February 2017

Maintenance and Reliability

Maintain the simplicity of maintenance work processes

In the processing industries, companies rely on their physical assets to guarantee that they are always producing at the same capacity, or preferably higher, than they began. To achieve these high levels of production, assets must be readily available.

Asquini, M., T.A. Cook Consultants Inc.

In the processing industries, companies rely on their physical assets to guarantee that they are always producing at the same capacity, or preferably higher, than they began. To achieve these high levels of production, assets must be readily available. The best way to reach this goal is by properly planning, scheduling and executing all preventive and corrective maintenance activities. Successful progression greatly decreases the time and energy spent on reactive activities.

Although the process demands rigor and discipline, a company’s goals can be realized through a clear and structured work order management system. This article presents the necessary elements of a simple, straightforward method to best serve organizations.


Work must first be identified through well-written, clear and thorough work requests. Once the request is submitted, it should be approved or denied within 24 hr (except those written during the weekend, or during planned outages when personnel are assigned other duties). Identifying improvement tasks in this way is the responsibility of personnel from all areas: operations, maintenance, technical, mechanical and reliability. Work orders should identify all required activities until the project’s completion, beginning with the identification of work.

All employees should possess the training and authorization to submit these proposals. Therefore, a well-structured work order management process should have a clearly established responsibility matrix (RACI) to define the roles of all parties (TABLE 1). An RACI will label team members as being responsible, an approver, consulted or simply informed (or a combination) for a particular task. Personnel must be aware of their duties and fully understand the process to participate in each step.

Three steps are necessary when approving work requests:

  • Assess the quality. A quality work request will include details of all required elements and provide sufficient information for those involved to understand what is being requested.
  • Determine if the request is in line with the maintenance strategy. A request evaluator must have special maintenance strategy knowledge and be able to supply the answers to questions such as: Are pieces of equipment allowed to run to failure? Are different types of equipment being upgraded as they require maintenance activities?
  • Decide which department handles inquiry action. The approver must decide if the inquiry truly requires action from the maintenance department, or if the operations department can perform the action alone. If the work request passes these criteria and is still valid for the routine maintenance group, it can be approved and assigned to a planning group.

Planning technicalities

Planning work is often the most technical part of work order management. This section’s intent is not to provide an exhaustive discussion of planning, but rather to describe the process and what to keep in mind while it is carried out. When work is forwarded to the planning department, it is imperative to assign that work to the correct group within an organization to best utilize the energies of the department. To determine where the approved request belongs, expert departmental organizational understanding is necessary. Whether departments are organized by craft, geography or work complexity will be crucial to determining which company unit is most apt to plan this specific set of tasks. Emergency or break-in work is unplanned in nature, and will act as a distraction if it appears in the planner’s queue. The planner may support break-in work by ordering parts or creating a basic work order, but their role should be minimal and auxiliary.

A crucial aspect of planning is prioritization, which requires input from both the operations and maintenance teams. Many factors must be considered: the level of detail required to form the best plan, the coordination of multiple crafts, the required services, the material lead times and the required completion dates, among others. Once the planning department has established priorities, it must communicate its decisions to the operations, execution and technical teams to ensure that a well-planned maintenance activity is delivered on time and on target. When interdepartmental planning is complete, the entire job is costed for the known scope, including labor, materials and services. Based on the cost of a maintenance activity, different levels of the job will require financial approval from different levels of the company.

To properly prioritize, management must review the tasks’ urgency and determine what projects to undertake, deny or postpone. Often, decisions are made to schedule and undertake the work as part of a capital project or outage. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to simply monitor the conditions and move forward only when certain parameters are met. Occasionally, the task is postponed to coincide with another fiscal year. The approved assignments are added to the backlog, where they will compete with other approved work for scheduling.

A properly managed backlog is a key factor to ensure that resources are correctly scheduled. This list should include only what has already been approved for execution. A financially responsible organization can commit to performance only once actual cost is accrued; no responsible organization commits to expenditures without the intent to follow through. Therefore, those involved in scheduling must realize that the planned backlog must be accurate. To help maintain accuracy, backlogs should be well-organized and regularly reviewed by cross-functional teams. Each functional discipline must participate in the review to ensure that the information is still valid. All jobs in the backlog should be dispositioned properly, and only jobs that are truly ready to schedule should be made a part of the scheduling process.


In the maintenance work order management process, preparation is all that has been done so far. Scheduling is where “the rubber meets the road.” To reach this point, operations must have agreed to prepare the equipment for the maintenance execution teams, and maintenance must have agreed to ensure that materials, labor and services arrive onsite permitted to work. The scheduling process will deal with both near- and long-term components. The long-term component can span from three weeks to six months. A forward-looking schedule allows operations to determine if specific assets can be available for maintenance activities depending on a variety of factors, including economic conditions, seasonality and labor resources. Similarly, grouping tasks on a specific asset can provide for synergies while equipment is out of service.

Fig. 1. Short-term workflows can form the basis for a forward-looking schedule.

Throughout each process, communication is paramount to ensure that personnel from all departments remain on the same time line. A general rule of thumb is that the loaded schedule is full for the current week, 60% full for the second week and 30% full for the third week. Companies that are just beginning work order management should focus on short-term schedules (FIG. 1). As they develop more experience, they can gauge their ability to execute against their schedules and determine what their forward-looking schedules could look like.

Maintaining the weekly schedule means equipment is ready, labor resources are assigned, materials are on hand, and services are prepared to perform the work. Each week’s schedule should be locked before the week begins. Complete compliance to the daily schedule is the ultimate goal, but it is not always possible. Open interdepartmental communication will increase the likelihood of success. Each night, the maintenance department should inform operations what tasks it will perform the following day, with a particular emphasis on where it will begin. Discussing plans that require action by operations personnel is especially important. Personnel working the shift prior to the scheduled maintenance project are responsible for ensuring that all equipment is ready and safe.


If the equipment for planned activities is not available, then employees must communicate this to the maintenance supervisor as soon as possible, so they can adjust and reassign resources. In this case, the maintenance supervisor will prepare “back pocket” work. This is work that must be done but is not necessarily a high priority, and requires minimal preparation by the operations staff. The back pocket work will be assigned in lieu of that which was previously scheduled. The maintenance supervisor is the primary responsible party before and during execution. As the crew readies itself to execute plans, the supervisor will make assignments, set expectations for progression and explain the planning package in detail to empower the group to carry out assignments competently.

In the preliminary phase, the supervisor must answer any questions from the crew, and visit the jobsite to personally ensure performance viability under present conditions. If the jobsite is ready, then the supervisor must communicate equipment requirements to operations personnel. As the crew performs, the supervisor will regularly review the quality of work, adherence to site policies and project progression. During these follow-ups, the supervisor’s site visits will be a resource to answer questions and eliminate roadblocks. Once assigned tasks are completed, the work area is clear of clutter and housekeeping has been performed, the endeavor will be considered complete. At this point, operations personnel will test the equipment and accept it back into their stewardship.

Closing the work ticket will ensure that equipment is maintained and made available for reliability and continuous improvement efforts. All costs will be assigned to the work ticket, including labor, materials and services. This information must be recorded to help develop new strategies against failure and breakdown, to lengthen the duration between repairs, and to develop preventive and predictive tasks. By maintaining these records, future decisions concerning similar equipment repairs, upgrades and replacement will have an increased likelihood of success.

Encouraging simplicity

Maintenance work order management does not need to be an overly complex process (FIG. 2). Of course, specific inputs are required for successful outputs. Communication, commitment and accuracy are imperative aspects. If a company adheres to the key steps presented here to plan and schedule activities, then assets can be reliable, available and perform as designed. The ultimate goal is for all assets to perform safely, effectively and efficiently, while generating product at the highest quality and lowest cost. HP

Fig. 2. While maintenance work order management can be simple, specific inputs are required for successful outputs.

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