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What Is a Work Order? 6 Steps for The Perfect Work Order

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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.

A template for creating the perfect work order every single time (without spending hours at your desk)

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.

How to create the perfect work order in six steps

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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.

work order process flow

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. You can also use this work order template to help you create better work orders. 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?

A template for building maintenance checklists that work every time

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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.

Download our free maintenance goal setting template

#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.

Learn how to optimize your maintenance schedule

#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.

Download our free root cause analysis template

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.

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Work order software vs pen and paper

Pro

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.

Con

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

Pro

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.

Con

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

Pro

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.

Con

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

Pro

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.

Con

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.

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