Work Order Management And The Anatomy Of A Work Order Explained
What do you do when you want to make sure that a certain task is performed correctly and on time?
You create a task, describe what needs to be done, assign it to a specific person, and place a due date. When you do all of that, you’re basically creating a work order.
Digital work orders are an efficient way to manage tasks throughout the organization and are especially relevant for coordinating maintenance work. However, to be able to use them effectively, knowing the elements of a work order is not enough – you need to understand the whole work order management process.
The purpose of this guide is to show how to create a proper work order and explain how to organize your work order management process by following industry best practices. There is a lot of info packed in this guide so feel free to use the content table on the left to navigate to specific parts of the article.
Let’s start things off by defining a work order and see where that takes us.
What is a work order?
Work order (abbreviated WO) represents a task that is scheduled and assigned to a specific person or group of people. While the term can be used more broadly, it is very popular in the maintenance industry where it is used to assign work to maintenance technicians and mechanics. Work orders can be written/printed on a sheet of paper or in the form of a digital document.
The purpose of maintenance work orders is to:
standardize your maintenance workflow
have a simple and quick way to schedule, assign, and track maintenance work
document resources spent on maintenance (labor, material, parts)
track maintenance performance (maintenance compliance, the percentage of planned vs preventive work, costs associated with performed work…)
Work orders are most often the result of specific work requests. Occasionally, a technician or a machine operator will notice performance issues and deterioration signs during routine inspection and notify their supervisor to schedule corrective work, which can also result in the creation of a work order.
Types of maintenance work orders
There are a few different ways to categorize maintenance work orders. Sometimes it is important to have this information included on a work order, sometimes it is not. You can read the description of different types below and decide for yourself is it something worth tracking.
Based on the type of problem that needs to be addressed, a work order can be categorized as:
unplanned work order (used to address unplanned maintenance activities like unexpected machine breakdown)
planned work order (used to schedule some preventive maintenance work; sometimes called PMs)
Depending on where the work request is coming from, we can recognize two types of work orders:
internal work orders (work requests comes from someone inside the organization)
external work orders (work request comes from someone outside your organization)
Based on how they are scheduled, we can differentiate between:
manual work orders (scheduled by hand, often by a maintenance manager, after receiving and reviewing a work request)
automatic work orders (work order software like Limble can be set up to automatically schedule WOs based on your calendar or based on data coming from condition monitoring sensors installed on your equipment)
Most organizations will actively track only the first work order type we listed so they can compare how much preventive vs reactive maintenance work they are doing. As you can imagine, this is very important information for organizations that want to transition from reactive to preventive maintenance or simply want to track and compare costs associated with preventive and reactive work.
The evolution of digital work order process
While we would like to say that most organizations today use digital work orders, that simply wouldn’t be true. Maintenance departments are behind on digitalization when compared to other business departments. This is why chalkboards, paper templates, and spreadsheets still play a role in the work order management.
The worst-case scenario is when a department uses post-it notes or assigns work through phone calls. It is an extremely inefficient approach. It heavily relies on technicians knowing their job and their ability to coordinate work between themselves. The lack of maintenance records prevents any deeper insights that could be used to improve maintenance processes.
1) Using paper work order template
If you Google “work order forms” or “work order templates”, you will find many different variations of WO templates:
The variability reflects how organizations like to adjust the templates to fit their needs and purposes.
Here is an example of a detailed maintenance work order:
When such a work order is completed, it can be put in a designated place (like a box on the plant floor). Later it can be reviewed by a maintenance manager and saved in a filing cabinet.
2) Using spreadsheets and digital WOs
Having paper records is better than having no records. Similarly, having digital records is way better than having paper records.
Instead of printing them out, WOs can be shared with technicians digitally (in the form of a Word document, spreadsheet, a PDF file, etc.). Technicians can open WOs on their smartphone, perform the work, write in completion notes, and send them back to their supervisor.
Combined with a digital ticketing system, this can be a great transition step between using paper templates and switching to a CMMS system.
The ultimate way to manage work orders is with a CMMS. After all, this is what CMMS is designed for.
The process is fully automated. You just have to fill out a few elements to create a WO. The software immediately sends out email and push notifications to assigned technicians. Technicians can open WO on their mobile device, access important asset information and checklists, perform the work, and close the work. Upon completion, notes, time spent, materials used, and other info is automatically logged and can be used to generate useful reports.
There are many other advantages of using CMMS to manage maintenance work and we will discuss those later in the article.
What should be included on a maintenance work order?
In this section, we are going to discuss which information should be included on a work order so the person performing the required work knows exactly what they need to do, where they need to go, and which tools and parts to bring along.
Here are the core elements of a standard maintenance work order:
Let’s dive deeper into each element to understand why they should have a place on every work order.
1) Who requested and/or approved the work
Maintenance managers and supervisors are responsible for scheduling maintenance work. They will schedule WO for preventive tasks, as well as review and approve incoming work requests.
Sometimes, senior maintenance technicians might have the authority to review maintenance tickets and pick up urgent work. In both cases, it is good to know who authorized the work (be it a supervisor or the technician himself). Even more so if you have a big maintenance team with dozens of technicians and multiple supervisors.
Another valuable information is who reported the problem, especially if you are running a property maintenance company or deal with work requests that are coming from outside of your organization. This enables technicians to follow up directly with the person who submitted the work order request form. If necessary, contact information can be left as a part of the job description.
2) Job description
An essential part of a work order is the description of the work that needs to be performed. If we are talking about a simple task, then a single sentence summary can do.
For more complex work assignments, you might have to write a list of instructions. For instance, one might include a maintenance checklist that explains the steps needed for executing a specific maintenance task. However, keep in mind that maintenance checklists are usually worth creating only for routine tasks that are carried out on a regular basis.
When you’re creating work orders to address equipment breakdowns and repairs, a good practice is to include a description of the problem left by the person who reported the breakdown/malfunction. The rest is up to the technicians.
3) Asset location and ID
When you have a bigger facility or manage multiple locations, “fix a fridge on the second floor” does not narrow things down enough.
A proper work order should have the exact location and include some sort of number that uniquely identifies the asset (like a serial number).
4) Who is performing the work
This part is self-explanatory. Every work order should be assigned to a specific person (technician) or to a group (i.e. morning shift) to ensure the work actually gets done.
As we mentioned multiple times throughout this post, a proper work order needs to be assigned to someone and have an expected completion date.
Technicians will usually have multiple tasks scheduled for each day and some tasks have to be performed earlier than others. For example, if a machine needs to be lubricated before the afternoon shift starts, then there is a clear time by which that needs to happen. In this scenario, the WO can’t just say to “lubricate machine XY this Thursday”. To help technicians focus on the important work first, you can look to specify time by which the task should be completed and give those types of tasks a higher priority level.
6) Work priority level
No matter which maintenance strategy you use, your maintenance team will have to deal with some amount of unplanned work. Natural disasters, accidents, human error, and machine malfunctions are things you can never fully prepare for.
The ability to assign work priority (usually on some sort of scale like 1-5) to a WO helps technicians decide which work needs to be done first. This is especially important in emergency situations when you need all-hand on deck. You can use a mobile CMMS to create the work order of the highest priority and send a notification to select technicians to stop what they are doing and come in for emergency maintenance.
7) List of materials and spare parts
Including the list of materials and spare parts on a WO lowers the chance that technicians will have to go back to the storage room in the middle of a repair. You can imagine how much cumulative time it saves, especially if maintenance activities are performed on the other side of the campus or at completely different locations. It can significantly reduce idle time and make sure your technicians spend more of their time performing actual maintenance work.
In Limble CMMS, upon completion of the WO, technicians can mark how much time they’ve spent on that particular task and which spare parts and materials were used. This helps Limble track inventory levels and forecast future demand, as well as track costs associated with specific parts, repair work, and assets.
8) Completion notes
The main purpose of completion notes is to mark anything of importance that might be relevant for future work on the asset. Technicians can write things like what was the cause of failure, how they noticed additional problems that should be addressed in the future, how they had to take some extra steps, and so on.
Having this information saved as a part of maintenance history can help you investigate why certain assets are so problematic. More importantly, asset history can help other technicians speed up their diagnose and repair process, as well useful safety pointers.
The standard work order management process
Now that we covered how to create a work order, let’s discuss how to manage them. To understand the work order process, we have to review:
when are new work orders created
how do they flow through the organization
what happens with them when the work is completed
This will help us describe how the standard work order management process looks like in practice and how it fits into overall maintenance management workflow.
There are three different parties involved in a WO management process:
Work requester: The person who submits maintenance requests.
Work approver: The person who reviews and approves maintenance requests. It is usually a job for a maintenance manager/supervisor/planner.
People carrying out the work: Maintenance mechanics and field technicians that perform the actual maintenance work that has been assigned to them.
Here is a graphic that presents a standard work order management process in a visual form:
#1) The process starts with a work request
More often than not, maintenance requests are submitted by machine operators or other employees at your facility. They want to report that something is broken and that a technician should come over to fix it.
If you are doing things the old fashioned way, that request is submitted via a text message or a phone call. Modern organizations use computerized maintenance management software so their workers can submit work requests through a work request portal.
#2) Work requests become work orders
Not every work request results in a work order. Work requests are reviewed by managers/supervisors/technicians (different organizations have different workflows and job positions).
Here are a few situations in which a work request might be denied:
submitted work request asks for something that is not under the jurisdiction of the maintenance team
the problem was resolved before anyone had time to review the submitted work request
the resources (technicians/tools/spare parts) for completing the required work are not available (in this situation, the WO might still be created – and immediately put on a deferred maintenance backlog)
Work requests that are not approved are archived and corresponding notification is sent to the person that submitted it.
That being said, most work requests are approved and subsequently used to create a WO.
#3) Technicians receive the WO and get to work
If you followed closely so far, you know that a work order should be assigned to a person or a team. If you’re still using paper, a technician will usually get the WO from their maintenance manager, with the instructions on where to go and what to do.
Organizations that have implemented a mobile work order management system have this process way more streamlined. When a maintenance manager or supervisor creates the WO, the assigned technician(s) automatically receive a push notification and an email.
Depending on the priority of the work order, a technician might start working on it right away or tend to the WO when his schedule clears up.
#4) The work order is completed and closed
When the required work is performed, a technician closes the work order. If he is using Limble CMMS (other vendors follow a very similar approach), he will do the following:
enter how much time he spent performing the work
enter which spare parts and material he used
attach pictures/leave completion comments (if there is anything of importance to note)
Limble CMMS is built to follow the standard work order management process which makes it really easy to implement Limble in any organization. That being said, the software does also provide you with enough flexibility to adjust it for specific scenarios.
Here is a list of Limble CMMS features that help you efficiently manage any volume of maintenance work:
Work request system: Enables every authorized person to quickly submit a work request through a simple form instead of interrupting technicians with phone calls or text messages. The work requester will get email notifications about the progress of their request so they do not constantly interrupt technicians by requesting updates.
Automatic inventory tracking: Whenever a technician completes a WO, they can mark how many spare parts they ended up using. Limble automatically updates inventory stock levels according to that info. Along with the ability to set up notifications for low stock levels, this helps managers to do accurate inventory forecasts and ensure that needed spare parts are always in stock.
Easy-to-use calendar: Calendar allows you to view all open work orders and upcoming PM schedules which makes it easy to estimate workloads of different technicians and shifts. New work can, therefore, be scheduled fairly and tracked more easily.
Automatic task creation: Limble supports advanced maintenance strategies like predictive maintenance. What this means in the context of work order management is that you can connect Limble with condition monitoring sensors and set up rules for automatic task creation based on incoming data.
Work order management system: Limble’s work order management module is built to streamline work order management by following the best practices outlined in this article. You can schedule work in a few simple clicks, add and change work priority levels, receive automatic push and email notifications, track work progress on the go, track critical KPIs, attach pictures and invoices, record time spent, and much more.
To prove these are not just empty words, we highly recommend you check out our tutorial for work order management in Limble and see how all of this looks like in practice:
How to get started with Limble CMMS
If you want to test how Limble CMMS handles work orders, you have 3 options:
try our self demo (clicking on this link will open a simulated environment where you can play around with different features)
Effectively managing maintenance work is the main purpose of a maintenance department. If things are breaking down left and right, people will rightfully ask themselves what their maintenance team is doing. The unfair part is that the maintenance team will get a lot of flack when things aren’t working, but very little praise when everything is going smoothly.
Either way, modern maintenance teams that use a mobile CMMS solution will not only be more productive but also have tangible information they can use to spot bottlenecks and optimize their maintenance workflows..
March 19, 2021,
Have you considered the RPM method?
The RPM method was designed based on the definition of maintenance: “to repair; prevent,” . The RPM method is simple. Each work order priority is define as “R”;repair, “P”;preventive, or “M”;modification. These three components in the RPM method would increase the success of your CMMS system.
Would your customers like to know the annual Repair, Preventative and Modification costs to each piece of equipment?
I’m sure some readers would like to know more so I left the URL in your comment.
While not being closely familiar with the RPM method, I think we do something similar in Limble CMMS. In general, if you do a repair you schedule a WO, and if you do preventive maintenance, you schedule a PM. You can use these variables later to create specific reports and track costs associated with preventive work vs reactive work.
"Limble is very easy to get involved in and no contracts, with simple monthly billing. I have auditioned other CMMS companies and they make it too difficult, to try out. Limble strategy is very simple - here is our software, you can customize it in most categories and let us know if you have any questions. As a multiple building County Facilities Director, I highly recommend trying it!"
— Michael Boursier
It just works
"Honestly - the customer support has been fabulous. We had a minor feature request that was deployed within 24 hours - which is unheard of. Even better when you consider our business is located in a completely different time zone (somewhere in Australia). Limble is quite intuitive and I love the ability to have assets nested within each other."
— Ed Cronin
It takes me about 10 seconds.
"Limble made my job easier pretty much right off the bat. Now I create Work Orders on the fly. It takes me about 10 seconds."
— Fraser Cockell
Wow. You guys are amazing...
"Wow. You guys are amazing... your software really one-up's the competition. I've found several with some of the functionality, but much clunkier designs. I reviewed 16 CMMS packages, and yours was an easy choice. Thank you again. Well done."
— Loren Overby
Great Product, Even better support!
"I started using Limble after trying out many other off the shelf CMMS software and I quickly fell in love with the ease of use, intuitiveness yet the power this tool provided me and my team. The ability to see automatically generated and customized reports meant that I could choose whether I wanted to see things at a micro level or a macro one, or both of them together."
— Mohammad Hassaan Akram
"Great experience. Solved our obvious PM tracking issues but also addressing our SHE&S requirements (safety audit task tracking), Environmental checks are being logged, Corporate Audit items tracked"