What Is a Work Order?

January 11, 2022

What Is a Work Order?

A work order is a document outlining instructions for a scheduled maintenance job, including information about who should complete the task, the process involved, and when the task needs to be completed. Operational managers assign work orders to maintenance technicians in both paper and digital formats. According to Plant Engineering’s 2019 Maintenance Report, approximately 58 percent of facilities rely on computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) to manage their work orders, 45 percent use spreadsheets, and 39 percent of facilities still rely on paper records.

What Is the Purpose of a Work Order?

The primary purpose of a work order is to provide precise details of scheduled maintenance tasks. The documents also serve as official authorizations to service equipment. Maintenance technicians often initiate work requests after identifying parts’ problems during routine inspections. Facility users, customers, and other stakeholders can create a work request after noticing a problem at a facility.

Upon receiving such a request, maintenance managers create a work order and assign it to an available technician. The best ones provide detailed information on completing the requested tasks; informational fields for estimating labor costs, replacement parts, other relevant expenses; and historical data on asset maintenance.

Industries That Use Work Orders

Several industries use work orders. The most common ones include:

  • Residential and commercial building services 
  • Field service companies
  • Manufacturing
  • Managed computer services
  • General contractors
  • Utility companies 
  • Mining industry
  • Transportation industry
  • Aviation industry
  • Government institutions
  • Science and research industry

What Should Be in a Work Order?

Successful completion of maintenance tasks largely depends on how detailed work orders are. Incomplete information can result in costly errors. A standard work order should contain the following pieces of information:

  • Location of asset needing work
  • Description of asset
  • Description of problem
  • Scope of work to be completed
  • List of needed tools and replacement parts
  • List of safety procedures to be aware of on the job
  • Details of person or department that requested it
  • Date when it was created and submitted
  • Projected date of completion
  • Expected hours of work and actual number of hours used for completion 

Work orders can also include checklists for completing the assigned tasks and urgency priority levels. Managers can also attach standard operating procedures (SOPs), asset maintenance histories, manuals, and images to help maintenance technicians complete them more efficiently. Some organizations also include notes with observations, such as the frequency of the problem and techniques for troubleshooting the given piece of equipment. These notes help technicians complete work orders and managers review them for verification after assignments.

The Maintenance Workflow Process

Work orders usually go through a 4-step process: 

Step 1: Submitting Work Requests 

Machine operators, equipment inspectors, or employees from other departments can all submit work requests that managers turn into work orders. In residential organizations, tenants often submit work requests. Depending on the type of technology a maintenance department uses, work requests are digitally created on a CMMS platform or manually logged via phone or text message. 

Step 2: Creating Work Orders

Maintenance supervisors usually review work requests and, if approved, create a work order. Not all work requests receive the necessary approval. Managers can deny work requests if a reported problem has already been resolved or the task doesn’t fall under his or her department. If resources for the request’s completion aren’t available, the manager can schedule the task as a “deferred maintenance activity.”

Step 3: Assigning Work Orders to Technicians

Maintenance technicians receive digital or analog instructions on when and how to do the job. Organizations that use CMMS software automatically assign work orders to technicians. Depending on the priority level, technicians complete the job immediately or schedule it for later.

Step 4: Closing Work Orders

Maintenance technicians should close the work order as soon as they’ve performed the assigned tasks. Some of the details they’ll be asked to provide include: 

  • Amount of time spent on task
  • Replacement parts used 
  • Comments and images
  • Completion notes, such as observations beyond assigned task.

CMMS software automatically updates the maintenance log on the given asset after a work order is closed. Maintenance supervisors can then review the completed ones and decide on the next course of action.

Types of Work Orders

Different types of work orders include:

  • Inspection Work Orders: These are intended to test and verify the functionality of an asset, its components, and systems.
  • Preventive Maintenance (PM) Work Orders: These include routine maintenance activities intended to preserve an asset’s functionality. These work orders are informed by manufacturer recommendations, organizational maintenance policies, regulatory requirements, or asset performance.
  • Emergency Work Orders: Emergency maintenance issues trigger work orders that affect production or safety. Depending on the urgency, managers may not have generated a work order prior to the problem.
  • Electrical Work Orders: These include maintenance tasks to repair existing electrical equipment or install new parts. 
  • Safety Work Orders: These strive to protect employees from harm. They include activities such as chemical cleanups and repairs to prevent accidental slips.
  • Special Project Work Orders: These provide instructions for installing new assets, increasing productivity, and modernizing operations.

Notably, work orders are both planned and unplanned. Emergency work orders are an example of unplanned work orders. And, as mentioned above, they can be initiated internally within an organization or externally by customers.


Work orders can help maintenance teams efficiently and effectively streamline their activities. Well-planned task assignments increase the efficiency of PM strategies and reduce the need for reactive maintenance. They enable maintenance personnel to define roles, track tasks, document information, and make workflows smoother. Furthermore, they’re a great source of an asset’s maintenance history and provide useful insights for making maintenance decisions. Organizations that use modern CMMS solutions for their work orders have better productivity KPIs than those that still rely on paper records.

Caroline Eisner
Caroline Eisner
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