Why It’s a Bad Idea to Let Maintenance Technicians Pick Unscheduled Work Orders

Author: Janna Kerr
Category: Enterprise Maintenance and Reliability

Everyone likes to have autonomy and choice as part of their work day. It’s human nature, I think. But, just like we are all beholden to the tasks we must complete, the goals we want to accomplish, and the responsibilities of our roles, sometimes what we have to do isn’t necessarily what we’d like to do.

And that’s just the reality of working.

In my years as Maintenance Scheduler at the Kennedy Space Center, and now when I visit clients as a Trainer, I continue to see organizations struggling with maintenance technicians choosing unscheduled work orders rather than following the schedule.

Why does this happen and why is it a problem? Here’s my two cents.

Picking and choosing printed maintenance work orders

If you’ve Planned or Scheduled at more than one organization, then you’ll know that every business does it differently. The processes, tools, resources, and company culture all influence how Planning and Scheduling is done. Some might have state-of-the-art software tools and some might still be plugging away on Excel.

But in many cases I’ve seen, whether they’re using the newest technology or not, an old habit lingers – and that’s maintenance technicians choosing unscheduled work orders rather than tackling the work orders that have been scheduled for that day or week.

It often happens when the work orders are printed out and distributed. Sometimes, technicians put the printed schedule aside and instead look for a Work Order they would rather do. They see the title of the Work Order and think, “I feel like working on that!”

Losing the opportunities of scheduled maintenance work

You might be wondering, “Well, where’s the harm? Why can’t my maintenance workers choose what they want to work on?”

There are several reasons why it’s not ideal – and potentially dangerous – for maintenance workers to prioritize unscheduled work over scheduled work. Here are just some of the reasons why this shouldn’t be the norm at your organization:

Most of the reasons lead to one major consequence: wasted time. The maintenance worker spends time preparing for the work order, travelling to the work site, and getting set up, only to find that he or she cannot perform the work.

In other cases, it's the time of the Planners and Schedulers that has been wasted, because they have to do the same work over again.

Unscheduled Work Orders

The most important reasons not to work on unscheduled maintenance work orders

While all the reasons I’ve outlined above are important, I want to draw your attention particularly to these three:

There’s one thing I can't stress enough: Work is scheduled for a reason.

When work is scheduled for, say, this week, it’s because this week is the right time to do that work. Not next week. Not next month. This week. Schedulers create schedules based on a wide-angle view of the bigger picture: the many needs, priorities, constraints, and roadblocks from numerous sources that dictate how and when work can be done safely, effectively, and efficiently.

It’s their job to understand that big picture and make sure everyone is doing the right work at the right time. A schedule doesn’t exist for a schedule’s sake – it exists to ensure the safety and efficiency of the maintenance team. Encourage your maintenance technicians to follow the schedule wherever possible. After all, it’s not “just” a schedule. It’s the strategic compilation and coordination of information from numerous sources to make the best possible decisions that help the entire organization stay productive and profitable.

Author: Janna Kerr

Janna supports Client Services and User Training with Prometheus Group. She has been involved with planning and scheduling for the facility maintenance industry for over fifteen years.

She worked at the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Forces Station supporting the NASA Space Program for twenty-five years.

Janna Kerr is a graduate of Barry University with a Bachelors degree in Business.

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