Work orders are the meat and potatoes of any successful maintenance program. For companies of all sizes, the only way to communicate and follow up on maintenance needs is with a formalized work order management system.

Generally, operators and administrators issue requests, maintenance leaders translate those requests to work tickets, and maintenance teams receive the orders and are cued to get started on the tasks. Some form of work order tracking ensures orders are completed on time and to specification.

Unfortunately, work order tracking all too often becomes a massive undertaking of its own. When work orders are managed by pen and paper or traditional spreadsheets, locating or compiling all of them becomes a logistical nightmare. The complexity increases even more as tasks are triaged, priorities are changed and emergency repairs dictate a new order of execution.

The main reason is that traditional, manual processes are time-consuming, prone to human error and fraught with delays. These issues often lead maintenance crews to either duplicate work or overlook critical tasks entirely, particularly when their work order management systems aren’t equipped to handle overlapping schedules and on-the-fly changes.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways companies can streamline their work order tracking systems, resulting in reduced human error and time wasted on repetitive tasks. To make work order tracking work for your organization, consider the life cycle of a work order, the benefits of improving your work order management system and best practices for reducing effort while increasing efficacy.

Defining work orders and work requests

The phrase “work order” may have multiple meanings depending upon industry. When we discuss work orders, we’re referring to the internal documentation that provides information about a maintenance task, including authorization, scope, assignees, individual processes, expected outcomes and due date. In short, a work order is the documentation that tells maintenance crews exactly what they need to do and when.

Slightly different is the “work request”documentation used by non-maintenance personnel to alert maintenance crews that a repair or inspection needs to be done. For example, a safety manager might issue a work request for an inspection of the guardrails at a job site. Similarly, a crane operator might submit a work request when he notices the crane moving more sluggishly than usual, in hopes of preventing a full breakdown.

Ultimately, work requests become work orders once they are reviewed by maintenance personnel and assigned to specific teams. This work order management process of submittal, review and assignment is often referred to as the “work order life cycle.”

The work order life cycle:

  1. A maintenance manager identifies a task and formalizes it as a work request.
  2. The manager creates a work order and prioritizes it based on its importance and time-sensitivity.
  3. The manager assigns the work to be completed by a technician or team.
  4. Once completed, the work order is closed, documented and analyzed.

One of the main reasons why work order tracking is so much work is that a thorough work order contains quite a few pieces of vital information.

Components of a work order can include:

  • Asset(s): What needs maintenance or repair?
  • Issue: What is the problem with the asset?
  • Request date: When were the work order and corresponding work request submitted?
  • Requester contact: Which employee or department submitted the initial work request?
  • Due date: When must the work be completed?
  • Priority: How should this work order be prioritized relative to existing orders?
  • Requirements: What tasks, skills, parts and tools will be needed?
  • Health and safety: What safety procedures and personal protective equipment are required?
  • Assignee(s): Which technician or team is responsible for ensuring the work’s completion?

Additional documents and free-form notes, such as manuals, manufacturers’ warranties, standard operating procedures and descriptive images, may also be required. These components are vital for communicating how a job is to be done, but with a pen-and-paper work order management system, it can be impossible to include all this detail.

Finally, a completed work order must include information on the “actuals,” or the actual data on how the job progressed in the real world. How long did the work order take to complete, and was it finished on time? Just as importantly, were the included task lists, documents and descriptions sufficient for guiding maintenance personnel, or was there additional back-and-forth among the requester and technicians? Being able to answer these questions is vital for streamlining a company’s work order management system.

Consider the roles of planned and unplanned work orders

If you’ve implemented a preventive maintenance plan (or if you’re hoping to do so), you’ll also need to consider the roles of both planned and unplanned work orders. Preventive maintenance work orders encompass the work you can predict ahead of time, such as routine maintenance and periodic parts replacements. On the other hand, unplanned work orders typically occur due to breakdowns and other unforeseen failures.

Of course, no maintenance system is purely preventive, and unplanned failures are part and parcel to working with complex equipment and heavy machinery. Plus, even if your company is a well-oiled preventive maintenance machine, differing maintenance triggers will still result in a variable schedule.

You might have a fleet of trucks that each need service every 3,000 miles, for instance, as well as a manufacturing line that requires downtime and inspection every 50 production runs. When exactly these events will occur depends heavily upon drive time, recent sales, new customer acquisition and a host of other factors that change month to month.

Ultimately, accounting for a variety of planned and unplanned work orders requires a clear hierarchy of priorities and the ability to make changes on the fly. Imagine you have a maintenance crew driving to one facility for a routine inspection when a vital piece of machinery breaks down at a plant 10 miles away. In that case, you’ll probably want to divert their attention to the emerging crisis because it has become the greater priority.

Why you need to automate work order management

Between planned and unplanned maintenance, detailed work orders and the need to manipulate variables on the fly, it’s no wonder why most organizations find work order tracking to be so much work. Even for a moderately sized company, manual work order tracking requires countless hours of writing, filing and hunting down documents.

Fortunately, a centralized, automated work order software system can clear up most of these headaches. Unlike simple spreadsheets, a fully automated work order management system can keep track of prior orders, filling in blanks on new orders and leaving you with only a few details to document yourself.

Better yet, automation removes the need to sift through existing work orders as more maintenance is triggered—and as emergencies arise. As long as you’ve assigned priorities, the most important work orders can be moved to the top of the queue, and responsible crews alerted to their changes in responsibilities.

The benefits of a computerized work order management system

All in all, automation is essential for accelerating the work order life cycle and freeing up labor in your maintenance department.

Here are a few of the most important ways an automated, centralized work order management software platform can reduce repetition, remove error and improve your maintenance program.

  • A single source of truth. Pen and paper, whiteboards and standalone spreadsheets all have the potential to produce “versions” of work orders and related documents. Work requesters and maintenance crews alike should never have to wonder which version is the “right” one. With a centralized record-keeping system, they won’t have to. A cloud-based, multi-platform application can keep all work orders and related information in a single repository.
  • Ensuring accountability. Tedious, repetitive processes make it all too easy for documentation and follow-up to fall by the wayside. By automating work order generation and assignment—and by clarifying priorities—you can make it easy for maintenance crews to understand their responsibilities. Likewise, a digital system makes it easy to document when and how work orders were completed.
  • Auto-generated work orders. Any preventive maintenance program will involve repetitive inspections and repairs. Instead of manually creating those work orders every time, lean on a recurring scheduling system to create and assign them on your behalf.
  • Inventory integration. Between tools, replacement parts and heavy machinery, every work order puts a demand on your inventory. When your work orders are integrated with an inventory management system, you can ensure you’re always stocked enough for your maintenance crews to complete their jobs. You can even auto-generate purchase orders as replacement parts and other consumables are used up.
  • Flexible work order deployment. In a large enterprise with multiple facilities and job sites, delaying work orders wastes time and lengthens the work order life cycle. With an automated system for generating, triaging and assigning work orders, however, maintenance crews can receive new orders while they’re in the field or on the road. They can even be redirected to higher-priority tasks as needs arise.
  • Fully integrated mobile access. A software system is only useful if people use it. To encourage maintenance crews, safety managers, foremen and other on-the-go personnel to leverage your work order management system, you’ll need a platform they can access from their smartphones and tablets. With a fully integrated mobile CMMS, you can provide these personnel the ability to view, update and close out work orders with minimal delay.

Achieve reliable work order tracking with ManagerPlus

Work orders encompass more than just maintenance assignments and completion dates. Every maintenance task potentially affects a variety of organizational functions, including inventory management, preventive maintenance scheduling, and the overall productivity of your facilities, properties and job sites.

To address all of these functions and fully realize the benefits of work order automation, you need more than a work order tracking tool. You need a comprehensive enterprise asset management system (EAM). With an EAM software that centralizes data and connects the dots between work orders, work requests and the stakeholders they affect, you’ll be better equipped to make decisions about hiring, purchasing and work allocation.

The ManagerPlus Lightning enterprise asset management platform is the leading choice for fleet, construction, manufacturing and facilities managers. Lightning includes:

  • Automated work order generation and assignment
  • Integrate work orders with inventory and procurement
  • On-the-fly notifications and priority changes
  • Customizable work order metrics and analysis
  • Full mobile access for on-the-go crews

To learn more about how ManagerPlus can help you with work order tracking and other downstream tasks, schedule a personalized demo.

About the author


ManagerPlus is the preferred solution across the most asset-intensive industries, including Fortune 500 companies, to improve reliability and minimize downtime.
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