Practical Implementation of Work Order [Back] Logs

I interviewed a mine operations manager in Newcastle, Australia, who said, “I have no idea what work orders or reliability improvements have been finished in the past week or which ones will be done in the near future.”

Being the “detective consultant” I went to the maintenance manager looking for answers.

She said, “Operations puts ‘priority 1’ on EVERY work order, so which one do you think I should do first? The one marked priority 1 or the one marked priority 1?

Since all of them are equally important, it must not matter WHICH &@#”% work order we take care of first!”

I asked, very carefully, if the situation had been discussed with the operations manager, but the only response I got was a cold stare.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise; most people know the importance of communication, but as a consultant you have to tread carefully to help find neutral ground on which to establish a set of standards [priority rules] around work orders (WO) to even make communication possible.

Your work order [back] log is part of these standards [priority rules] that lay the foundation for smooth collaboration between operations and maintenance.

A well-functioning work order [back] log is a condition for communication and cooperation since it contains critical information enabling a well-functioning flow.

Examples of information that should be found in the work order [back] log include:

  • What WOs will be completed this week?
  • What WOs are scheduled for next week?
  • What WOs where finished last week?
  • What machines is operations preparing, and scheduling production stops for? (decided jointly)
  • If we don’t have time for all WOs, which ones will we skip?
  • Who carries out what WO?
  • How many man-hours do we have in the work order [back] log?

In my experience, operations has a tendency to want to mark ‘priority 1’ on pretty much everything.

It is also common that maintenance has no clue what WOs are supposed to be completed next week, and neither time estimations nor priorities are specified on most orders.

How can we improve the situation?

A good start would be for operations and maintenance to create a set of standards for WOs and work order [back] logs – together.

  1. Create a system for prioritizing (need help? Click here)
  2. Set a time for a weekly work order [back] log meeting in which it’s decided which WOs should be scheduled, which should be carried out next week, and the overall status of all WOs scheduled for this week as well as a list of which ones were finished last week.
  3. Do an inventory of the work order [back] log once a month until the new work process is flowing smoothly.

When the set of standards is established, the work order log has to be cleared.

First, a good way of doing this is to spend a few hours every Friday afternoon:

  1. Removing all work orders that are already finished, along with those you think will not be done.
  2. Prioritizing each work order according to the priority rules (standards?)
  3. Estimating the number of hours needed for each work order.

After an initial ”cleaning” of the work order [back] log, effective communication can begin between operations and maintenance during weekly meetings.

Lastly, current, and future work is looked over collectively.

Coordinate production stops and when maintenance has machines available. Priorities are decided on all new WOs— this should be done collectively during the meeting. 

Further improve work order [back] log by measuring work load.

 There are a couple of main work order [back] log types to keep separated:

  1. Approved WOs – work orders that are approved, but not planned.
  2. WOs under planning – work orders that have been given to the planner.
  3. Planned WOs – work orders ready for scheduling.

1+2+3 is equal to work order [back] log.

In order to continuously measure the work load within an area or a group, you’ll take the total number of hours for all WOs (1+2+3) and divide with the number of people and multiply by 40 (as in hours in the work week.)


Total amount of hours (1+2+3) = 800

Number of technicians in the group = 10

800 / (10*40) = 2 weeks.

Theoretically, it takes 2 weeks to work through the whole work order [back] log. I realize that you have sickness, training, and etcetera. For that you can use the factor =0.6 which would give 3.3 weeks for the work order [back] log.

If you trend the figure from week to week, you’ll get a pretty good idea of the work load for each group, area and so on.

In order for work order [back] log to be efficient and work smoothly, it has to be reinforced by weekly and possibly even daily meetings. You also need a planning process and a scheduling process. I’ll write more about this in future posts.

I’m interested in hearing from you. Do you have any tips for, or questions about how to implement a good work order [back] log system?

Join our discussion on this topic at our forum. Search for IDCON’s discussion page.


Torbjörn Idhammar, President of IDCON, INC.

Raleigh, NC, USA.

+1 919 723 2680 (direct) or [email protected].

At IDCON, we understand the pressure you face trying to build a reliable plant.
We provide side-by-side reliability and maintenance consulting and training designed to keep your equipment running.

For over 45 years, we’ve partnered with 100s of manufacturing plants around the world to eliminate the costs and the pressure caused by unreliable equipment. And we’d love to do the same for you.

Contact us today to see how we can help you keep your plant running.

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Torbjörn Idhammar

President & CEO, IDCON Inc. Reliability and Maintenance Consultant

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