What Is Pencil Whipping?

May 10, 2022

Despite how it sounds, a “pencil whip” in manufacturing terms is not the act of hitting something (or someone) with a pencil. It’s a slang term for someone who rushes through a task or checklist, OK’ing items before thoroughly looking them over. 

What Is a Pencil Whip?

It may sound like a martial arts or professional wrestling move, but pencil whipping shouldn’t be celebrated. Specifically, it refers to signing off on a maintenance task (or something similar) that hasn’t been completed.

We’ve all probably done some form of pencil whipping. For example, you may have pencil whipped your latest cell phone contract by scrolling down to the bottom of the agreement and just signing it. You probably didn’t read or review any of the terms or conditions behind the agreement. You’re whipping through it just to sign off on it.

In industry maintenance, pencil whipping is improperly approving anything that is designed to prevent a potential breakdown, safety hazard, or inventory check, among others.

How and Why Does Pencil Whipping Occur?

Based on how we just defined pencil whipping, you may think it occurs out of worker laziness. This isn’t true. Pencil whipping can occur for a variety of reasons. These include:

Worker Shortages

Does your firm employ too few workers with too many tasks? If so, it’s only natural for them to budget their time accordingly.

“The Great Attrition is brewing a labor shortage unlike any other the U.S. has faced historically. With employees taking on non-traditional forms of employment, retiring early, starting their own businesses, or simply choosing to take a break, organizations across sectors are struggling to meet the demand.”


A good maintenance management workflow involves four stages known as PDCA: planning, doing, checking, and acting. 

The first two stages refer to performing the work, and the latter two refer to assessing and analyzing it. Unfortunately, overworked managers and technicians may bypass the assessing and analyzing aspects of workflows because they simply need to complete the work at hand.

Improper Management

Pencil whipping occurs when management isn’t aligned with the workforce. When there’s a disconnect between management and other workers, productivity can suffer. Management often initiates new directives or goals without considering the workforce’s needs or a strategy to achieve the goals. Pencil whipping occurs when management emphasizes numbers and results and doesn’t focus on the steps and support workers need to achieve them.

Lack of Accountability

Finally, when creating work orders and procedure checklists, be clear about how technicians can indicate that they correctly perform each step. For example, in MaintainX, procedures can include specific fields for technicians to indicate they have followed all the steps. 

Managers can use specific field types that require specific responses, not simply checkboxes. If a technician attempts to input the wrong type of response in a field, say a number when text is required, MaintainX rejects the input. 

Common Examples of Pencil Whipping

In a manufacturing environment, pencil whipping can mean the difference between staying productive and meeting deadlines and unplanned downtime and safety issues. 

Studies show that unplanned downtime can cost firms up to thousands of dollars per minute. Studies also show that a safe environment is a more productive and happier environment overall.

So, where does pencil whipping typically occur in a manufacturing setting? Here’s a look:

Preventive Maintenance

Robust preventive maintenance and routine inspection plans ensure your equipment operates effectively and efficiently. Preventive maintenance also can significantly reduce the risk of equipment malfunction and unplanned downtime. 

In addition, pencil whipping preventive maintenance can lead management to believe that its equipment is being correctly maintained when, in reality, it’s not.

Safety Checks

Every manufacturing facility has safety checks to comply with OSHA guidelines. If there’s one list you don’t want to whip through, it’s work orders involving safety. The goal of any business should be to send its staff home at the end of the day in the same condition that they arrived in.

Pencil whipping through safety checklists also can result in hefty OSHA fines. In addition, charges may be brought against a firm or individual who overlooked various safety aspects in the event of an injury or fatality.


Another major productivity killer is taking inaccurate stock of inventory. Manufacturers need parts to maintain equipment, and in a perfect world, their parts inventory is always well stocked, so downtime and equipment failure are minimized. But if a worker whips through inventory forms and provides inaccurate stock counts, your mean time to repair (MTTR) and other downtime KPIs will skyrocket.

How to Prevent Pencil Whipping

The good news is that various strategies can resolve or discourage pencil whipping. However, it’s usually not just one big thing that can eliminate pencil whipping from your operations. Many small things can add up in the long run. Here’s a look at some strategies:

Invest in a CMMS

A CMMS, or computerized maintenance management system, makes working through checklists easier and more convenient for your workers. It also allows management to check in on progress in real-time. For example, activity logs can time stamp specific actions. 

Connect with Employees

By connecting with your workers and talking about what’s working and what’s not, you will gain insights to improve your maintenance operations. You also can often improve the culture in your workplace and make everyone feel more valued.

Random Checks

With robust CMMS reporting features, leaders can quickly determine which policies are weak, where safety is being overlooked, and which machines cause the most problems.

In addition, tracking asset health and maintenance performance allows management to fine-tune strategies to reduce downtime, improve safety, and increase asset longevity.

Work Order Software
Caroline Eisner
Caroline Eisner
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