Uptime: Fill Out Work Orders? Who’s Got Time for Paperwork?

Uptime: Fill Out Work Orders? Who’s Got Time for Paperwork?


“Listen: I’m a mechanic, not a clerk. Do you want me to do the work OR fill out work orders? If I wasted all that time filling in those silly blanks on your paperwork I’d never get caught up! Besides, I don’t know why we need ‘em anyway. Let’s just do the work like we’ve always done.”

Sound familiar? Filling out maintenance work orders is often seen as an extra burden to the maintainers as well as those who are requesting the work to start with. “Paperwork. Needless paperwork. That’s all it really is anyway. I just want to call the mechanic and get this work done fast!” But without work order history, the maintenance organization is at risk and equipment problems will likely worsen.

Why do we need to fill out maintenance work orders? Imagine this: On the production side of the operation, people are charged with producing something: thousands of widgets, tons of paper, kilowatts of electricity, gallons of juice, tons of ore, ounces of gold, feet of tubing, cubic feet of gas, barrels of oil, cases of cookies, gallons of water … and the list goes on and on. Or, assembly operations assemble and finish a wide variety of sub-components into finished products like gearboxes, lawn mowers, compressors, cars and trucks. And, distribution centers unpack, sort, repack, label and ship all manner of goods in cartons and cases. They ALL work with production tracking and reporting paperwork.

The Need to Know

How do these businesses keep abreast of what they need to know? How much is produced and shipped? How many sub-components are needed for a finished product? How much is sold? How much is damaged or wasted as defective or scrap? How much is off quality? When to stop and changeover to another product?

Production records such as shift logs, day sheets, job tickets and other paperwork are used in every business to quantify the amounts and types of production. These reports also keep track of downtime reasons and downtime duration as “non-productive time.” In most cases, this paperwork is taken care of by those closest to the work that’s being done. Sometimes, though, it’s not actually “paperwork,” but rather direct entry into a computer program.

What if the operators didn’t want to do the paperwork to keep track of what they produced or keep track of downtime? Don’t you suppose that they use the production rates of the various machines, production lines and processes to help figure out how many people they need in Operations job roles? It’s quite likely that they measure worker productivity in terms of units produced per employee, per hour, per shift, per day and downtime hurts productivity. When line staff says, “we need more operators,” they can PROVE it by using the data in the production reports. Or, when top management says, “we need to cut back in operations,” it is looking at the production reports compared to customer orders and sales forecasts. Production records and reports are vital parts of operations management, efficiency, productivity, profit and loss.

In these economically trying times … the longer we avoid filling in work order documentation, the more vulnerable we are.

The Power of Documentation

Maintenance work orders are the maintenance equivalent of production records—they document what work was accomplished and who did it. Without this kind of information, how else can maintenance staffing level decisions be determined? Sure, time cards keep track of the hours worked, but what kind of work? People in the plants I visit often approach me with the following request: “Tell them we need more maintenance people here.” I then ask, “Can you PROVE you need them?” Often times they can’t.

In these economically trying times, maintenance is going to be looked at for possible cutbacks. In many businesses, given the fact that maintenance is still seen as an “overhead expense,” the longer we avoid work order documentation, the more vulnerable we are.

At a minimum, maintenance work orders should define the following:

  • Asset name, identification, location
  • Date of request and requestor
  • Description of the requested work (or PM)
  • Priority, date needed (or PM due date)
  • Special tools required
  • Reference to standard work instructions (if available)
  • Completed date
  • Hours worked by named employees
  • Parts and supplies used
  • Actual problem description, cause and
  • corrective action taken
  • Maintainer comments
  • Requestor sign-off and maintainer sign-off

With this type of detailed information in a completed work order, we can accurately PROVE “what our maintenance people are doing.” We also have valid information to identify and correct chronic equipment problems, do root cause analyses, identify high maintenance cost areas of the plant, determine proper parts inventory levels, etc. We can compare production downtime reports to work order histories to determine the causes of unacceptable amounts of downtime and eliminate the causes of the problem. Maintenance work histories allow us to look for opportunities to improve—or develop—standard maintenance job plans and procedures.

We recently performed several work order and work history reviews in plants where there was a stated need to improve maintenance productivity. What we found was typical: Some maintenance work being done with no work orders, repairs made and parts installed with no labor hours (self-installing gearboxes?), hours logged but no description of the work, or the work orders from hell: “Pump broke; fixed it.”

Another finding in a work order history review points to the fact that maintenance work is not always “maintenance work.” In addition to preventive maintenance (PMs), repairs, corrective work, we found that maintenance mechanics, technicians, electricians and others were logging their valuable time doing who-knows-what under a blanket work order and doing “project work” that had nothing to do with maintaining the plant, facility or the equipment. In fact the “project work” was getting in the way of scheduled maintenance work and PMs because the projects were “priority projects” for the plant manager, the Lean Team or kaizen group. Project work that could have been better performed by a contractor is often assigned as a top priority to the already resource-constrained maintenance department.

The Right Way

This is how maintenance requests SHOULD work:

Maintenance work requests submitted by “requestors” get evaluated and turned into planned or unplanned work orders that can be performed in a scheduled manner. Or, they get placed in the “backlog” of maintenance work to be activated when the maintenance resources are available.

Maintenance work orders are “prioritized,” planned and scheduled by a maintenance planner in collaboration with the requestors—not all number one priority work can be accomplished immediately. Emergency repairs are documented in a work order after-the-fact to add to the maintenance history of the equipment. This simple system then allows maintenance management to not only plan and schedule maintenance work, but to determine if the proper number of maintenance resources are available to perform the amount of work in any given period of time.

This simple paperwork must become part of the job, just like locking and tagging for safety.

Maintenance work orders help define the work to be done and document the completed work. Work orders with “due dates” or “date needed” rather than “priority” rankings allow logical scheduling or maintenance workload planning. Describing estimated hours and parts needed on the work orders helps plan daily and weekly workloads. Actual hours worked coupled with complete descriptions of the work accomplished lead to more accurate estimates. Parts used listed on the work orders help in the search for better, more cost effective and more reliable parts and help establish stocking levels.

The Future is Now

Gone are the days of “fixers” in modern maintenance. If your plant has “fixers,” now is the time to make the shift to managed maintenance on your path to improving plant performance and reliability. If maintenance work orders are not used properly, it becomes extremely difficult—if not impossible—to justify your maintenance budgets and headcount. Maintenance work order histories allow you to PROVE the need.

So, next time you hear, “Do you want me to do the repairs OR fill out work orders?” your answer is: “YES, both.” While maintenance work orders may seem like an extra burden to maintainers and supervisors, this simple paperwork must become part of the job—just like locking and tagging for safety. Make your lives easier by doing this little extra paperwork. Without it you cannot improve.


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