What is a Work Order? A Guide on How They Are Used

Last Updated: January 24th, 2023
Researched and Written by: Russ Davidson

Work orders, sometimes called job orders or service orders, are the lifeblood of your maintenance department. They outline what workers need to do and in what order, and include follow-up actions from inspections and audits. Mastering maintenance work orders so your operation can run smoothly is the first step to ensuring your business can avoid downtime and stay as close to 100% machine uptime as possible.

What is a Work Order?

A work order is a formal document that details a maintenance task or job that needs to be completed, as well as outlining the process for completing the job. Work orders stem from customer requests or are created internally. Work orders are a part of maintenance operations and have checklists that detail follow-ups to inspections or audits.

Work orders are a core part of computerized maintenance management systems. CMMS software automates the work order process by allowing for job tracking, recurrent scheduling, reporting, and closing of tasks. This type of tool is a key part of an organization’s maintenance operation–as work orders help maintenance managers and maintenance technicians organize, assign, prioritize, track, and complete key tasks. Work orders can also be created through dedicated work order software that offers a variety of work order templates and a request/approval process.

The functionality offered by a work order management system includes:

  • Order creation: Includes templates and guided tools
  • Requests: Allow different employee levels to submit work order requests and route them to the appropriate manager or technician for approval
  • Scheduling and resource allocation: Identity what equipment and materials are required to complete a job, and/or the employee qualified for the work. Cross-reference schedules to ensure a repair time works and avoid double-booking
  • Change orders: Make changes to active work orders after it’s already been approved or created
  • Completion monitoring: Track the completion of jobs in real-time. Benchmark key intervals in the completion of work tasks and accurately predict work completion.
  • Reporting: Monitor key performance indicators on completed work such as error rates, adherence to quality standards, and time to completion. See who has performed the work, what equipment was used, and how improvements could be made. Export data to spreadsheets.
eMaint CMMS work order software showing a request
eMaint CMMS allows for end users to put in requests for work orders which need to be approved by management. Management can assign appropriate priorities to the work order depending on the situation or type of work needed.

When Do You Need Work Order Management?

The biggest difference in when you may require a work order depends on the timing of the repair. This is a maintenance management decision your business needs to make based on their abilities, as all businesses will have varying levels of success with different methods.

For the most part, you’ll be handling maintenance requests either before or after a problem has occurred:

  • Preventive Maintenance: Occurs before a problem has arisen. Helps businesses service equipment on a regular basis to ensure the equipment maintains satisfactory operating conditions and lessens the likelihood of failure. Saves time on unplanned corrective maintenance.
  • Corrective Maintenance: Occurs after a problem has arisen. Identifies and fixes failed equipment so it can be returned to an operating status.

Types of Work Orders

Work orders primarily come in four different types: on-demand, preventive, internal, and third-party.

  • On-Demand Work Order: Anyone can submit a maintenance work order request through the open portal. This streamlines communication to your maintenance team by providing them with only one area to check in on for incoming requests and ticket reviews. Best used for assets you want to run to failure, such as light bulbs.
  • Preventive Work Order: Scheduled maintenance planned in advance. Involves routine inspections and audits in order to prevent downtime. These tasks are assigned based on leveraging historical data or by machine sensors. Work orders are scheduled in advance and technicians can close them out as they go.
  • Internal Work Order: Work orders completed by someone on the maintenance team–usually originating from someone within the organization and sent to someone else in the same organization.
  • Third-Party Work Order: Work orders that require the technical ability of people outside of the current maintenance department. The workflow of this work order process includes contacting outside professionals to come in and complete jobs your current maintenance technicians may not be familiar with.

Difference Between Work Order and Purchase Order

Work orders and purchase orders are very important in today’s modern business. Despite their resemblance in name, the two play uniquely different roles. Work orders usually deal with labor and tasks while purchase orders deal with parts and items. Purchase orders tend to be included within a work order since work orders will require new parts or materials in order to complete the tasks outlined. However, the opposite is not usually true.

Work orders can be used both internally and externally, and primarily focus on maintenance. For example, a worker on a shop floor may submit a work request for a faulty machine press, which triggers a work order. Work orders are tasks or jobs that are generally scheduled and assigned to an available employee. The work completed can be for customer goods (such as a faulty air conditioning unit at an apartment building) or for company-owned equipment (such as the faulty machine press mentioned above).

Purchase orders provide needed information that allows companies to purchase goods and services from their preferred suppliers. This form summarizes the details about the purchase so that businesses and vendors are on the same page about what needs to be purchased and any agreements with regard to payment.

In the above example of a faulty machine press, in order to complete the maintenance job, a purchase order may need to be created for replacement parts. Purchasing thus has a key role in the creation of a work order form.

Benefits of Work Order Management Software

  • More Efficient Approvals Processes: Work coded to specific areas may require different levels of approval. The level of sophistication found in different work order tracking solutions can vary widely and is an important aspect to consider when reviewing products.
  • Optimize Equipment and Labor Resources: Determining who does work, what is required to complete it, and when it should be done, is an important task within work order management in order to save time. Work order management programs offer a variety of tools to manage scheduling and resource allocation.
  • Faster Turnaround Times: Spot and address opportunities to complete work quicker–often in real-time and reduce the administrative overhead related to processing work orders.
  • Decreased Downtime: Manage resource scheduling allows for the optimization of your resources and decreased downtime. When work orders are used as part of CMMS software, downtime will look to be decreased through preventative maintenance.
  • More Accurate Timeline Updates for Customers: Predict work timelines based on both historical information and real-time resource availability means fewer instances of customers being disappointed by timeline overruns. Transparency into work completion status also means that in the instances where you are exceeding completion timelines, you’re able to identify it much quicker and proactively address the issue.
  • Lower Equipment Costs: Make sure that load-sharing and scheduling of equipment get the most out of your resources before additional ones need to be purchased.
  • Improved Quality Control: Database documents such as equipment manuals, schematics, and process instructions. This increases the likelihood that instructions are fully detailed, received, and executed.
Infor Service Management Work Order Software Scheduling Module
Infor Service Management has schedules that can include mutliple jobs already scheduled or ones that need to be scheduled, which can give customers clarity on how fast a job can be completed.
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