Last Updated: November 12, 2021
A work order is a formal document (digital or paper) that describes maintenance work approved for execution (i.e., an approved work request). Work requests can be submitted to maintenance by any of their many types of customers and staff, depending on the type of business, industry, and facility being managed. In addition, work orders provide details about the work to be completed, such as location, skills requirements, and tools needed.
A maintenance work order is an authorization to perform requested activities on a work request. Depending on the type of business, work requests can be submitted to maintenance by any one of their many types of customers or staff. Once work requests are reviewed and approved by maintenance, an official work order to complete the job is issued.
In addition to the details provided on the work request, the work order also contains key information on how the job will be completed.
Information that appears on a work order includes:
Description of the task or need
Name of requesting department or individual
Estimated completion date
Name of person or team to complete the task (may be in-house resource or third party)
Location of activities (name of facility, or name of area within a facility)
Prerequisites to completing the end goal (e.g., parts, tools, documentation)
The information on a work order is provided with the purpose of explaining the need, scheduling resources, detailing instructions, and estimating costs of parts and labor. Use of a CMMS also enables maintenance to schedule and document recurring work, like monthly preventive maintenance activities (what is preventive maintenance?), and automatically generate and monitor work order data.
In our article about work requests, we stated that a proper workflow is needed in order to effectively manage maintenance tasks. The first step in the workflow is submission and review of work requests by maintenance management. Once work requests are approved, they are converted into work orders.
The illustration below is a simplified maintenance work order flow, and the following details show a specific example of how a work order would be used in a fictional food packaging facility, Foodpacker ABC.
Through a CMMS, Food Packer ABC’s production manager submitted a work request to their maintenance team, and the maintenance team has now issued a work order to complete the job.
Here is an example of the details on the work order via the CMMS:
Title: Install New Food Packing Line
Description: New packing line has been delivered with 12 pallets. They are to be installed in the same processing room as 8 other lines. Some old equipment in the allotted space needs to be moved. Use remaining budget of $3,000 to hire third party movers. Compare physical deliveries to items ordered on purchase order. Put up temporary barrier to protect other packaging lines during installation of new equipment. Approval from quality department is required prior to putting line into service.
Due Date: Eight business days from submission of work request
Recurring Schedule: Not applicable
Estimated Duration: Eight full business days
Category: Special Project
Assigned To: Packaging Engineer
Additional Workers: Electricians, maintenance technicians, warehouse personnel, third party movers
Team: Install Team
Location: Processing Room A
Asset: Food Packing System Line 9
Via the CMMS, maintenance is also able to add additional form fields, attach additional files, and require technician signatures. In this example, the production manager is under pressure to get the company’s new packing line up and running within one week. The work, however, states that it will take longer than that. Also note that in the Description section, several steps are required to be completed prior to actual assembly of equipment. Once tasks are completed, the work order is reviewed and closed out.
When creating a work order, it’s easiest to work from a template. The most common items to include on a work order are:
A description of the task.
The name of the person / party requesting the work.
Estimated completion time.
Name of the party responsible for completing the task.
Location of the task / asset where the work is to occur.
Prerequisites for completion, such as skills, tools, parts, etc.
A work request is submitted by your staff or customers to request that work be performed on an asset.
A work order, on the other hand, is an authorization from your maintenance planner to perform maintenance tasks. When work requests are submitted and approved, work orders are created.
When a work request is submitted, management (often a maintenance planner) determines whether to approve them. Some of the considerations that may come up when approving requests include:
Existing maintenance plans for the asset
Age of the asset
Severity of the issue being reported
If it would make sense to perform the requested work, then a work order is created. On the other hand, if performing work on that asset wouldn’t be advisable after considering the above issues, the request may be rejected.
This process allows you to control what work you perform in your facility. If every work request were to be completed, you’d spend a lot of time on unnecessary tasks. By handling request and orders separately, you can focus on your priorities.
Now, once a work request is approved, a work order is created. Work orders outline:
The work to be done
The name of the requesting party
The party who will complete the order
Necessary parts, documents, and so on
At this point, the requested work has become mandatory—someone’s supposed to do it, and if they don’t, it will be reflected in your records.
As you complete work orders, you’ll want to track them. Doing so is key to improving reliability at your facility since it gives you insight into the following metrics:
Mean time between failures (MTBF) on specific assets
Mean time to repair or replace (MTTR) assets
The easiest way to manage your work orders and track these metrics is with a CMMS. Currently, about 53% of facilities use computerized systems to handle their maintenance, and they streamline work order management significantly.
Work orders are not the same as purchase orders. A work order is used to assign maintenance tasks, whereas a purchase order is a document that authorizes the purchase of goods and services from outside vendors.
For example, a manager of an apartment complex may receive work requests from their tenants for maintenance work to be done. They issue work orders based on those requests and assign them to their crew.
On the other hand, if that same manager finds that they are running low on essential replacement parts, they might create a purchase order authorizing the purchase of those parts. The purchase order gives details on what to buy, how much, what its price is, desired payment terms, and a delivery schedule.
To look at another example, a manufacturing company would use work orders to assign regular equipment inspections to its technicians, while purchase orders would be used to request that raw materials be purchased from outside vendors.
Work orders are used to track completion of work and document usage of resources, whether that comes in the form of labor or parts. The collection of this data enables maintenance teams to generate clear metrics that can be used for performance monitoring, trend analysis, and continuous improvement. You can read more about maintenance metrics here.
Via the default features of an automated work order management system, an example of a KPI that can be quickly generated is schedule compliance. A maintenance manager would simply view all scheduled work on the log and calculate the percentage of scheduled work that was completed over a certain time period.
Another KPI example is MRO expenditure. As long as work orders are filled out completely and correctly (and assuming the storeroom is properly secured), a maintenance manager can easily track the cost of different replacement parts and materials used in maintenance. If the costs of certain items seem to be climbing, it’s a good indicator that specific failure modes are occurring, or that certain assets are failing more often. With that information, the team can improve their preventive maintenance processes.
Yet another valuable KPI that can be drawn from work order data is MTBF, or mean time between failures. This metric measures the average time between failure events on specific assets. If you find that your team is performing reactive maintenance on specific machines more frequently, it’s an indicator that your preventive maintenance tasks (PMs) for that equipment need to be improved.
Traditionally, work orders were handled with paper forms. In fact, many organizations still manage their maintenance data with paper. Modern systems, on the other hand, rely on digital work orders using a CMMS. There are numerous advantages to switching from paper to digital work orders, including those detailed here.
First of all, digital work orders are generally more efficient in terms of actual completion. With paper, there’s more time taken to locate resources such as diagrams or instruction manuals, meaning more travel time to and from the worksite. A digital format makes it much easier to include all instructional materials right there with the work order itself, whether it's accessed via a tablet or smartphone. The end result is typically better wrench time.
Paper takes up space. Over the years, you’ll accumulate enough old work orders to fill up multiple filing cabinets (depending on the size of your operation, of course). You’ll want to keep at least some of it on file to help with tracking important metrics, but filing it all costs money.
Not only would you need to pay for the square footage of storing paper work orders, but you’ll also have to maintain that space, take time to file or retrieve documents, and cycle out older work orders on a routine basis, all while safeguarding your records against loss. Digital work orders either diminish or outright remove all of those expenses, making them much more efficient to keep on file.
Retrieving a paper work order can be time consuming. If you need to access an old work order to find some specific piece of information, it will take time to find it in a physical filing system. On the other hand, digital work orders require little searching to pull up since they can be accessed through a quick search on a computer, tablet, or smartphone through your CMMS.
With the ease of access provided by digital work orders, your data becomes much more visible. In fact, important metrics can be automatically pulled straight from work orders into your CMMS dashboard for ease of reference.
Going digital is also invaluable when it comes to generating reports, particularly with the level of automation afforded by a mobile CMMS. That power only increases when you involve enterprise-wide software since it makes it easy to establish how your work order data factors into overall business goals.
Easily accessible data also makes planning easier. Once everything is logged into your CMMS, it takes very little time for maintenance planners to generate work orders from submitted work requests. Listing needed skills and equipment, scheduling times, attaching checklists, and making assignments are all quicker than paper, particularly when handled over a mobile platform.
Digital work order data can also make preventive maintenance optimization (PMO) easier. Important metrics can be readily pulled up, making for quick decision-making when it comes to the frequency of PMs, the need for specific tasks, and so forth.
Naturally, digital work orders are most beneficial when managed properly. Some of the best practices for managing work orders in any environment include the following.
First of all, maintenance work orders are best managed through a CMMS. A mobile CMMS allows you to quickly generate work orders, assign them to technicians, and automatically log them once complete. It makes data—such as expenditures, time spent to complete, and so forth—much easier to access than it would be if you entered everything manually into a spreadsheet.
To make sure work orders are used and filled out correctly, it’s vital to create a standardized process for them. Everyone should follow the same steps for submitting work requests, generating work orders, securing the necessary tools and materials, and logging in the data.
Tip: No work should ever be done without a work order. Having every job attached to a document makes sure your maintenance and storeroom data are as accurate as possible.
Work orders should never lack important details, such as the parts and skills needed, how many people should be involved, inspection checklists, diagrams, and even LOTO procedures. Recording all necessary details helps ensure that each maintenance task is done correctly and efficiently.
Checklists are a particularly important aspect of efficient work order management. To get the most out of your digital work orders, attach a checklist and make sure your technicians understand the importance of following it. By using checklists, there’s a decreased chance that human error will impact both the quality of your maintenance and the accuracy of your data.
Maintenance tasks need to be prioritized. Work orders for high criticality assets and time-sensitive tasks should be assigned higher priorities, as should those that minimize safety risks. If it comes down to deciding which work orders should be completed in a given work day, prioritization will make that decision easier.
Organizing work orders is most easily done through a CMMS or work order management system. Computerized systems allow you to quickly sort work orders by priority, time, technician, asset, and other data, and they streamline work order management significantly.
Now, prioritizing work orders is a different beast entirely. Prioritization relies on data such as:
Criticality, or how important the asset is to your process
Risks of delaying work, such as safety hazards or further expenses
As you evaluate each work order with respect to each of these areas, you’ll be able to prioritize jobs in a way that best benefits your facility.
The criticality of your asset determines whether delaying work would significantly disrupt your processes.
If an asset is critical to your core operations, you’ll likely need to set work orders involving that asset to a higher priority, but only if it represents a significant risk.
Just because an asset is critical doesn’t mean every work order needs to be top priority. In the instance of recurring PMs, for instance, you might not need to place high priority on certain tasks simply because the problems they’d prevent aren’t very likely.
In fact, about 30% of PMs don’t actually accomplish anything, so you may well find this to be the case.
On the other hand, if a work order deals with a safety issue or a problem that’s highly likely on a core asset, you’ll naturally want to set that to a high priority. Emergency situations (which are very rare) would take the highest priority since they represent the most risk.
In order to get to a work order quickly, you’d need to have sufficient resources on hand, including time, personnel, and material components. If you’ve got a shortage in any of these areas, you might need to put the order on the back burner until you resolve that.
In addition, cost is a major consideration for certain assets. If it would cost more to repair the asset than it’s worth (or than you can currently afford), a work order prescribing repairs wouldn’t necessarily be urgent. In some cases, replacement is the more cost-efficient route.
As you evaluate risks and criticality together, you can compare that against the costs. From there, set either a high, medium, or low priority to the task.
Work orders are an integral part of any maintenance operation, and they should be managed in an efficient and precise manner. When used properly, they improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your maintenance team at all levels, from planning to execution. The ultimate result is a more streamlined and reliable process.