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K-12 Workflow Management Blog

Managing the Work Order Process in 6 Steps

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With more than half of U.S. public school districts in need of updating or replacing equipment in their facilities, school maintenance teams can expect to spend a lot of time dealing with breakdowns, malfunctions, and outages in the coming years. And when those maintenance tasks start piling up, effective work order management could be the only thing that stands between your maintenance team and complete chaos.

The primary purpose of a work order is to give an overview of a maintenance service request and the workflow that a technician will need to follow. By optimizing your work order process, you can lower your facilities management costs and make your team more efficient.

Download the checklist or discover below all you need to know about work orders, including different types and what they should include. We’ll also walk you through the six essential steps of a successful work order process, so you can enhance your work order management and upgrade your productivity.

What is a Work Order?

A work order is a document that provides maintenance department team members with instructions for a task that they need to complete. It usually has multiple sections, including:

  • A task description that explains what work the technician will perform
  • A priority level that identifies how urgent the work is
  • The scope of work that describes the extent of the issue
  • The names of workers assigned to the task
  • The expected outcome of the repairs
  • An estimated completion date for the work

In the past, maintenance teams often wrote this information by hand and saved it in spreadsheets. Today, many organizations use a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to generate, categorize, and store their work orders. CMMS software simplifies facilities management and makes your work order process more consistent.

Types of Work Orders

There are several different kinds of work orders that you can use with your CMMS software. Some of the most common include:

  • Standard Work Order: This type of work order is generally for non-emergency tasks that don’t qualify as routine maintenance activities, such as setting up a new piece of equipment.
  • Emergency Work Order: An emergency work order is part of reactive maintenance, where something breaks down and needs immediate repairs.
  • Preventive Maintenance Work Order: Maintenance departments use this work order for tasks that occur on a regular schedule, such as changing filters.
  • Inspection Work Order: Rather than instructing maintenance technicians to perform a repair, an inspection work order directs them to audit and evaluate the condition of an asset.
  • Corrective Maintenance Work Order: If a technician discovers a problem while performing an inspection or routine maintenance, they generate a corrective maintenance work order to address the issue before it becomes a bigger problem.

Because it allows you to collect and track data and schedule maintenance in advance, a work order management system is useful whether you’re focused on work orders for preventive vs. predictive maintenance.

Benefits of Streamlining Work Orders

Students, teachers, and administrators all benefit in the long run when facilities managers streamline their work order processes. Advantages include:

  • Increased productivity: Even one failing piece of equipment can put a strain on a school. A solid maintenance strategy gets assets and equipment back online quickly, so everyone can get back to their work or studies.
  • Significant cost savings: Experiencing equipment downtime, buying new equipment to replace broken assets, and wasting maintenance technician time can strain a facilities management budget. A strategic approach to work orders and asset management cuts back on those problems and, in turn, saves money.
  • Maintained regulatory compliance: Some equipment malfunctions pose a threat to the health of students or staff. Using work order management software to keep up with maintenance activities, such as the tasks on a playground inspection checklist, helps ensure that you consistently meet legal requirements for facility safety.

When you improve your work order process, you create an environment that promotes health and learning, both of which support better student outcomes.

The Six-Step Work Order Management Process

Before you can develop a strong workflow, effective work orders, and logical task distribution, you’ll need to understand the work order life cycle. These are the different essential steps that your school should take to manage your work order process for maintenance tasks. Using a standardized work order management system will help you avoid common pitfalls that create safety, budgetary, and regulatory complications for facilities managers.

Step 1: Task Identification

The first stage of the work order management process is identifying an issue that needs resolution. In some cases, this will be a planned identification, where the maintenance department generates work orders for tasks that they know they’ll have to complete. This might include routine inspections or maintenance, such as checking fluid levels.

Unplanned identifications occur when others within the school system notice that an asset, system, or piece of equipment has broken down or experiences a malfunction. For example, if the HVAC system abruptly stops working, a school administrator would make an unplanned identification and ask for assistance from the maintenance department.

Step 2: New Work Request Submission

When someone in your school notices a problem, they send a work request to your maintenance team. These requests should include detailed information about the issue, such as:

  • The type of problem, such as electrical, plumbing, or heating
  • The building or facility where it’s located
  • Any assets or equipment that the issue affected
  • The name of the person requesting assistance
  • Images of the problem

These maintenance requests can come in many different forms, but not all of them are equally effective.

  • Verbal requests don’t include any written documentation, so miscommunications and misunderstandings are inevitable.
  • Paper requests can easily get lost or might have illegible handwriting.
  • Emailed requests can get caught up in the daily deluge of messages, so a manager might not realize they need to issue a new work order.

These types of work requests also lack efficiency and organization. While you can compile the information from paper, verbal, and email requests in spreadsheets, manually entering all the information is time-consuming.

Submitting digital maintenance requests using work order management software eliminates all these issues. They collect vital details, present them clearly, and ensure that all submissions are routed to a single, approved location. You won’t have to worry about requests being randomly spoken to a team member, submitted through an email to a department manager, or written on a spare sheet of paper and left on a desk. Instead, you can gather all the information you need and use it to generate digital work orders, which you pass on to the maintenance team.

Step 3: Evaluation, Prioritization & Assignment

Maintenance departments often receive dozens of work requests within a single day — sometimes in a single hour. To track and complete work orders as promptly as possible and avoid a backlog, your work order process must include a system for reviewing and prioritizing them. Issues that could present a safety hazard or result in the school temporarily closing get immediate attention, while minor concerns are delayed.

For example, if a heating system completely shuts down during the middle of winter, the maintenance team has to move fast so that students can safely attend school. On the other hand, if a classroom thermostat is off by a few degrees, the work is important but not an emergency. Although researchers have found that thermal discomfort can decrease student performance, the issue isn’t putting anyone at risk or preventing them from learning, so it can wait while your team resolves more pressing problems.

You can take a manual approach to prioritization and work order assignments, where a manager goes through every incoming request, determines how urgent it is, and assigns it to a technician. However, an automated maintenance program that handles work order creation and prioritization is far more efficient. It determines priority levels based on the type of request and uses a set of pre-determined criteria to route tasks to the appropriate person or department.

Step 4: Work Order Effort & Task Completion

With their work orders in hand, your maintenance team can get started. They’ll review all the information included in the order, collect any necessary tools or equipment, and proceed to the site to get to work on resolving the issue.

Providing technicians with historical data allows them to complete their work quickly and avoid repeating any previous mistakes. For instance, if the maintenance department has repaired an air conditioning unit multiple times, their work order should include information about what happened in the past and what they should look at now. This allows them to achieve the best possible repairs in the shortest amount of time.

Step 5: Work Order Documentation & Ticket Closure

Even once a task is done, the work order isn’t complete until the responding technician updates it with notes about the repair and officially closes it out. In their ticket update, they should include details about the work performed, add images that show the repair process and results, and provide a final status on the equipment post-repair.

This information proves that they performed the work properly and assists other maintenance team members when performing additional repairs in the future. After inserting this information, the technician closes out the ticket to show that the work is finished.

Step 6: Ticket Review and Follow-Up

Closed work orders contain useful information that managers can use to refine their maintenance processes and strengthen their teams. They provide insights into possible issues with safety and efficiency and allow maintenance departments to ensure that all technicians are meeting their goals and following procedures correctly.

Once tickets are marked complete, maintenance managers should review them, focusing on metrics such as:

  • Time spent on the repair
  • Repair processes used
  • Total time between request submission and work completion dates
  • Concerns about the condition of equipment or assets

Ticket analytics allow you to optimize your maintenance operations so that you can meet your key performance indicators (KPIs) by minimizing downtime, cutting costs, and shortening resolution times.

Work Order Process Best Practices

Facilities and maintenance managers have individual approach to work orders based on the size of their team and structure of their department. However, when you implement a new work order process — or adjust the process you already have in place — these practices will increase your chances of success.

Create Work Request Templates Intentionally

Templates save significant time and guarantees that your maintenance team has access to everything they need each time they receive a work order. At the same time, including information they don’t need is distracting and can cause unnecessary confusion.

When designing templates for work order requests, think carefully about the specific questions your technicians need answers to before they can complete their repairs. Then integrate that information into a work order template that the system autofills and sends to technicians.

Define Team Roles and Responsibilities

The members of your maintenance team have separate strengths, experiences, and backgrounds that define what types of work they can and should be doing. Putting those points in writing helps your automated work order system assign workers correctly the first time. Assign each team member with a role and a list of responsibilities that are tailored to their abilities to avoid reassigning tasks.

Use Software Automation to Track Work Order Life Cycles

Monitoring your work order life cycle is essential to smooth maintenance operations. A digital work order management system, such as Incident IQ, has the functionality to not only prioritize and assign requests but also track and display key information about your team’s performance. This allows you to identify possible bottlenecks or repeated repairs. Schedule a demo to see Incident IQ’s ticketing software in action.

Use Mobile Devices for On-the-Go Ticket Updates

Maintenance workers aren’t usually tied to a desk, so you need a way to provide them with updates no matter where they are. Fortunately, mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, allow you to share changes instantly.

Install a software solution with mobile integrations, such as Incident IQ mobile, on your team’s iOS or Android devices. They can see the status and details of their work orders in real-time and perform repairs correctly.

Maintain Work Order Process Compliance

Confirming that your maintenance team members are following the processes, goals, and standards your department has set is vital to keeping everyone safe and productive. While reviewing and managing work orders, look closely at each technician’s notes to make sure that they’re completing repairs in the way that they should. In addition, look for warning signs, such as if they’re struggling to stick to your maintenance schedule. This could indicate that you need to revise your processes or provide your team with more training.