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“Why do we need to fill out these work orders anyway? They’re just trying to micro-manage us. I’m not going to do it. Let’s just do things like we’ve always done.” Sound familiar? Maintenance work orders are often seen as an extra burden to maintainers, as well as to those who are requesting the work. Without work-order history, though, the maintenance organization is at risk and equipment problems will likely worsen.

Why do we need maintenance work orders? Here’s a good example: Imagine the operations side of the business, where people are charged with producing something: thousands of widgets, tons of paper, kilowatts of electricity, gallons of water, tons of ore, ounces of gold, feet of tubing, cubic feet of gas, barrels of oil, cases of cookies, whatever. Those people all work with some type of of planning, scheduling, tracking, and reporting paperwork.

But what if people from the operations side didn’t want to do the paperwork to keep track of what they produced? Don’t you suppose they use the production rates of the various machines, production lines, and processes to help figure out how many people with what types of skills are needed 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. Thus, when management reviews production reports compared to customer orders and sales forecasts, and says, “We need more operators,” the operations staff can PROVE that need by using data. Documentation is power.

Maintenance work orders are the maintenance equivalent of production records. They document what work was required, what was accomplished, who did it, how long it took, and what was used to complete it. Without this degree of information, how else can maintenance staffing level decisions be determined? Sure, timecards keep track of the hours worked, but what type 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?” Many 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 considered an “overhead expense,” the longer we avoid detailed work-order documentation, the more vulnerable we are.

Maintenance-work-order histories allow leadership to make sound, fact-based business decisions, as in “Do we have the right people with the right skills, the right tools, and the right parts to do the required work?” The answer should be a simple “Yes” or “No.” With detailed information in a completed work order, we can accurately PROVE “what our maintenance people are doing.” But there’s more: We have valid information to identify and correct chronic equipment problems, conduct root-cause analyses, identify high-maintenance-cost areas, and determine proper parts inventory levels, among other things. Maintenance-work-order histories also allow us to look for opportunities to improve or develop standard maintenance job plans and procedures.

So, next time you hear, “Do you want me to do the work or fill out these 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. Maintenance teams can make their lives easier by doing it. Without it, they can’t improve.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

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM,  work orders, planning and scheduling, plant operations, workforce issues, training and qualification