How to Prioritize Work Orders

by ManagerPlus on September 22, 2020
Top 10 OSHA Violations

A broad spectrum of businesses rely on work orders to organize their maintenance tasks. And while there are a variety of ways to prioritize work orders, each organization must create its own strategy for deciding which work orders take precedence.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in 2016, U.S. manufacturers spent $50 billion on maintenance and repair, a significant part of their total operating expenses. One of the best way to cut those costs is with a work order hierarchy. Organizations can save money by consistently first tackling issues that have the potential to grow into expensive problems. 

Let's explore how enterprises can improve their work order prioritization and how enterprise asset management (EAM) software makes the process easy.

How to improve your work order approach

Avoid gut reactions

Consider this situation: An executive calls down to the shop floor, insisting that an idle machine go back into production “Right now!”

This is a perfect example of possibly poor prioritization. The executive is not considering the asset's criticality, overall timing of maintenance tasks, and other factors that figure into comprehensive work order strategies. Instead of helping, they're creating chaos. It’s a reactive approach that fails to consider the big-picture needs of the entire enterprise.

There are many warning signs that you need to create a system to prioritize work orders, including:

  • Leaning toward subjective vs. objective decision-making
  • Giving priority to “squeaky wheels” 
  • Failing to collect outcomes data
  • Experiencing unexplained maintenance costs

Sophisticated work order software allows maintenance managers to prioritize tasks objectively and confidently. Having a plan in place also allows managers to collect critical data and analyze it for continuous quality improvement.

Weigh critical vs. criticality

Just because an asset is critical doesn’t mean it has high criticality. The difference is in the definition.

  • Critical is an adjective that subjectively defines an asset as extremely important.
  • Criticality is a measure of how vital an asset is to a process.

Confused? Here’s an example to clear things up:

A laminate flooring manufacturer must hot coat the surface of each piece of material with a polyurethane adhesive. Everyone would agree that the roll coater, which applies the adhesive, is essential to this process.

Without the coater, the flooring wouldn’t have a durable surface, and the final product wouldn’t sell. The roll coater is a critical asset.

However, with monitoring and robust preventive maintenance, the likelihood of the roll coater failing is low. Hence, its criticality is low.

When resources are tight, it makes sense for an organization to focus its maintenance efforts on assets with the highest criticality. Work order software helps make this distinction with analytics, asset categorizations, and asset maintenance and repair histories.

Follow these 4 steps to prioritize work orders

Unless you're ranking work orders properly, productivity falls, affecting the entire enterprise and its profitability. Here are four basic steps for work order prioritization.

1. Start with safety

In most cases, work orders generated to address safety issues are high-priority repairs, even though when don’t necessarily affect production.

For example, consider the guard rail of a process machine. The rail has zero impact on the equipment’s ability to produce, but if it breaks it's is a primary concern because it directly impacts operator safety.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) violations are costly in more ways than one. Beyond the financial penalties for violations, worker injuries cause disruptions in the workplace, damage business reputations, and can seriously affect lives.

In 2018, the top 10 most common OSHA violations resulted in more than 31,000 fines in the United States, with over $400 million of direct costs for organizations.

Modern EAM software helps prevent OSHA violations by documenting compliance activities, generating checklists, and collecting inspection data. You can then leverage the data to determine when a work order is related to your safety program and push it to the top of the priority list.

After safety, what should be your next priority? Uptime. The objective is to balance immediate uptime repairs with preventive tasks that lower the risk of failure over the long term.

One of the best ways to do this is with a priority matrix.

2. Make a matrix

Selecting which work order comes first is tough, and each organization will need to weight its unique goals when making the decision. Creating a work order priority matrix that ranks both asset criticality and operational risk is a straightforward way to define priorities.

Asset Criticality Factor Examples (high to low work order priority):

  • Health and safety is compromised
  • Primary production is down
  • Non-essential production is down
  • Worker comfort is compromised

Risk Factor Examples (high to low work order priority)

  • Immediate health and safety threat
  • Non-immediate health and safety threat
  • Immediate production loss
  • Potential production loss
  • Preventive maintenance
  • General improvements

These are suggestions. Your complete list will include many more options, but the intent is to assign a relative number value to each criticality and risk factor. By cross-referencing the two values, work orders earn a priority score.

For example, preventive maintenance on the primary production line may net a higher score than, say, downtime for a non-essential asset. Keep in mind, the mathematical ranking isn’t necessarily the final say on which work order takes precedence, but it’s a start.

3. Teach team members

Often, the equipment operator is the creator of the work order, so it’s only appropriate they set the initial priority. With a matrix in place, they can accurately convey the relative level of urgency.

Asset managers should provide guidance for how operators create new work orders. Training staff to select objective risks and criticalities promotes consistent prioritization and ensures techs focus on high-criticality work first.

When it comes to the final work order scheduling, it’s up to managers to keep the big picture in mind. Adjustments to the schedule can be made to accommodate technician shortages, low inventory, or, sometimes, simply to add some common sense to what gets done first.

Each work order represents a small piece of the overall process and with insight into the entire operation, supervisors can make the best choices for plant-level efficiency.

Using EAM software helps build schedules that fit the “priorities of the plant.” The EAM work order features allow you to seamlessly integrate inventory, track work orders, and view asset histories, all from the same platform.

4. Assure accountability

Good training leads to effective work order prioritization, and accountability ensures ongoing benefits. However, some staff might be in the habit of completing work orders out of sequence or relying on their gut reactions to maintenance demands instead of following your prioritization strategy.

Sometimes from a single-department perspective, workarounds make sense. Unfortunately, it's rarely the best approach for the entire enterprise.

Shortcuts may lead to avoidable issues such as:

  • Unnecessary production downtime
  • Stretched skilled labor resources
  • Long delays in repairs or maintenance
  • Reduced reliability across the plant
  • Increased production and maintenance costs
  • Skewed data leading to bad decision-making

Auditing work orders lets managers figure out which technicians are following the system properly and what can be done to make improvements. Use your EAM platform to assign work orders and then periodically review them by technician or by date. In the end, consistent deviations from the establish system likely mean more training is needed. Work order software makes it easy to establish accountability and properly direct training resources.  

Support work order closeout

The last step of a maintenance task is the closeout. It’s a final confirmation that quality objectives were met, that work was completed as stated, and that regulatory requirements were addressed. These tips make work order closeout simple.

  1. Use mobile features – For technicians on the go, finding a computer for closeout is inconvenient. Work order software with mobile features lets staff close out tasks from their mobile devices as soon as the work is done.
  2. Make it simple – Overly complicated closeout procedures aren’t likely to get buy-in from busy technicians. A simple closeout process makes things smoother for everyone, especially those who need to move quickly to the next high-priority task.
  3. Build in compliance – Closeout features aligned with compliance make reporting simple. If regulations demand specific details, make them a required part of each closeout. Then you’re always in a position to prove compliance.
  4. Include manager sign-off Managers might need to examine certain work orders before they’re officially closed. This oversight provides the chance to note any special comments regarding the work or the equipment.

Work order management, prioritization, and scheduling provide a solid structure for daily maintenance activities. And with the right software, work orders can be used to create a history for each asset. This tracking is crucial for future repairs, long-term maintenance strategies, and for reporting on compliance activities.

Need to improve your current work order process? ManagerPlus EAM software gets you a step ahead. To find out how, request your free demo of ManagerPlus Lightning today.



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