How to Prioritize Maintenance Tasks So You Can Get Stuff Done

I had my whole schedule planned today—a list of tasks and plenty of time to complete them all.

Guess how many I finished?

Yep. Zero.

It wasn’t because I didn’t do anything. It was because my phone started ringing.

Maintenance managers know what I’m talking about. Stuff happens. Emergencies come up. And we’ve all re-prioritized tasks based on who’s yelling the loudest.

But as more maintenance departments move from a reactive to a proactive maintenance strategy (thanks to CMMS software), there’s less yelling because preventive maintenance means fewer emergencies and breakdowns.

It also means prioritizing your maintenance tasks becomes even more important. You want to get the important stuff done first, of course. But you don’t want other things to slip through the cracks.

So how do you prioritize your maintenance tasks?

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The Four Levels of Maintenance Tasks Priorities

Generally, I start by categorizing maintenance tasks into one of four categories:

  1. Emergency tasks are urgent health/safety problems or operational disruptions. Some examples include loss of power or water supplies, HVAC failure, natural disasters, fire, key asset breakdowns, and major security problems. Obviously, those immediately go to the top of the list, no matter how long that list is.
  2. Next, you have high-priority tasks that will directly affect operations in the near future. These might include leaking roofs, high-use equipment that is not performing well, repairs to key assets, and safety inspections.
  3. Then there are medium priority tasks, which typically include preventive maintenance schedules. These tasks will affect operations eventually and need to be performed to maintain optimum production. Examples include replacing filters, changing oil, checking belts, scheduling vendor services, etc.
  4. Last but not least, maintenance teams always have low-priority requests or tasks that need to be done as fill-in work but are not vital to day-to-day operations. These tasks might include non-critical repairs, furniture installation or replacement, decorative painting, etc.

The trick is to keep those lower-priority tasks from becoming high-priority or emergency situations. So how do you decide what to tackle first?

Calculate the Value of Maintenance

Obviously, emergencies and breakdowns take precedence. But what about the rest?

It’s not as simple as going down the list in order from high to low. Maintenance operations are far more complicated than that. Maintenance managers can start by understanding the value of each maintenance task.

When I prioritize tasks, I’m looking at four things…

  1. Value to my organization
  2. Time to complete
  3. Proximity and/or location
  4. Potential loss if not completed

I use these four things as a proportional tool to figure out what needs to happen when.

Obviously, value to the organization is a big part of the equation. You’re going to prioritize tasks on key assets that directly affect your operations.

Next, estimate how much time each task will take. CMMS software provides historical information about time and costs, which will give you the information you need to make data-driven decisions. But if you’re new to the CMMS world, make an educated guess.

Then, consider the proximity and/or location where the tasks take place. This factor is particularly important for organizations with large facilities, multiple locations, or off-site assets.

Finally, consider the potential impact if not done.  This can be critical, for example, if you don’t change a component on time and the failure disrupts maintenance operations.

Calculate Your ROI

How Does It Work?

Let’s look at some real-world scenarios.

Scenario 1. A key asset needs a major repair. Your tech is working on the same components that have a PM scheduled for next week. The equipment is disassembled, meaning it’s easier to access areas for lower priority tasks that don’t take a lot of time. It makes sense to do those other repairs or PMs at the same time, even though those tasks might be farther down on the list.

Scenario 2. You have an off-site facility that your techs visit infrequently. A high-priority task is scheduled, and your crew will travel to this site. It makes sense to take the extra time to perform maintenance on other equipment at the site, saving another trip later.

Scenario 3. Your tech is waiting for a part. There’s an hour to kill before the part is delivered. He checks his work order assignments, and he sees he doesn’t have enough time to dig into another high priority task before he’ll get pulled back to his original task. But while he waits, he can knock off a few quick work orders that don’t take a lot of time.

It’s a lot to track.

But CMMS software can help.

What Do You Have to Gain?

Once, you probably kept a written list on your desk, or maybe a spreadsheet on your computer. I sure did.

But those old methods take up a lot of time and certainly don’t help you or your team work efficiently, much less keep everyone on the same page.

And that’s where CMMS software can help.

Let me use a very simple example from my own experience. I used to keep detailed maintenance schedules written down on paper. It was a complicated, but thorough system. It also took a lot of time to keep updated. It took even more time to share it with my colleagues who needed to know what was going on.

CMMS software freed up my time and my mind. Reminders popped up when I needed them. Continuous schedules were easy to create. And if I had questions, my maintenance data had answers—answers for questions like…

  • How much am I spending to repair that asset?
  • Is it more cost effective to repair or replace it?
  • Is my team behind on scheduled tasks?
  • Should I hire another staff member?
  • Where is the money going?

Best of all, my CMMS software created a repository of maintenance information. That means I can ask different questions in the future—ones I didn’t think about earlier.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Maintenance reporting software makes asset information, historical data, vendor information, media files, and other details easily accessible to the people who need it. (Even better, if you’ve made the move to mobile, your team can easily find this information while they’re in the field or on the shop floor.)

With good data to work from, my crew could make good decisions. And I know it improved my company’s ability to compete.

Maintenance software helps you stay on top of your growing to-do list. Because the less time you spend making lists, the more time you can dedicate to more important things, like getting those tasks done.

What’s your experience using CMMS software to prioritize maintenance tasks? Any suggestions for other maintenance managers? Leave a comment or contact us.