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Work orders are the foundation of maintenance management. They're how you know what to do and how you track what got done. That means that if you want to improve your maintenance operations in the new year, you need to ask yourself, "What can I do to ensure better work order management?" 

Often, the key to getting better is simply avoiding mistakes. Need to get somewhere in your car as quickly as possible? Driving faster helps, but not as much as avoiding wrong turns. 

And it's no different with work order management. With maintenance workflows, you want to move in the straightest lines possible. Every time you make a mistake, you have to circle back to fix it, wasting time and killing efficiency. 

With the help of some planning and a good CMMS software, you can avoid these five common work order mistakes and reach efficient asset and maintenance management that much faster. 

1. Forgetting to include all the right names on a work order

Without names, it's impossible to know why the work is getting done, who's responsible for doing it, who needs to OK it before close-out, and then, at the very end, who deserves the credit. Or, worst-case scenario, who needs need to be held accountable. Without names, it's hard first to figure out responsibility and then accountability. 

Step back and think about the entire workflow, and then start adding the names of all the people along the way you need to be involved. Start with the basics, the technician or technicians assigned to the tasks. In many cases, they're also the ones responsible for closing out the work order, but if someone else needs to OK the work first, include them, too. If the work involves third-party vendors, add them to the list. 

A modern CMMS solution takes adding names a step further, sending out direct notifications to the people you've included on the work order. It starts as soon as a maintenance request is approved, sending a confirmation email to the requester. Then the CMMS sends a notification to the technician, letting them know you've assigned them tasks. With a maintenance app, the CMMS sends push notifications directly to mobile devices. You don't have to wait for technicians to check their email.

2. Missing important dates on a work order

Good maintenance management often comes down to balancing priorities, and one of the main ways maintenance managers do that is by moving around task dates. You might have an asset inspection scheduled for this afternoon, but when an on-demand work order gets generated over lunch, you need to be able to reschedule the PM. When your work orders lack important dates, you lose the ability to adjust your schedule effectively. 

But it's more than just looking forward. Many of the most important maintenance metrics and KPIs focus on dates. For example, MTTR, MTBF, and MTTF are all time based. The percentage of PMs that are overdue is a big one for tracking preventive maintenance programs. If you want to look back and get a real understanding of how your operations are running, your work orders need dates on them. 

Make sure to include the dates. You want to know when work orders were generated and when they were closed out. If work was done on them incrementally, those dates could come in handy, too. 

Modern CMMS software makes this a lot easier because it does most of the work for you automatically. Dates are included when you generate and assign a new on-demand work order, and many preventive maintenance work orders generate automatically according to a schedule you control. Others are meter-based PMs, but they still have the date they are generated. The software also automatically saves close-out dates. 

3. Leaving out critical information about assets on a work order

Techs arrive at the site unsure exactly which asset needs work. For on-demand work orders, this is often less of a problem because it's obvious which equipment has failed. But it's not always the case, and finding the right asset can be particularly challenging with PMs. For example, if there are three identical AC units side by side on the roof, techs have a hard time knowing which one is scheduled for an inspection.

Don't leave out basic information about the asset or equipment that differentiates it from similar assets nearby. This can include serial numbers, for example. 

One of the most effective ways is to use barcode labels on your assets and equipment. Technicians can then quickly scan the codes using their mobile device to access comprehensive asset data. Most importantly, they can check an asset for open work orders. In the case of those three AC units on the roof, the technician can quickly scan each one until they find the one with the open PM.

4. Leaving out critical information on SOPs and best practices on a work order

Even when techs can find the right assets to work on, they're not sure what work to do. When work orders don't include enough information on standard operating procedures and best practices, you run into a series of problems, including techs completing work: 

  • Incorrectly 
  • Inefficiently 
  • Inconsistently 
  • Dangerously 

And it doesn't have to be just one. It can be all four at the same time, every time. When techs don't know how to complete a task, they sometimes just try to wing it, and their guesses about how best to do things can often be wrong. Even when they guess correctly, it takes them a lot longer than it should. Guessing takes time. It's true that a good technician is an expert at working toward a solution with trial and error backed by experience, but you don't want them to rely on that when there's already a perfectly good process they could follow. The other problem with guessing is that everyone does it differently. Now you have a team of techs with everyone making up their fixes on the fly, leading to inconsistent work. 

And the absolute worst-case scenario is techs working in ways that are dangerous to them and the people who then work with the assets and equipment. For example, many organizations are setting up new PM schedules to tackle the spread of COVID-19. When you're asking people to work with new products and processes in a critical project, you need to protect them and yourself with clear instructions.

Pack as much information as you can into your work orders. Support technicians with everything they need to work well. A good CMMS solution lets you add a lot of information, including: 

  • Comprehensive asset data 
  • Step-by-step instructions 
  • Customizable checklists 
  • Digital images, O&M manuals, and schematics 
  • Interactive site maps and floor plans 
  • Safety information and hazard warnings 

Remember, with a modern CMMS solution, you can use templates to quickly add information to work orders. Once you've entered everything once, you can quickly call it back up and use it. The software makes it possible to add lots of information to work orders, and it also makes it fast and easy. 

5. Using paper or spreadsheets instead of CMMS software for work orders 

With paper-based methods, it's easy to lose data because there's usually only one copy, scribbled on a single piece of paper. Misplace the slip, lose all the data. Spreadsheets have the exact opposite problem; they make it too easy to generate copies, which quickly degenerate into versions. 

Consider this traditional workflow. You create a work order on your desktop, and because you need to assign it, you attach it to an email and send it to a technician. Now they have a copy of the file, an identical twin. But as soon as they make any changes, adding comments or closing it out, the files become different. They're not copies; they're versions. Every time that work order gets sent somewhere and changed, you have a new version. The data is multiplying, but it's all disconnected. And no one knows what anyone else has, what data they're seeing. 

Modern work order software solves these problems with a central, cloud-based database. Now instead of data being divided up between endless pieces of paper or spreadsheet files, everything is in one place, where the software provider keeps it protected and backed up. The CMMS keeps it updated in real time, so everyone is looking at the same data. As soon as a tech closes a work order, everyone on the maintenance team can see the updated information.   

Next steps 

It's already that time of year when people are working on their New Year's resolutions. If yours involve maintenance management, the best place to start is work order management. If you want to stop having to deal with the same old problems, you need to avoid the same old mistakes. It's time for a CMMS that works for you. 

If you haven't already, the next step is reaching out to providers and getting the conversation started. They can look at your current challenges and walk you through your options. Once you know what's possible, you can find the solution that works best for you. 

Speak to CMMS specialist 

About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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