Where Maintenance Requests Go But Never Appear to Escape From- the Backlog.
This is exactly what some operations staff think of when we tell them to submit a work request.
It means that they do not think that the work will be completed, or it will after it no longer matters to them.
What if you called the cable company and reported an issue? You would expect prompt service, and would expect that you would not have to chase them down to do the work correct? Maintenance is a service organization that enables the successful operation of the business.
The business shouldn’t have to chase us down or wonder if we will repair the equipment.
Now, not doing the work right away may not be the right answer either, unless it exposes the business to Safety, Environment, Quality or Operational consequences.
We need to plan the work to ensure it is done efficiently.
So why do the operations people think of the backlog as the black hole?
Often times they submit the request and that is the last they hear about it. Most of the time we complete the work within the time requested, but do we communicate the status of the request, when it will be done and when it was completed?
This is often one of the biggest issues I find when working with various sites that are trying engage the operation’s team. If the maintenance department does not communicate the status of the request and the work, people will assume it is not being completed.
Understanding what operations think of the backlog allows you to effectively and efficiently address the perceived issues with the backlog. But what if those are not perceived issues and your department, in fact, does not complete the work on time?
The techniques below will enable you to overcome the perceived and actual issues in your backlog.
What is Backlog?
A backlog is defined as i) a reserve supply or source, ii) An accumulation, especially of unfinished or unfilled orders.
But what is backlog specifically in a maintenance department? There are two dominant types of backlog;
- General Backlog: is made up of all work orders, regardless of their status
- Planned Ready Backlog: is made up of all work orders that are Ready to Schedule and have all parts on site.
Backlog enables a department to successfully plan a full week worth of work, but only if we have a planned ready backlog of 2-4 weeks.
Many people do not understand that we need to have this backlog in order to facilitate a high level of work scheduling. This is one of the first barriers.
Communication is the Key to Success
Now that we know what backlog is, we need to communicate the status of the work within it.
Communicating the status enables Maintenance to build engagement, trust, and support in the work management cycle. Once we have built the trust and support, we can then work overcome the another one of the barriers in work management; having all work classed as an emergency priority.
So how can we communicate the status of the request and the work? Many sites have their planner create a list and send out to the individuals or departments, but is this the best use of their time? Probably not.
To create an effective communication plan for maintenance work, a multi-prone approach works best:
- Initial Evaluation: Based on the technical and fiscal review of the request, we can provide the requestor with the high-level scheduling horizon for the work. This may be <2 days, <14 days, 2-4 weeks or 4-16 weeks. If the request is a duplicate or rejected based on the technical applicability of it, or if it is not fiscally feasible, then notify the requestor of such.
- Work Order Status: Once the work planning process has started, we need to ensure we change the status of the work as it progresses through the cycle. Training the requestors on how to view their work requests may be time-consuming initially, but it will enable them to view the status at any time and free up the planner’s time.
- Weekly Schedule: Share the Weekly Maintenance Schedule once it has been locked in and is confirmed. Share it with all teams, so they know what work to expect when.
- Overdue: Although this can be painful, it needs to be done to sustain the trust in the system. If a work order will be delayed, communicate this with the requestor. Provide them with a new estimated completion date.
Manage the Backlog and Keep Your Customer Happy
You have built the trust, engagement, and support of the operations team, now we need to sustain that trust. To do so we need to manage the backlog.
So how do you manage the backlog?
- Triggers Based on Create Date: If a work order exceeds 180 days, then an evaluation needs to take place. This evaluation should determine if the work is still valid. If it is still valid, what is delaying it? Follow up on the delay and work to schedule it at the first available opportunity
- Triggers Based on Due Date: If the work order exceeds its due date, determine why and work to schedule it at the first available opportunity.
- Escalation Procedure: If the work becomes more important and needs to become a priority, ensure that the requestor can escalate the work. What if you determine that the work is not being completed because the requestor is a barrier? Have an escalation procedure established with operations to ensure their work is completed on time
- Review Procedure: Sometime, no matter how good our work management process is, we will find work in the backlog that has been completed or is no longer valid. Have an established review process to review the backlog. Gather a craft and someone from the operations team, and review each work order in the area to determine if it is valid or has been completed.
These techniques are not exhaustive but will enable you to manage your backlog, effectively and efficiently.
How do you communicate your backlog? What doesn’t work for communicating your backlog? Let us know.
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Remember, to find success, you must first solve the problem, then achieve the implementation of the solution, and finally sustain winning results.
I’m James Kovacevic
Solve, Achieve, Sustain
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