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How To Shorten Your Maintenance Backlog in 4 Steps

The education sector has a significant problem with deferred maintenance. As institutions face declining revenues due to changes in enrollment and public support, public institutions are experiencing lengthening maintenance backlogs. These backlogs aren’t only an administrative burden: they create potentially hazardous conditions for the teachers, students, and support staff who frequent education facilities each day. In the US, 35% of higher education facilities were built in the Post-WWII construction boom between 1960 and 1975, and many of these buildings require significant renovations. According to an executive report by EAB, public institutions have seen a 24% increase in their deferred maintenance backlog per square foot from 2007-2015—meaning costs are rising 66% faster than inflation. The corrections industry has also postponed numerous maintenance tasks due to a lack of funding. About ⅓ of prison facilities in the US are over 50 years old. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports a backlog of 185 major (projects that cost $300,000 or more) modernization and repair (M&R) projects with an approximate cost of $370 million. When essential maintenance tasks are put off long enough, organizations pay dearly in the long run. Sometimes, a “repair” becomes a “replacement” as an asset is subjected to continuous usage or wear-and-tear. According to FacilitiesNet, the cost of deferred maintenance can be 30x greater than the cost of early intervention. What is a maintenance backlog, exactly? A maintenance backlog consists of work orders that have been approved for scheduling but have not been completed. However, most maintenance backlogs aren’t simply a repository for reactive maintenance tasks or routine inspections—those seemingly insignificant tasks teams put off to fight bigger fires. Backlogs often consist of planned maintenance work—the crucial maintenance tasks that keep the lights on. For example, the backlog might list daily and weekly corrective repairs, preventive maintenance tasks, predictive maintenance tasks, and jobs planned during periods of scheduled machine downtime. Note: A backlog can consist of orders that are past due or planned maintenance work that is waiting to be scheduled. An excessively long maintenance backlog means your technicians are operating in fight-or-flight mode—everything they do is reactive, and planned maintenance is mostly out the window. Here are some reasons why organizations might build up a backlog over time: Deferring maintenance work due to emergencies or lack of funding Not having spare parts available to complete the work Maintenance technicians with the required skills aren’t available to do the job The facility is understaffed Poor work order management (someone forgot about the work order or there is no digital trail) An outside specialist’s expertise is required for troubleshooting When many work orders are generated each day, it’s easy for some of them to be missed—especially if you don’t use work order management software or have a maintenance planner. An overreliance on reactive maintenance also creates a backlog. When an emergency occurs, technicians are forced to drop whatever they’re doing to attend to it, which leads to work piling up. What’s wrong with having a maintenance backlog? A long list of unclosed work orders or deferred repairs can lead to more expensive problems down the line. A backlog also reduces technicians’ capacity to attend to current maintenance needs, leading to a vicious cycle. Furthermore, it usually signals a bigger problem such as understaffing, poor work order management, or a lack of inventory control. Maybe you don’t have enough technicians, or technicians don’t have the right information to complete and close out work orders, or they’re spending too much time hunting for parts rather than using a barcode system to find necessary parts and tools. Here are some potential causes for an extensive maintenance backlog: Low technician wrench-on time (the percentage of a technician’s shift spent on actual maintenance work) Lack of work order standardization Poor inventory control (parts are missing when technicians need them) Lack of planned maintenance (preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance, and routine inspections) Understaffing Overreliance on reactive maintenance forces teams to defer scheduled maintenance How to shorten your maintenance backlog one step at a time Even if the situation might seem helpless, especially if your maintenance department is facing a funding shortfall, there are several ways to cut your maintenance backlog. Start by investigating what is causing the backlog— sometimes the problem has nothing to do but with budgets or staffing. 1. Identify what needs to be done Examine your maintenance backlog. What types of tasks are neglected the most? Which assets are being impacted? A low-risk asset (i.e. equipment not integral to production which is inexpensive/easy to repair or replace) can tolerate longer delays. However, high-risk assets should be tended to immediately. Organize past due work orders in your CMMS according to asset, type, location, available resources, or other criteria. Questions to ask: How important is each task? How frequently is the asset used? What is the potential monetary and reputational impact of asset downtime or failure? Another option is to organize work orders based on the reason they were deferred. For example, some work orders might be missing vital information. Every WO should at least include the name and location of the asset, a description of the problem, the scope of work needed to rectify it, required parts and tools, health and safety information, and a deadline. Standardize the work order request process to prevent technicians from contacting the original requester to obtain the necessary information. Only accurate and complete work orders should make their way to the schedule. If your maintenance planner or supervisor is approving work orders that are missing vital information, you may need to revisit the WO approval process as well. If you discover many work orders that weren’t closed due to missing parts, investigate the problem with your inventory management team. Just-in-time inventory management is a form of inventory control that requires working closely with suppliers so that parts and tools arrive shortly before maintenance is due. This is especially important for high-priority planned maintenance tasks—delaying these repairs can be financially ruinous. Tip: Watch out for duplicate work requests and work requests that are missing vital information. You will need to remove these from the backlog. 2. Schedule past-due tasks alongside new ones Establish a system for triaging work orders and assigning them alongside ongoing projects. Tasks related to safety should receive high priority, as well as any repairs that might impact production or the functionality of your facility. A high-priority job on a critical asset should take precedence over low-priority work on an auxiliary asset. If asset usage fluctuates seasonally, take advantage of equipment downtime to perform repairs. Also, review the due dates for each work order. Maintenance due dates are tricky because they are often meant to be flexible—except for high-priority assets or emergency situations. When a WO is initiated, the due date depends on its relative importance to work that is already in the backlog plus any WOs that may be generated in the future. Rather than making a subjective assessment of which WOs are critical, you can create a priority index. Assign a criticality number from 1-100 for every piece of equipment (the higher the number, the more critical asset). Next, assign priority to work orders based on the same scale. Priority Index = Asset Criticality x Work Order Priority Now, multiply the asset criticality score by the work order priority score. The result is the priority index. Now you can schedule work according to its priority index. Tip: Have the operations team check and approve your criticality rankings beforehand. Seeing as they use the equipment daily, they may have better insight into which assets are most critical. 3. Determine what resources you need Now you can move on to planning and scheduling. How many labor hours are needed for each work order? What tools or parts are needed? Are they all referenced in the WO? What parts are not available? Have they been ordered yet? What is their delivery status? CMMS calendars help with maintenance planning and scheduling upcoming tasks. Use your CMMS to assign WOs to team members and determine if you need to outsource any tasks. Remember, if you need to outsource work or increase staffing costs temporarily, don’t hesitate to do so if it means you can permanently erase your backlog. 4. Review and revise your plan Pick a time to evaluate how your plan to reduce your backlog is going. Are you creating even more of a backlog as new WOs come in but technicians are busy dealing with past due work orders? If so, you might need to increase headcount or outsource tasks. Use your CMMS to identify open WOs and update schedules.

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4 Ways to Optimize Your Maintenance Planning

Maintenance planning is the secret ingredient that takes your overall approach to maintenance from patching holes while the boat is sinking to running circles around your competitors. The goal of planning is to tamp down equipment downtime and labor costs for maintenance work from the perspective of people, place, time and tools. This process involves identifying the parts and tools necessary for routine maintenance work, making sure they’re available and located in the right place, and preparing job plans with sufficient instructions on how the work order should be completed. Consequently, even if you’re still in the phase of doing “firefighting” reactive maintenance instead of proactive maintenance, you can use maintenance planning to optimize labor hours — increasing wrench-on time by determining maintenance scheduling at least one or two weeks in advance. Here are four steps you can take for effective maintenance planning. 1. Make a job plan A job plan contains a set of instructions and specifications for how a routine maintenance task should be done. It should include metadata like number of technicians required, job duration, a list of tools and equipment needed to complete the job, as well as any files or notes left by people who have completed the job in the past. If the job requires welding, how many welders are needed? How many assistants does the engineer require? Outlining a thorough job plan allows maintenance planners to focus on key “housekeeping” activities to ensure jobs run smoothly, such as: Ordering non-stock parts Staging parts Managing breakdowns and vendor lists Quality assurance 2. Create weekly schedules Weekly schedules enable your maintenance workers to focus on top-priority work orders without having to worry about the backlog. Make sure to assign work plans for 100 percent of available labor hours to prevent over- and under-scheduling. Even with the right planning and organization, s**t happens sometimes. Define ahead of time what constitutes emergency work and document a process for how to prioritize and handle non-urgent work vs. emergency work. In general, it’s best to postpone a job that hasn’t been started than to interrupt one that is currently in progress. Creating different types of maintenance plans for various scenarios means you’ll know what to do if disaster hits. 3. Focus on future work Plan ahead as far as you reasonably can. For a large enterprise, this could mean running maintenance scheduling 12 weeks in advance, especially in anticipation of major scheduled downtime (also known as “shutdown maintenance planning”). For a smaller business, a one or two-week frontlog is sufficient. Long-range maintenance planning allows crews to work primarily on planned work instead of reactive work, thereby increasing wrench-on time and labor efficiency. The more data you have, the more accurately you can plan ahead. Provide feedback to the planner after each job is completed so they can improve their estimates of labor hours and costs for future work. The best way for a maintenance planner to self-evaluate is to put some meaningful KPIs in place, such as: Task duration Materials/quantity of materials Labor requirements (are you overstaffing or understaffing?) Unanticipated requirements (eg: scaffolding, extra labor, cranes, etc.) 4. Understand your logs Your backlogs are instrumental to maintenance planning, because you can’t forge ahead with new maintenance work until you’ve handled your backlog. The backlog refers to any work that has an execution date prior to today’s date, which can occur for two reasons: either the work wasn’t completed before its scheduled date, or there’s a cost settlement issue preventing the closure of the work order. Maintenance management software can help you keep track of your backlog by assigning different priority levels to unfinished tasks. This list needs to be monitored regularly to ensure backlogged work is rescheduled accordingly. While some backlog is unavoidable, try to keep it as small as possible. How to Learn More With so many CMMS options available, you’ll want to find the right maintenance solution that pays for itself, makes life easier for your maintenance team, and helps you stay on task and on budget. Watch our demo videos to see MicroMain’s CMMS software in action.

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