work order definition

What Is A Work Order? Scheduling, Process, and Examples

A work order is a paper or digitized document that provides maintenance details on equipment, tools, or jobs. Work orders are essential for streamlining maintenance workflows and establishing proper record-keeping best practices.

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be a manual process, a computerized maintenance management system or work order management software can help automate the work order management process.  

Using a digitized work order management system can let you see how long repairs and maintenance tasks are taking in real-time. This way, you can see how many hours contractors are working on specific jobs so you can justify expenditures.

Work orders are critical for the entire maintenance department, as they include important information about the job at hand and notes regarding safety hazards or protocols to follow. They often include information like: 

  • Who ordered the request

  • Deadlines

  • Step-by-step instructions

  • Photos

  • Addresses 

Correctly filling out and storing your work orders is essential for meeting compliance standards. When an audit comes your way, you should have all of your work orders organized and ready.

But first, let’s get a better understanding of work orders.

What is a work order?

Maintenance teams create work orders when consumers, managers, or employees file a request. In some cases, work order apps can automatically generate preventive maintenance requests. These might include safety checks, training, or other necessary upkeep.

Work orders are essential for compliance and auditing reasons, but also for generating follow-up inspections. They provide maintenance technicians with:

  • Job details

  • Checklists for completing jobs

  • Job site location

Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) help managers create better work orders. With a CMMS, you’ll not only have detailed work orders to send out to your team but also valuable KPIs for record-keeping, efficiency, and performance.

Now that you’ve heard the benefits of digital work orders, here’s how to create your own.

How do you create work orders?

This request is processed by someone (typically in a managerial position in the maintenance department) and becomes a work order. This allows teams to prioritize work requests that need immediate attention so the department doesn’t waste time.

Smaller businesses often utilize Excel spreadsheets and Word templates to create work orders. However, larger companies tend to gravitate toward larger-scale CMMS software. These systems automatically complete the work order process. That includes managing requests, processing them into work orders, assigning them out, and filing orders away for storage.

While there are several templates you can use for work orders, work order management software is typically the way to go, as it vastly improves workflow and increases productivity. CMMS software may also have built-in shift scheduling features to ensure no work order goes incomplete.

What information is listed on a work order?

Work orders need a lot of information on them to function correctly — that’s where a good CMMS comes in. Orders created in a CMMS typically contain more information than a physical work order and are easier to fill out and share with teammates.

At the bare minimum, work orders should include:

  • Name of the requestor

  • A description of the maintenance task or request

  • Deadlines 

  • The location of the job

  • Work order number (either manually or automatically assigned)

A more thorough work order could also include the following:

  • An assignee or maintenance team 

  • Explicit directions for completing the task

  • What tools and parts are needed 

  • Any relevant health and safety information

  • The number of hours expected to complete the job

  • Priority level 

  • Tags, metadata, or other criteria for organizational purposes

This information drives productivity because it ensures the maintenance technician has what they’ll need to complete the job with limited communication.

A good CMMS helps managers complete work orders using their preferred project management method. Clear deadlines, checklists, and status updates help managers and employees stay organized.

If you manage distributed teams, some tools have built-in reports and geofencing features to ensure employees arrive at the correct job site and complete tasks on time.

What is the work order life cycle?

Managing work orders well is the backbone of any maintenance operation. That means you’ll need to find a way to create work orders, assign them out, and file them away for the future.

Work orders are what drive maintenance departments. Whether you’re crushing your KPIs or mitigating emergency breakdowns, work orders are essential to your team’s workflow. While some are a bit different from others, they all go through the same basic life cycle.

1. Creation

Work orders are made from a maintenance request or generated automatically from a maintenance schedule. They can also be created from inspections and previous work orders if an employee notices equipment needs more care.

Organizations that utilize maintenance software will often have a mobile app or desktop platform for creating work orders. Some of these tools even allow you to attach images and job notes.

Otherwise, a customer or employee may trigger a work order by filling out a form on a website.

2. Approval 

Next, management reviews the work order. They’ll decide if the work order should be approved, put on hold for future review, or denied by management.

Before assigning the task to a technician, the maintenance manager will usually note a priority level or completion deadline. They’ll then assess the required skills for the job to ensure they transfer the work order to the right team member.

3. Assignment

Once approved, the work order is assigned to a qualified technician. This can be done manually or with a CMMS tool’s email notification features.

The deadline or importance of the work order helps the technician minimize their downtime. The technician will review the work order in full, prioritize tasks, and arrive on-site with all of the tools and resources needed to complete the job.

4. Completion

When the technician completes a work order, they’ll mark it as complete — but that’s far from the last step in the process. A good project management cycle ensures this completed work order advances to the next step.

5. Review

Once a task is completed, it will be passed on to a manager for approval. Certain scenarios (like emergency repairs and new technology installations) may require a managerial sign-off. Once that phase is complete, it’s time to close down the work order.

6. Filing/sending

After a work order has received manager approval, it still needs to be filed away for future reference. Most tools allow you to export work orders as PDFs, CSVs, or Excel files. You can then send them out via email or save them to a folder or Digital Asset Management (DAM) system.

How important is a work order?

The work order process is essential for maintenance departments to run correctly and efficiently. Documenting jobs minimizes downtime, boosts productivity, and keeps maintenance operations running smoothly. 

Tracking work order status helps managers create KPIs for assessing each department's performance. For instance, first response time, average resolution time, and repeat visits are just a few examples of KPIs you’d be able to track.

Most importantly, they give technicians everything they need to complete jobs quickly and efficiently.

Work orders ensure nothing falls through the cracks when things get busy. They’re also crucial for asset management and inventory. Managers can log materials to keep track of what’s available in storage and what still needs to be ordered.

Correctly prioritized work orders with deadlines also help keep maintenance departments from developing a backlog of work orders. This way, clients’ needs are met on time, and the facility continues to operate at its highest level.

Different types of work orders

From spontaneous, on-demand emergency orders to safety and preventative maintenance, there are several different work orders one can choose from​​. However, they all have an essential role to play in day-to-day facilities management.

Unscheduled/on-demand work

Unscheduled/on-demand work orders are also called emergency orders. They're typically high-priority tasks that must be completed immediately before resuming everyday work. Most businesses aim to keep the number of unscheduled work orders under 20%, as they tend to be disruptive and hurt productivity. 

Preventative maintenance  

A preventative maintenance schedule can automatically generate work orders and prevent future emergencies. Inspections, routine maintenance tasks, and equipment updates are just a few of the tasks that make up preventative maintenance.

Ideally, preventive maintenance work order will be the bulk of a maintenance department's work. This keeps businesses and equipment running smoothly. Preventative maintenance may also lead to a corrective maintenance work order if the inspector finds a problem with a machine. Fixing issues before the appliances break down completely helps prolong machine life.

Third-party work orders

Sometimes, no one is available to perform maintenance on your machines and equipment. In these instances, you’ll need to hire external parties to do the job.

Maintenance managers can often save money on training and overtime costs by hiring specialists. In fact, some smaller businesses operate exclusively on third-party maintenance requests. 

Manual entry work orders

Even today, many companies still rely on manual work orders to keep employees organized. While these orders often have “required” fields, there isn’t always someone around to ensure that they’re filled out correctly.

As a result, many manual work orders go unfinished, have mistakes, or don’t make it to their intended destination. Storing manual work orders can also be challenging since you’ll need enough physical space to hold onto them.

As the years wear on, finding the space to store work orders becomes an issue. It usually leads companies to back these work orders up digitally anyway.


Work orders are vital to maintenance efforts in any business. Without work orders, companies would see a significant drop-off when it comes to audits and KPIs.

No maintenance request should ever slip through the cracks. Leave paperwork orders behind and take your maintenance business to the next level. With the right CMMS, you can create work orders and track time, employee productivity, and location.

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