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A maintenance work order is developed in two distinctive stages. Stage One involves receiving, understanding, and accepting the “ask” or request for work from the maintenance client or stakeholder. This is commonly called a Maintenance Work Request (or MWR). Stage Two involves taking the MWR and converting it into a Maintenance Work Order (commonly referred to as an MWO or, simply, a WO). In Stage Two, the request is built out into a complete action plan or job plan, in preparation for scheduling and performing the work in a timely manner. This article focuses on the first stage of the work-order process.

Every day, the maintenance department must confront a minefield of work requests, to which they are expected to respond in a timely manner. The level and quality of response will depend primarily upon three factors:

      • the manner in which the request is allowed to be delivered
      • the amount of information contained within the request
      • the manner in which the request is accepted.

To appease its partners, maintenance has traditionally accepted work requests in a variety of ways, including casual face-to-face conversations, telephone conversations, telephone voicemails, emails, texts, or informal “passed on” paper requests. These days, the use of popular tablet and phone applications, including Twitter or Facebook, are also being leveraged for work requests.

In the absence of any formal request/acceptance process, a “poorly detailed” one-line request with little or no supporting details can be readily accepted, by any delivery method with little or no scrutiny, and immediately queued into the work-order system for scheduling. Many maintenance teams will likely be familiar with scrawled “matchbook” requests passed to the maintainer on the run, frequently without explanation, and almost always categorized by the requestor as “URGENT!”

Often, duplicate requests by a single requestor, or multiple requests for the same problem by different requestors, via different communication platforms, are not recognized and sifted out at the request stage and, thus, allowed onto the work queue. This, in turn, leads to a wasteful situation of multiple maintainers responding to the same problem, multiple times.

Without direction or clear process, human nature dictates we take the path of least resistance. Following the “we accept and respond to everything and anything” work acceptance model allows the requestor to become almost anonymous and pass on the responsibility of the problem without effort or conviction, and forces maintenance into an automatic reactive maintenance approach. This modus operandi can substantially increase the maintenance workload and unnecessarily overburden the maintenance work backlog.

Fortunately, with little effort, the problems described by this poor work-acceptance model can be alleviated, even eliminated, through the introduction of a simple work- order-acceptance business process, backed up with a well-designed work-request form.


Getting control of the MWR system starts with controlling how the request is delivered to the maintenance department. Converting a request to a work order requires written instruction. Expediency, therefore, dictates that all requests be formalized into a written format if they are to be accepted by the maintenance department. Although this can be performed manually on paper, many organizations will likely go directly to electronic written requests, via email, or through a specific internet/intranet request application/platform.

Utilizing a formalized and controlled written communication protocol simplifies training requirements and guides requestors to better describe the problems they are seeing and reporting, provide minimum information requirements to allow the maintenance Planner to accept the request, and to build a quality job plan that allows the correct trade to be dispatched in a timely manner based on the true nature of the problem.

As individuals, we don’t always comprehend a situation or problem in the same way. Consequently, we tend to base the level of magnitude or importance of such events on our personal knowledge and tolerance for adversity. This creates a problem for the maintenance Planner when he or she is trying to interpret the criticality of an issue and build a suitable job plan and response strategy. The following examples are real-world, “one-liner” MWRs for the same problem, requested by different requestors.

EXAMPLE A: A facility washroom has an 18-in.-diameter pool of standing water around a sink due to a simple spill. The resulting requests included the following:

1. “Leaking sink”
2. “Water on bathroom floor”
3. “Bathroom flood”

EXAMPLE B: A metal pen dropped into slat-belt conveyor moving food products became stuck and began rubbing against the moving components, which then created a noticeable noise. The resulting work requests included the following:

1. “Noisy bearings”
2. “Bearings need lubricating”
3. “High-pitched grinding noise from conveyor belt”

In EXAMPLE A, request #3, we can see that the word “flood” was an inaccurate description of the event. But, without any other knowledge at hand, it would have forced an immediate priority 1 response by the Planner. Request # 1 indicates a maintenance problem, whereas request #2 most accurately describes the event.

In EXAMPLE B, requests #1 and #2 show both requestors deciding that the issue is a bearing problem. Request #2 also describes the maintenance approach to resolve an issue that neither requestor mentioned, but which is perfectly described in request #3 tells the Planner there is a noise and where it is located.

To identify a repair strategy, a Planner needs to understand what the requestor is seeing (best accomplished with a photograph or video file); hearing (where use using a cell phone to record and share an audio file of an unusual noise can help immensely); smelling; feeling (vibrations, heat); tasting; and what their intuition is telling them.

In EXAMPLE A, a photograph or video would have quickly ruled out a “flood” and likely resulted in the Planner sending a janitor to clean up and report back if there were a leak, or not wasting precious skill trade time chasing a clean-up.

In EXAMPLE B, a video or audio file would allow the Planner to experience the situation almost the same way as a requestor who, in addition, could relay any vibration or smell information by way of a text. In this case, the Planner could deploy a millwright to investigate the problem with an investigative work order to resolve the issue by removing the pen immediately, and writing up a job plan for work that might involve parts replacement and scheduling it for a more appropriate time.

When maintenance provides a formal work-request process and a form for collecting minimum information requirements, the requestor is guided into giving the basic information required for maintenance to accept the MWR with confidence, and respond in the appropriate time frame. If the request is incomplete, the maintenance department simply does not accept the work request and returns it to the requestor for completion. This part of the model requires fortitude on behalf of the maintenance department, as well as cooperation from other departments. This simple change virtually eliminates all nuisance calls, as requestors are less inclined to extend the effort for a frivolous event.

Many by now are familiar with, and have been exposed to, the concepts and principles of Quality Assurance/Quality Management (QAQM) systems driven by the ISO/QS 9000 quality system. The basis of any QAQM system revolves around clear communication and documentation. Affected parties work together to understand the communication problem, develop procedures in which clear expectations and guidelines are set out, and complete the process by documenting the results with a step-by-step procedure and business process map. The following 5-step process details the simple change process:

Step 1: Understanding the Problems
Maintenance meets with other departments to discuss the shortfalls of the present work request system and documents their concerns, whilst voicing the Maintenance department concerns.

Step 2: Building the Work Acceptance Structure
Maintenance builds a process map (Flow Diagram) that shows Maintenance will now only accept written or email requests (no more verbal work requests)

Step 3: Building the New Work Request
Maintenance develops a “Minimum-Information Work Request” document that can be electronically delivered to a third-party help desk, or directly to maintenance Planners. The following 10-point work request contains the mandatory details for a qualified planning approach to the work:

1. Date and time of request. Important for Mean Time To Response/Repair (MTTR) tracking.

2. Requestor name and #. Maintenance needs to know who to call for further information if this is a true emergency, or request is incomplete and to know if the requestor activates a political priority response.

3. Contact name and #. May be the requestor or a different person who needs to be contacted by the maintainer to get access to the building or machine.

4. Exact geographical location of problem (building, floor, room, column, or GPS location for liner assets). This information reduces response time by understanding travel time, and allows us to review any relevant floor plan drawings for job plan development.

5. Asset #. Allows maintenance to immediately review asset history and immediately assign the work order to the correct account.

6. Exact location of problem on asset (asset sub-system). Again, allows the work order to be assigned at the correct level for capturing work information and for reviewing history and Bill of Materials

7. Problem symptoms. What is happening that causes the requestor to believe there is a problem?

8. Primary sensory information. Important for determining the true nature and criticality of the problem, that include

      • vibration (visual, feeling, touch)
      • noise (hearing)
      • unusual odors (smell, taste)
      • smoke (visual, smell)
      • heat (feeling, touch, smell)
      • see (description of symptom, photos, video- or audio-file attachments)

9. Immediate impact on equipment operability/availability, i.e., downtime, limp mode, no effect. Allows the Planner to prioritize work effectively.

10. Immediate impact on person or building safety. Allows the Planner to prioritize work effectively.

Step 4: Presenting the New Approach
With new tools in place, maintenance must meet with its partners and stakeholders and present the new work acceptance approach. The roll-out plan is discussed along with details of a mutually agreed-upon MWR drop-off point and procedure.

Step 5: Implementing the Approach
The program is rolled out and monitored carefully. This simple, proactive approach provides a relatively painless change management process, allowing maintenance service levels to increase substantially. The requestor now knows the minimum information required to expedite a faster response, and subsequently is a significant partner in providing a faster resolution to problems that affect asset availability and reliability.


Stage Two of the maintenance-work-order process, i.e., creation of the work order, will be addressed in a later article.TRR


Ken Bannister has 40+ years of experience in the RAM industry. For the past 30, he’s been a Managing Partner and Principal Asset Management Consultant with Engtech industries Inc., where he has specialized in helping clients implement best-practice asset-management programs worldwide. A founding member and past director of the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada, he is the author of several books, including three on lubrication, one on predictive maintenance, and one on energy reduction strategies, and is currently writing one on planning and scheduling. Contact him directly at 519-469-9173 or

Tags: maintenance, availability, procedures, workforce issues, CMMS