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Backlog Management

Although the situation may appear random and chaotic, there are several common symptoms of poor backlog management. From my observations of various maintenance demanding industries, these may include:

  • Many duplicate works orders. This is one of the main issues causing waste in this area. Particularly if undiscovered they can result in wasted resources investigating already completed tasks. There are also the effects of re-ordering un-required materials and additional planning effort.
  • Non-standardized free text entries. Affecting future analysis and continuous improvement. This can also lead to confusion in planning and execution of works.
  • No indication of forward resource requirements. Giving only best guess indications as to the true manning levels required.
  • Poor coding of work orders (No business rules to guide these) Affecting the future analysis and continuous improvement function. This can contribute to important works being buried among the work order listing.
  • Little focus on priorities, many un-prioritized work orders. This results in corrective actions on the whim either the supervisor, or section manager. As there is nothing substantial to use as a guide, or give a rating relevant to other backlog works.
  • Many tasks not kept in the backlog system. Maintained in lists external to the corporate system. Faith in the backlog system, and the maintenance delivery systems in general, are eroded.
  • Un-required works passing through the work order system, resulting in unnecessary expenditure.

As well as all of these issues, an accurately managed backlog is the precursor to effective planning and scheduling systems, which is a key driver of labor productivity.

Gaining control of the maintenance backlog is initially a difficult task. Requiring a great deal of effort and process development. Keeping it under control is the product of correctly targeted systems applied in a disciplined manner by skilled planners, supervisors and all involved in the work order process.

A correctly maintained backlog system will provide many benefits to the organisation. The system has control over the quality of tasks to be performed, quality of data used in this execution and the quality of data returning to the system or files for future analysis or improvement. Maintenance cannot move past the reactive stage without a firm control over this area.

Work Order Life Cycles

A clear-cut work order life cycle needs firstly to be developed. This needs to cover the full life of a works order from its inception to its later roles in analysis. Points for quality reviews need to be established for both data integrity control, as well as suitability for execution.

Once the system for this has been established, the process needs to be clearly communicated to all involved in it. Particular emphasis is needed on the role that the individual holds and any relationships to others in the process.

The following example of a work order life cycle is a process I have seen used or adapted many times, each with an almost immediate effect. However this system needs to be developed with the goals of each specific corporation in mind. Differences in creation criteria, forward activity forecasting, and standardization levels for free text as well as methods for controlling work orders are common areas of difference.


As the foundation of all the system, specific focus can assist greatly here. Setting of criteria for what constitutes a works order.

Daily reviews by authorizer / planner for conformance to business standards and rules. E.g. Classification, Priority, clarity of text, sufficiency of detail for further works. This can best be accomplished by a request system, using the planner to code and manage the work order details. The request system does need to contain a strong measure of specific data however.

Integration of the daily work request / work order reports into the morning operations meetings.

  • Review of Breakdown works orders
  • Discussion as to other higher priority ones.
  • Backlog Life

It is advisable to always have at least one weeks planned works ahead. Although the PM schedules can generally be planned/scheduled out way in advance there is generally not enough for 100% capacity scheduling of labor hours for more than three - five weeks And with weekly scheduling regimes, and opportune windows, this is a good minimum level.

During this life the work order needs to pass through various controls and processes:

  • Planning
  • Resourcing and $cost estimating
  • Priority reviews
  • Age by priority reviews
  • Scheduling of "Planned" works only
  • Execution and Data capture processes.
  • Execution and planning analysis and exception reporting
  • Reliability reporting

All of these are vital steps that need to be explored and organized to create an efficient system. Planning needs to be to a certain level of information, parts to be within a certain period, documentation prepared, the work executed in a safe and timely fashion and the data needs to be of high quality for reviewing the system.

By applying controls, accurate processes and of course role-specific training in these areas the backlog becomes a more efficient tools for use reducing waste of labor hours, parts resources and planning time. Other areas of course need to be focused on but this will provide the base for later improvements.

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