How to write a maintenance task procedure

Thorough maintenance task procedures document the repair process and make everyone accountable for their actions.

By Hank Kocevar February 12, 2021

While asset maintenance analysis tools have become more sophisticated, providing simple, clear and actionable maintenance task procedures remain essential.

A trip down maintenance memory lane

As a young technician, I was tasked to develop a simple maintenance checklist for a critical piece of equipment. Prior to that, my company’s maintenance plan was “fix it when it breaks.”

So where did I start? I found the technical publication for the asset I was tasked to maintain. It had great disassembly and reassembly procedures and some recommended checks: grease bearings, check oil level, inspect gear teeth. However, it was sparse on details for these checks. After years of use, the manual was worn, and pages were missing.

Luckily, even during my early career we were capturing machines’ history data on 5” X 7” index cards using an asset identification numbering system that those in the U. S. Navy and Coast Guard know as the allowance parts list (APL) number. I sat down with the machinery history data cards and the technical manual. I read what was recommended by the machine’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM). I reviewed this asset’s failures and the tasks we were performing to maintain it.

I found out the work being documented on the machinery history card did not reflect all the work being done to the asset. There was some information, but it reflected our fix-it-when it-breaks maintenance philosophy. With guidance from my supervisor, a leader ahead of his time, we decided to start with basic checks that would be conducted pre-and post-operation;  monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually.

I looked at the OEM recommendations and then the breakdowns shown on the machinery history. It became apparent our lubrication program was not adequate: We were over greasing the points that were accessible and not greasing the ones that were out of sight. It also became evident the asset was not being properly operated.

Avoid errors of omission

The lessons I learned from that early-career experience continue to serve me today. In working with various organizations and assets, I’m challenged to rectify the problems caused by inadequate maintenance documentation. My experiences have made me a stickler for detailed maintenance procedures and checklists based off failure modes, maintenance task analysis, and operator and maintainer training.

Most of us have graduated from 5” X 7’” index cards to computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), from greasy technical manuals to electronic manuals on a tablet or other handheld device. However, many organizations still struggle to use good procedures when executing maintenance programs.

Creating a maintenance task list

The best way to stay on track with your asset maintenance program? Stick to a step by step task list.

1. Set up a method to quickly identify the asset and its maintenance requirements.

During one site assessment, I spent almost a 1/2 hour with a new technician trying to locate a piece of equipment on the floor. Because the facility had recently been modified and a new site map had not been created, it took the supervisor another 10 minutes to finally locate it. Take a picture of the asset. Identify its location on the facility map. Many organizations now barcode or QR code their assets so the technician can capture the tag from their device and immediately get detailed information for that asset.

2. Now that we have identified the asset, do we have everything we need to do the job?

I hate going back to the storehouse to get a part I need that should have been identified or a torque wrench that should have been called out. How common is this for the technicians at your site?

What tools do we need? A standard wrench set or a special stubby wrench to fit into a tight space? A belt tension gage for checking v-belts? A straight edge if you do not have a tension gage? Do we need any lubricants? What type of grease should I use? Can’t I use either a Lithium (12-Hydroxy Stearate) or a Lithium Complex grease? No, the temperature ranges are different.  Be specific when calling out lubricants, and train personnel in proper lube procedures. Will we need to change filters on the asset? Document on the procedure the name and part number of the filter or other parts that will be required.

3. Are there any special requirements for this job?

Are we sending the right person to do the job? The scheduler must know who to assign to the task. Can an apprentice handle it? Or do we need a master technician?

4. Considerations for step-by-step procedures.

Organizations that send technicians with minimal skills and training may want incredibly detailed instructions that are truly error-proof, where steps are called out down to the number of turns of the screwdriver required to remove a screw.

I recommend keeping procedural steps as concise as possible. Include pictures or graphics. Write procedures that match the technicians’ levels of competency and training. Keep the detail at the right level. Now you can even embed videos and show the technician what they should be doing.

Are there special circumstances the technician needs to be aware of? Call out warnings (items that can cause personal injury), cautions (which emphasize steps that could result in equipment damage if not properly performed) and notes to emphasize these circumstances or steps.

There should be a space available on the maintenance form for the technician to add “condition found” and “condition left” comments. In what state did they find the asset before performing maintenance? Are there discrepancies that need attention, such as a leak or a loose fastener that requires corrective maintenance?

The form should also include space for the technician to comment on how they left the asset. Did they take care of the loose fastener? Wipe up the leak? Identify what needs to be fixed? Start a corrective work order?

Provide a sign off space if there are any special steps that require quality assurance. Does the technician want a second party to verify that they performed a critical step correctly? Do they need another pair of eyes to make sure the seal cover is torqued correctly? Is it worth the time/cost to have someone verify it?

Finally, your form should use the terminology common to your industry, the trade being tasked to perform the work and the document style prescribed by the organization.

Give the maintenance task a final review

After developing the task, take a break. When it comes time to review, ask these questions:

  • Can I explain how this task minimizes the risk of failure occurring? Is the asset properly and clearly identified with a common name and tag ID?
  • Did I choose the correct skill needed for the task? Is that skill currently available? Will I need to provide initial training?
  • Have I identified the safety precautions, tools, parts and consumables the technician will need? Are those items readily available? Nothing frustrates techs like trips to the storeroom to get a required tool or part that wasn’t called out.
  • Have I identified all the warnings, cautions and notes needed to ensure the safety of personnel, equipment, and the facility?
  • Are my procedure steps in logical sequence? Do they make sense? Have your technicians review and walk through the procedure. Incorporate their feedback into the final procedure.

Operators and technicians are your eyes, ears and noses on the plant floor. Their feedback loop is critical to continuous improvement. Give them a way to provide comments and ideas and let them know you are looking at it. To this goal, did I include white space in the asset maintenance procedures for technicians to add their comments on the condition they found and left the asset?

Are there critical steps on the task that require quality assurance (QA)? Who can sign off on the check? Have I provided specifications on what is satisfactory/unsatisfactory? What does good look like?

Finally, get the technician to own their work by signing off that it was properly completed. This allows the maintenance task to be closed out.

Hank Kocevar, CMRP, is a senior consultant to Daniel Penn Associates, a CFE Media content partner. They can be reached at 860-232-8577.

Author Bio: Hank Kocevar, CMRP, is a senior consultant to Daniel Penn Associates, a CFE Media content partner.