What Is a Work Order?

October 31, 2022

What Is a Work Order?

A work order (WO) 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 WOs 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 those in facilities management still rely on paper records.

scheduled work order

What Is the Purpose of a Work Order?

The primary purpose of a WO is to provide precise details of scheduled maintenance tasks. The documents also serve as official authorizations to service equipment. Maintenance technicians often initiate maintenance requests after identifying parts’ problems during routine inspections and audits. 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 WO and assign it to an available technician. The best ones provide detailed information to complete the requested tasks; informational fields for estimating labor costs, replacement parts, and 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 WO?

Successful completion of maintenance tasks largely depends on how detailed the order is. Incomplete information can result in costly errors. A standard maintenance WO 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 maintenance staff complete WOs and managers review them for verification after assignments.

The Maintenance Work Order Process

Work order management is crucial to creating a smooth workflow. WOs 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, stakeholders can create work requests digitally on a CMMS platform or manually logged via phone or text message. 

Step 2: Creating Work Orders

Maintenance supervisors usually review requests and, if approved, create a WO. Not all work requests receive the necessary approval. Managers can deny work requests if a technician has already completed the reported problem 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 WOs to Technicians

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

Step 4: Closing WOs

Maintenance technicians should close the WO 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 tasks

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

Types of Work Orders

Different types 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 are informed by manufacturer recommendations, organizational maintenance policies, regulatory requirements, or asset performance. Robust asset management requires a robust preventive maintenance system.
  • Emergency Work Orders: Emergency maintenance issues trigger WOs that affect production or safety. Depending on the urgency or type of equipment downtime, 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 maintenance operations.

Notably, WOs 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. The key is that your system needs to flow smoothly from technicians to teams to management. Teams that deploy mobile devices that use a CMMS with built-in chat and real-time data are able to respond quickly from the field. No need to go back to the office to get a hard copy work request.

Run Your Work Orders through a CMMS

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, like MaintainX, for their purchase orders, asset inventory, and work orders have better productivity KPIs than those that still rely on paper records.


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Caroline Eisner
Caroline Eisner
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