that will never get done, and close the ones that have been completed but never closed out of the system, then start over with what’s left. I’m not trying to be negative here, I just want to make the point that managing the work order system takes time and dedication to make it work the way it is intended.

To reiterate, it all starts with the management of the program and to some degree the people who use it.

Lets’ have a look at companies that have been able to keep the number of open work orders under control. Here’s what they do:

– They faithfully generate and close their work orders daily and weekly.

– They work cooperatively with the production department and machine operators to ensure the work is done on schedule or at least as close as possible to the work order start date.

– They monitor the availability of parts that will be needed to perform the work.

– They impress upon the maintenance staff the importance of completing the work orders — as well as the paperwork that goes with them — on time.

– They have determined a so-called acceptable ‘magic number’ for the work orders that can be open at any given time. If they go over that number, then they look into the reasons for the growth in work orders.

– They sustain the work order system by creating backlog reports in order to reschedule the work and they chase down work orders that seem to have disappeared.

– Overall, they simply manage the CMMS work order system.

You are probably thinking, “Man, this is going to be a lot of work!” Actually it’s not. It’s more like developing a habit of doing little things every day.

There’s an old saying that asks, “Have you ever been bitten by an elephant?” Of course, the answer is “No.” However, “Have you ever been bitten by a mosquito?” gets an answer of “Yes.” The point of the story is, “It’s the little things that will eat you up.” So unless you want your work order system to become that mosquito, then make sure you do the little things every day to keep it under control.

Next issue (September 2004), we’ll follow up with Part 2 on work order management. In recent weeks I’ve been delivering a one-day course on work order management and I want to share as much of it as I can through Machinery & Equipment MRO so that you will have some additional tools to help you manage your CMMS work order system.

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


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