A maintenance backlog isn’t bad per se, but if it’s too high, it’s a sign of multiple problems costing you real money. Like many companies, you may not be tracking and measuring the impacts to justify what it’s going to take to reduce the backlog to acceptable levels.

What is a Maintenance Backlog?

A backlog is the list of maintenance work that is planned and ready to be put on the work schedule. But there’s more to understanding the backlog.

  1. All work isn’t high priority – what must be done for safety or to keep critical equipment running?
  2. What resources by trade are available? – maybe you have more electrical work than you have electrician hours, or too little planned work for plumbers.
  3. Is the report accurate? Do you have four work orders in the backlog as a result of missing 4 months of a single Preventive Maintenance (PM) task?
  4. Are the work orders fully planned and materials are available?

The backlog is more complex than it appears. As a result, many organizations avoid the work needed to effectively manage the backlog which causes a pattern of reactive maintenance and letting equipment run-to-failure. The consequence? Breakdowns fill technicians’ schedules and cause the backlog of PMs and corrective work orders to grow out-of-control. And the real cost of reactive maintenance is reduced asset availability, material waste, and loss of productivity of production resources.

“Poor maintenance strategies can reduce the overall productive capacity of a plant by 5 to 20 percent.” Deloitte

Start Managing the Backlog

Avoid the cost and profitability impacts of poor maintenance practices by managing the backlog. Start with understanding the current state of your maintenance data.

Three Steps to Manage Backlog:

  1. Clean– Remove completed work, duplicate work orders (like 3 of the 4 missed PM tasks), and any work that is not fully planned. Don’t count work orders that are missing materials, resource assignments, work details and an estimate of time required.
  2. Measure - Pull 1-2 weeks of fully planned work orders covering preventive maintenance, inspections, and corrective tasks. Calculate the total backlog (in hours) of the work planned and compare to staff availability for the same time period (in hours).
  3. Evaluate the Results - A healthy backlog is ≈two weeks of work per technician. Less than two weeks of work can be a signal of overstaffing and over two weeks highlights a staffing issue. But this is just a starting point – the real picture is in the details.

Best Practices to Manage the Backlog

1. Breakdown the Backlog Measure – Evaluate the backlog at a granular level.
  • View by the skills required to do the job. Which trades (mechanics, plumbers, electricians...) and skill level.
  • View by criticality of the work for safety or to meet production requirements.
  • View the past PMs that were not completed to reprioritize due to the higher risk level from further delays.

With the advanced views of the situation, you can proactively manage your maintenance resources to address the future demand.

2. Gain Organizational Alignment – Since production plays a critical role for planning equipment downtime to conduct PMs and corrective maintenance work, their involvement is key to backlog management. If you are struggling to plan equipment downtime with production to complete PMs, you likely have a misalignment or distrust in the criticality of planned PMs. Start by gaining alignment on how work is prioritized and how the backlog is measured. Then, use the backlog reports as part of the schedule alignment process for objective decision-making.

3. Improve Maintenance Planning & Scheduling – Improving utilization of a technician’s time is less costly than paying overtime, hiring contractors, or dealing with the breakdown consequences of a high backlog. 

“You can increase your workforce by 35% without hiring anyone with proper planning & scheduling.”

Erik Hupje, The Road 2 Reliability

A high backlog of work can signal gaps in your planning and scheduling processes. A red flag is seeing a lot of work orders that aren’t completed the first time and remain in the backlog. Seek to understand the reasons why and you’ll find many connect back to gaps in planning and scheduling:

  • Parts were not available to complete the work
  • Equipment is unavailable when the technician was scheduled to complete the work
  • Skills mismatch - the worker assigned didn’t have the right skills to do the job.

4. Right-size Your Preventive Maintenance Plans -- Having too many PMs can lead to wasted use of resources, contributing to a backlog problem. “Experience and studies show that up to a third of the tasks in most preventive maintenance programs add no real value. Another third would usually benefit from a change of frequency.” according to Erik Hupje, The Road 2 Reliability.
This situation also leads to organizational distrust in the need for the work thus skipping the tasks and growing the backlog with missed scheduled PMs. Investing time in right-sizing your PM plans pays off in greater alignment and productivity for both the maintenance and production team.

5. Maintain Detailed Work Plans -- Effectively managing the maintenance backlog requires investment in work planning from creating quality preventative maintenance tasks and inspection lists to documented procedures for common repairs. With robust work plans, you can view not only the work that is ready to be scheduled, but also the next two weeks of work orders. This allows you to better manage your resources before getting into the near term (1-2 week) scheduling window.

"It is widely accepted in the maintenance industry that a well-planned Work Order is about 3 times less expensive than the same unplanned reactive Work Order, and that Emergency repairs may cost as much as 5 to 7 times more than planned work, which can obviously have a huge impact on the bottom line".

Marshall Institute, A Measured Approach to Uptime

The Cost of Carrying a High Backlog?

If you are not tracking and viewing the backlog, you may not see the real cost inefficiencies in your maintenance program. What if seven technicians can do the work of 10? How much would you save in overtime and contractor costs? What if the lack of PMs led to 10% more equipment failures? In turn, the failures resulted in equipment downtime, waste in raw materials, and reduced production output of 5% to 20%? Not only does this impact company profitability but could lead to losing customers.

Isn’t it time to make a commitment to advance your maintenance planning and scheduling? In no time, you’ll be able to take advantage of the backlog reports to manage your resources, plan for contractors, or justify further process and technology improvements.

Take Control of Your Backlog

Sigga Technologies, a global leader in providing mobile EAM solutions for SAP users, has an industry-leading Planning and Scheduling solution that integrates seamlessly with SAP PM. This solution gives planners and schedulers access to accurate and complete data in real-time including insightful backlog reports. The solution automates the tedious planning tasks to check equipment downtime and materials availability, assign resources, then schedule work orders based on your unique priorities. Our clients have been able to take control of their backlogs and achieve results including 25% increases in wrench time and 10% increases in mean time between failures.


Contact us to learn how to reduce your maintenance costs with better maintenance management.

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