Effective Backlog Management

16.10.2017

Backlog management has a number of different but interdependent focuses: Backlog Work Order Quality, Age of Backlog and Backlog Size Management. This article will focus on Backlog Work Order quality. Later editions of Maintworld-magazine will cover Time in Backlog and Backlog Size Management in more detail.

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While a maintenance backlog is critical to an effective Planning and Scheduling process, it can be viewed negatively by some groups or individuals.

In reactive organizations, putting a work order in backlog is viewed as a negative action. The assumption is made that the work order has been tossed into a black hole, never to return to the light of day. Unfortunately the nature of a reactive maintenance effort causes this belief to be correct: work orders only emerge from backlog when the condition the task is addressing has deteriorated to the point where it must be handled as an urgent or emergency work order. That, in turn, causes most work requests to be initially prioritized as urgent or emergency - piling more fuel on the fire-fighting nature of a reactive maintenance programme.

In truth, the primary purpose of a maintenance backlog of the Planning and Scheduling process is to allow the maintenance planner adequate time to plan, order and receive materials and services before the task is placed on a schedule for execution. Without this window of time, most work will be scheduled before all the waste in the task has been removed, and in many cases before all the required material is on site. This results in an inefficient task at best, but also encourages the reuse of faulty parts resulting in a short-term repair.

Early and accurate identification of maintenance tasks is key to providing this planning time. This early identification combined with realistic priority setting helps to bring credibility to the Planning and Scheduling process. 

A maintenance backlog is also used in some organizations to maintain a correctly-sized maintenance staff by crew.

Backlog Work Order Quality

The maintenance backlog has several different stages:

Awaiting Planning – newly converted work requests awaiting the planning process

In Planning – work orders the planner is actively planning

Awaiting Materials or Services – planned and estimated work orders awaiting delivery of special ordered materials or for a specialty contractor to commit to a requested time of execution

Ready to Schedule – work orders that are fully planned with all materials on the site and any contract or services needed, committed to the required timing

Successfully managing the quality of work orders in the different stages of the backlog begins with the creation of the work request. A well-written work request will result in a well-written work order. A poorly-written work request will require someone (normally the planner) to investigate what the maintenance task really consists of before it can be converted to a work order for planning.  

Failure to address the quality of work requests entering the work order system will reduce the effectiveness of the planner and lead to at least some of the work orders not being adequately planned.  Lack of a well-planned work order will reduce the accuracy of the estimates. Inaccurate work order estimates lead to over or understating the amount of real man-hours held in backlog. That inaccuracy will hinder the effective scheduling and the overall credibility of the entire planning and scheduling process.

Shop Floor Training

These problems can be addressed easily by providing shop floor training for everyone involved in creating the work request. Training combined with a clear setting of expectations by floor supervision and ongoing coaching by everyone involved in the work order process will lead to clear accurate work requests.

In a world-class process, the requestor’s supervisor would be the first reviewer to quickly provide coaching on inadequate work requests. By addressing the inadequate work request at this point, not only will the work request be corrected at the source, but the clear expectation of creating a quality work request will be quickly established.

The process flow shows the tight loop between the requestor and their supervisor, ensuring all information on the work request is adequate before sending the work request to the work request review meeting.

A multifunctional team (primarily Maintenance and Operations supervision or management) reviews all open work requests prior to the start of the day. This is normally a very short meeting either approving the work request and sending it to the planner, or rejecting the work request.

The process flow details the review process each work request is given before being submitted to the planner for conversion into a work order or deletion. (Some CCMS’s do not allow the work request to be deleted, but place a flag on the work request so that it cannot receive charges.)

This review will minimize duplicate work requests and prevent the creation of duplicate work orders, incorrectly prioritized work requests, invalid work requests, and work requests assigned to the wrong queue.

Monitor Open Work Requests

A good metric to encourage an effective work request process is to monitor open work requests by age. Work requests should have a very short life – 24 hours to possibly 96 hours. Any work request older than 24 to 96 hours indicates a dysfunctional work request process.

Work request training should be given to everyone in the organization expected to create work requests. World Class practices are to have everyone responsible for identifying and documenting maintenance tasks identified during their normal daily duties. The cost of CMMS access can sometimes cause this responsibility to be restricted to a smaller number of personnel. If that is the case, a companion system should be developed (hard copy or electronic) to expand the responsibility to identify maintenance tasks as broadly as possible.

It is important that the work request training be formally documented to ensure quality work requests, regardless of personnel turnover.

In parts 2 and 3, the Age of the Backlog and Backlog Size Management will be discussed in detail. 

Steve Giles

Marshall Institute

sgiles@marshallinstitute.com

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