One of the challenges that many organizations face is maintaining work order priorities in the wake of the emotional squeaky wheel that yells the loudest. Remember the phrase, “In God we trust. All others bring data”? It applies here as well. Reacting to false priorities exacerbates the reactive spiral that diverts resources from efficient work practices.

At the end of the day, I don’t know of many organizations that are overwhelmed with maintenance resources to do work. Reality is that maintenance activities are all about lessening or mitigating risk or the consequences of failure. The challenge for all involved in determining the potential risk is to estimate the probability of the breakdown occurring within a period of time. To succeed, it is important that maintenance and operations have a proactive partnership where they work together to understand and communicate the risk probability via the work order system.

In order to effectively accomplish this, the organization should have a priority matrix. This is a matrix chart with the estimated time to the potential breakdown or functional failure on one side (typically in days) and the consequences of failure on the other side (90 degrees out). Categories may include health and safety, environmental, operations loss,  and customer service.

Once the organization establishes the matrix, you can’t expect people to understand the intent without training. Train everyone and hold them accountable. Early on, frequently inspect to ensure that the organization is properly following the matrix when coding the priority on the work orders and requests. Put at least a monthly audit process in place to ensure compliance is ongoing. That said, recognize that it’s a tool and not the end-all. It’s an estimate that you use to set the target date for the work to be completed.

Integrate the work-order priority into other work such as preventive maintenance activities and engineering projects when you create the maintenance schedules. Using this technique, only interrupt the prioritized schedule work with work of a higher or more urgent priority. Work already in progress should take priority over new work of the same or equal priority. This will help you to avoid “breaking the schedule” unnecessarily.