What Can Your Maintenance Backlog Really Tell You About Operations?
Maintenance backlogs are a standard part of operations. You can’t possibly perform all required maintenance on the same day for your entire scope of equipment — logistics simply don’t permit it. Instead, you end up with a maintenance backlog: a trailing list of tasks that are approved and need to be completed.
For streamlined operations, a maintenance backlog likely won’t be very long — usually just a 14- to 28-day cycle that turns over perpetually. When you start pushing back tasks 30-, 60-, or 90-days beyond schedule, however, it’s a signal you’ve got a problem processing work orders. The larger your backlog grows, the more pressing it becomes to start addressing it and the factors responsible for growing it.
The good backlog vs. the bad backlog
As mentioned, a backlog is a healthy part of maintenance management. But the larger it becomes, the more of a burden it becomes. Put another way: A backlog is a good thing, but you can definitely have too much of a good thing. Essentially two backlog types exist: the good backlog and the bad one.
- A small backlog is good. It means you’re approving and completing your maintenance tasks with relative quickness. You have ample staff to handle work requests and they are prioritizing those requests based on when they filed them and the nature of the work they entail. You’re stocking ample parts and supplies to handle all manner of maintenance tasks.
- Larger backlogs signal an inability to complete approved tasks on time. This may be due to factors like a lack of skilled maintenance techs, low inventory of parts and supplies, poor prioritization, or an excess of approved tasks. Large backlogs are generally a sign that the maintenance process needs to change.
Look at your backlog — is it a good one or a bad one? If it’s the latter, it could be time to re-evaluate your maintenance processes and, more important, formulate a strategy for tackling your growing backlog.
Breaking down backlogged tasks
Maintenance items that end up on your backlog are there for a reason. Usually, it’s because you can’t complete them immediately. These are things like shutdown tasks or corrective maintenance that cease operations and require scheduling.
But not every maintenance task is this invasive. Examining other backlogged items can provide insight into why your backlog is growing. This is where you’ll find insights about your process. For example:
- How many tasks have you backlogged because they require a specific skillset?
- How many backlogged items are waiting on ordered supplies?
- What items could you complete now, but you pushed back due to priority?
Answering these questions sheds light on the nature of tasks, allowing managers to better coordinate future work orders by limiting their time in the backlog or forgoing it altogether through immediate action.
Formulate a plan
Knowing why your backlog is growing gives you the means to formulate a plan. Based on what you know, take the necessary approach to future maintenance work requests to ensure they’re approached with a plan and not just approved and backlogged routinely. A simple approach includes the following steps:
- Determine the priority of the maintenance request
- Plan and coordinate maintenance parts and services
- Schedule maintenance relative to the request date
- Execute maintenance according to the plan
This workflow is a simple, bare-bones example of how to use your backlog for good and not to the detriment of your maintenance operations. Always be mindful of how fast you’re turning your backlog and how long you’re allowing it to get.