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Reliable equipment depends on an alignment of the right things: The right application, operating conditions, duty cycle, operation, maintenance, replacement parts, input/output, performance data, and people following detailed work instructions. This column begins a new series on how to develop, format, deploy, and maintain detailed maintenance work instructions.


Based on many years of experience in industry, in my personal, professional opinion, there is really one “world’s best maintenance tool” that rises above all others. While it may seem an unlikely choice to many readers, I put this tool at the top of my list. I believe that the world’s best maintenance tool for all forms of critical maintenance—on critical equipment in any type of industry—is a “detailed work instruction.”

These types of instructions are fully documented, equipment-and task-specific, step-by-step procedures. They are truly hard to beat. In fact, there’s no substitute for them. Well-written, detailed work instructions provide users with a comprehensive, thoughtful description of proper, efficient, and effective performance that assures consistent results (when followed, that is). They answer all basic questions: the WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, HOW, and HOW WELL of a maintenance best practice. Given that information, we have to make sure the WHO question is answered by assigning a trained and qualified person to perform the work.

In short, detailed work instructions provide the information needed to correctly perform a task (or set of tasks). Major sections of a detailed work instruction typically include identification of work to be performed; health, safety, and environmental considerations; preparation and pre-work; tools, parts, and supplies; operation conditions; reference documentation; and step-by-step procedures with specifications, adjustments, and settings.


in the era of growing skills shortages and use of new machine technology, craft-based maintenance and repair are no longer considered repeatable, reliable, efficient or effective. Work instructions form the basis of “procedure-based maintenance” also known as “standardized work” offer many benefits.

When they are followed, work instructions help drive out human variation that can lead to machine performance problems. Adhering to these instructions helps eliminate human error that often lead to injuries and machine damage or performance problems. 

Work instructions also provide a baseline for continuous improvement. Remember: “If you can’t standardize it, you can’t improve it.” Moreover, they make training and qualification to perform the new procedure more efficient and more effective. In fact, work instructions not only form the basis of training, they can also provide the key points for checklists used as reminders on the job.


Detailed work instructions are typically developed by an on-site team of equipment specialists (more on that later). The contents of a work instruction are derived from a variety of credible sources beyond the expertise of the equipment specialists. These sources most often include OEM documentation and technicians, spare-parts suppliers, lubrication suppliers, engineering/design documentation, company policies, operational specifications and procedures, operation and maintenance history, and machine-performance data.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series, where I will introduce the “Maintenance Work Instruction Development Model.”TRR

Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the people-side of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or bwilliamson@theramreview.com.

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM,
 operator care, asset management, plant operations, workforce issues, training and qualification