Best practices help teams tackle repairs in a timely manner.
by Raymond Lattanzio
July 2, 2019

In creating maintenance plans, one often-overlooked item is the maintenance backlog. The remaining work must be accounted for in order to fully plan maintenance and to use time and resource allocations appropriately. This is where properly managing a maintenance backlog comes in. Neglecting a maintenance backlog risks unplanned downtime, machine failure or falling out of regulatory compliance.

What Is a Maintenance Backlog?

A backlog is a list of work that needs to be done, has yet to be completed and is not overdue. Approved, but not completed, work is commonly measured in the number of hours or weeks it would take to finish it. An example of backlog work is work requiring equipment to be shut down. Often, there are associated logistics to work through before a planned shutdown, and these details should all be included in the backlog.

Other types of tasks that make up a maintenance backlog include unplanned repairs (breakdowns), preventive maintenance routines and predictive maintenance work (also known as condition-based monitoring).

Scheduling maintenance actions in advance helps ensure that the appropriate resources—time, tools, parts and people—are available and accounted for. This planning also verifies that the right maintenance work is completed at the right time and makes the best use of existing resources. Managing a maintenance backlog helps a user efficiently and effectively use supplies, time and people.

What Is a Criticality Analysis?

Another key piece in the process is performing a criticality analysis. By evaluating and classifying all equipment and its components, a user will gain a clear understanding of which assets require immediate attention, which can wait and which can run until failure. It is essential to think beyond an overly simplistic “critical” vs. “noncritical” approach to asset prioritization.

Once asset criticality has been assessed, then work can begin on the backlog tasks. First, the work should be prioritized based on how vital an asset is to an organization. The largest, most expensive or most complex assets are not necessarily the most critical. In some cases, one component breaking down can lead to a production stoppage. A detailed, complete analysis of asset criticality enables leaders to effectively schedule maintenance based on which equipment or components are most significant to an organization’s bottom line.

Image 1 properly maintaining backlogImage 1. Properly maintaining a maintenance backlog is key for all organizations. (Image courtesy of Fluke)

What Does Not Belong in a Maintenance Backlog?

One exception to prioritizing a maintenance backlog based on criticality is if the breakdown is a safety issue. As the old saying goes, safety first.

Safety-related repairs should never sit in a backlog. Additionally, any tasks affecting downtime or production output do not belong in a backlog. Time is money, and those sorts of items need to be prioritized.

Keeping the backlog streamlined and simple is imperative. Duplicate or completed work should not be included. Work orders should be up-to-date or closed when the job is completed. Repairs that are on hold—such as when parts are on order—are also not included in a backlog, as work is scheduled for completion upon delivery of components.

How to Manage a Maintenance Backlog

Managing a maintenance backlog is a multistage effort that includes creating and updating work orders, scheduling staff, ordering parts and following up with work as it is completed. It also necessitates clear communication with the team. The more effectively a maintenance backlog is managed, the more a user can maximize an asset’s life cycle, uptime and output.

Categorizing a maintenance backlog helps with prioritization and planning. Necessary preparation for equipment shutdown should be included in a maintenance backlog.

A properly managed backlog should not feel difficult. A common timeframe is two weeks of backlog per technician. More than that can be unsustainable or a sign that there is too much work for the current staff size to handle.

On the other hand, if the maintenance backlog is practically nonexistent, then there may be more staff than needed. Of course, the ideal backlog size depends on the organization. By paying attention to how long it takes to complete work, an organization can gain insight into its scheduling needs.

Tools & Technologies

One tool for managing maintenance backlogs is a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Many software programs offer prioritization and filtering features that will help keep a maintenance backlog easy to understand and under control.

A CMMS also allows teams to trend an organization’s maintenance backlog over time. Trending work orders helps identify patterns or see where and when resources need to be allocated. This is especially valuable if the organization has a busy season.

Visibility into the backlog is crucial. Creating a dashboard in the CMMS is an industry best practice. Posting a printout of the report in a communal area where everyone can see it helps improve work order visibility and ownership.

A publicly posted backlog creates a sense of accountability and urgency, spurring action to complete backlogged work.

Getting everyone involved and on the same page helps people tackle backlog more effectively. It is a team effort, after all.

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