Uptime: Maintenance Work Instructions, Part 1 — A Style Guide

bob williamson thumb thumb“OK, you got my attention with last month’s Uptime column, ‘The World’s Best Maintenance Tool’ (i.e., detailed work instructions). I see now that our PM work instructions are sorely lacking in details, leaving a lot to the mechanic’s discretion. And, our production departments have used standardized work as part of their lean manufacturing process for years. So, here’s my question: How should we begin straightening out our PM program without getting mired down in a major documentation project?”

First things first
Your efforts should focus more on improving equipment performance and reliability than overhauling your PM work instruction documents. Be careful NOT to get mired down in a massive rewrite or upgrade of all of your facility’s PM work instructions—the financial justification might not be there. Concentrate on delivery of measurable business results every step of the way.

Let’s begin exploring a Style Guide to specify how to develop and deploy PM work instructions. We’ll start by looking at three basic considerations when improving maintenance work instructions:

  1. Focus on the most penalizing equipment.
  2. Follow a structured developmental and deployment process.
  3. Use a standardized document format.


#1. Focus on the most penalizing equipment
Begin improving your maintenance work instructions by targeting your most penalizing equipment items or processes. Look beyond the maintenance needs of the equipment and consider the plant or facility operations. Select your starting points with equipment that’s a candidate for improved performance by asking a few questions: 

  • Do equipment problems often interrupt operations? 
  • Does the equipment create defects or off-spec conditions? 
  • Does the equipment cause sizeable delays in meeting customer requirements? 
  • Does the equipment seem to be environmentally sensitive and problem-prone? 
  • Do equipment damages or injuries occur during routine PM task completion?
  • Are the PM work instructions sketchy, leaving much to the discretion of end users? 
  • Are they incomplete or not as efficient and effective as they should be? 
  • Do the results of the PM process vary with the person who performs the PM tasks?


The more “YES” answers to these questions, the more likely improved work instructions will be successful.

#2. Follow a structured developmental and deployment process

Given the “top 10 characteristics of the world’s best maintenance tool” listed in last month’s Uptime column, there may be as many ways to approach the development and deployment of maintenance work processes as there are writers. The challenge is to get started with one developmental model and improve it to suit your needs as you go—then adopt it as a “standard.” I’ve found the continuous-improvement approach reflected in the accompanying process model (Fig. 1) to be especially effective in developing work instructions for NEW equipment.

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Click to enlarge.

As you could imagine, each block in Fig. 1 can be interpreted differently. In an actual Style Guide, there would be detailed descriptions and procedures for each of the steps shown by blocks in the model. Here are several items, albeit brief, to consider in each of the steps of Fig. 1:

1A.   Incorporate OEM recommendations for Preventive Maintenance whenever available.

1B. Build on the PM instructions of similar equipment (if available).

1C. Review work-order histories of similar equipment for PM effectiveness. Look for gaps.

2. Identify the specific operating conditions, operating/production requirements.

3. Review the equipment configuration. Verify common or non-standard components and modifications.

4. Identify those who will perform PM tasks (i.e., start of shift, end of shift, calendar, hourly, etc.).

5. Engage a select end-user group to prepare a 1st Draft guided by a PM facilitator/engineer.

5A. If your plant is so inclined, use a formal RCM analysis or FMEA to define PM tasks.

6. Look for accuracy, gaps and clarification during an actual “dry-run walk-through” of PM instructions.

7. Start applying visuals to the work instructions AND on the equipment for “maintainability.” Consider minor modifications to improve access, inspection and overall ease of maintenance.

8. Compile the 2nd Draft PM Plan & Tasks. A repeat of the “dry-run walk-through” may be in order.

9. Submit for a formal review and approval process per “management of change” (MOC) process.

10. Publish Final PM document according to approved formats or work instruction Style Guide.

11. Deploy PM Plan & Tasks. This may involve updating the PM job plan in your CMMS and attaching the new work instructions to PM work orders.

12. Train and qualify users to accurately and completely follow the new work instructions.

13. Audit the PM performance to assure accuracy, efficiency and effectiveness of the instructions and the qualification of the persons using the instructions.

14. Over time, look for ways to improve the PM Plan & Tasks (work instructions).

15. Compile the improved PM Draft Work Instructions and return to Step #5 to complete update.

Regardless of which development-process model you use, be sure to document it. Then improve it.

#3. Use a standardized document format
Some businesses may already have a standard document format for work instructions—many plants, however, do not. The following list summarizes major headings in a standard PM work-instruction format. Of course, the format should be adapted to the specific needs/ requirements of YOUR facility. There are three major groups of information in this standard format: “Document Headings,” “Job Performance” and “Document Control.”

Document Headings… 
1.0. Procedure Title & ID Number

2.0. Applicability: Location, Equipment, Process, Facility, Work Center, etc.

3.0. Procedure Identification:  ID Number, Type 

4.0. Frequency of Performance

5.0. Equipment Status: Running, Down, Major Shutdown/Turnaround

6.0. Introduction: Procedure Summary

Job Performance…
7.0. Responsibilities: (Who & What) Manager, Supervisor,  Maintainer, Others

8.0. Assigned Personnel Requirements: Craft, Trade, Technician, Skill Level, Contractor…

9.0. Estimated Time: Hours, Duration, Number of People, Additional Work limits…

10.0. Personal Protective Equipment Requirements

11.0. Environmental & Safety: MSDS, Hazards, Confined Space, Cutting, Containment, Disposal…

12.0. Reference Documents & Source: OEM, Owner, Contactor…

13.0. Equipment & Tools Requirements

14.0. Parts Requirements

15.0. Materials & Supplies Requirements

16.0. Reference Documents

17.0. Procedure: Step-by-step, Should-Be and As-Found Readings, Graphics, Photos…

18.0. Comments: Job Notes, Work-Process Revisions

19.0. Completion Signatures: Performed By, Approved By, Inspected by, …

Document Control… 
20.0.  Current Revision: Revision Number & Date

21.0.  Document Control Identification 

22.0.  Document Originator & Approval: Name, Contact Information, Effective Date…

Some final thoughts
There are several options for using detailed PM work instructions: They could be attached to PM work orders when they’re distributed, made available in hard copy at the equipment or point of use, or posted on a network computer terminal that’s accessible to the person performing the tasks. The work instructions can also be summarized in checklist format for ease of use on the job if the tasks to be performed are not particularly complex or critical.

Detailed maintenance work instructions are meant to drive out the natural “human variation” in the way people do things. They provide a basis for training and qualifying a person to perform the required tasks on specific equipment. And the use of the work instructions must be enforced—they’re not optional. Instructions that are developed in the manner described here are a starting point for continuous improvement of equipment performance and reliability, improved workplace safety and environmental conditions, and for improving overall productivity of the company’s physical assets AND its human resources.

Coming up in August
Next month, Part II of this article will explore the ins and outs of procedure-writing and include some actual examples along with a number of different work instruction layouts and summary checklists. MT

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