3 reasons craftspeople don't document their work (and how to correct that)

Nov. 7, 2017
Explore the age-old dilemma of capturing work-order feedback.
Question: How do you persuade craftspeople to provide work-order feedback? What if they refuse or just give poor/nonuseful feedback?

Tracy, maintenance supervisor, Arizona

Answer: Ahh, the age-old dilemma of capturing work-order feedback. I often hear the following reasons given for not providing feedback:

  1. From older workers: "They just want my job. If I tell them what to do and how I do it, they’ll hire some young whippersnapper so they can pay them less and put me on the road."
  2. From too many: "It takes too much time to document. Do you want me on the computer or out on the floor fixing things? Make up your mind."
  3. From all: "Knowledge is power. If I hold things close to the vest and don’t share, then I can get the overtime and be the hero when they call me in to fix it."

Occasionally, I find the first one comes from a deep distrust between management and the craftspeople. Something may have happened 10–20 years ago that spawned this distrust, and the wounds may remain fresh in people's minds. Unfortunately, we tend to live way too much in the past. It’s important to learn from the past, but we can’t live there today. In some cases, the memories are more recent. Poor relationships with supervisors/management are the No. 1 reason people leave companies.

With respect to the second reason, often it stems from not doing a good job of educating people about the importance of documentation. I like to share the process of an FMEA or RCM analysis and then ask craftspeople to show me the documentation on specific failure modes. When they can’t, can’t we talk about the role of the reliability engineering function. To capture good data, we must provide a realistic amount of time to allow for the technicians to complete the documentation. When they make suggestions and request changes, such as to a job plan or a PM, we have to be prompt in accommodating the request or explaining why we can’t, i.e., because of an overriding safety consideration. Properly documenting work should be enforced as a job expectation. Tools such as tablets and barcodes simplify the process, but for older individuals, there may be a learning curve with these.

With the third reason, I have seen this taken to the extreme. In that situation, it frustrates other craftspeople, and the knowledge-hoarding individual(s) become toxic to the organization. In lesser cases, allowing the reactive, saves-the-day approach still causes frustration and can lead to excessive downtime. But think about it from the craftspeople’s view, too. How often do you reward doing a PM correctly? Not often, for most organizations. We tend to reward the heroic efforts that restore the line and get us running. The lack of cross-training is a downside to equipment ownership with the expectation that only specific technicians work on specific assets. Cross-training is needed to overcome this problem. Focus on rewarding the act of finding assets in the process of failure via the PM program. Or even better, focus on eliminating or reducing the potential for failure by using defect-elimination concepts.

Thankfully, many craftspeople understand the value of documenting their work. One of my old friends taught me a concept that I share with groups: I tell craftspeople that you are making a note to yourself or another team member. Maintenance work is repetitive. Today you might work on a pump. Two years later, the same failure might happen again. The logbooks where you wrote a note for the morning meeting two years ago have long disappeared. So has the paper work order, unless you keep the whole duplicated asset hierarchy with individual file folders in file drawers that may contain that paper. Typically, that does not happen anymore. The only tool you have is the CMMS or EAM system. The person who does the work is the best person to document what he or she did. If you put garbage in – well, you know the rest of the saying.  I’ll add that it is helpful if you provide a template of what is important to the organization today and what will be two years from now. Think reliability engineering, failure analysis, measures such as MTBF, etc.

If the craftspeople at your site effectively document their work, materials used, and failure codes as examples, what is your magic formula? What other reasons did I not mention? Email me at the address below and I will respond back to you or place your questions with my answers here.
Please post your comments so everyone can learn.

Talk soon,
Jeff Shiver, CMRP

If you have problems in the fields of maintenance, reliability, planning and scheduling, MRO storerooms, or leadership as examples, please contact Jeff Shiver with your question(s) here.

About the Author

Jeff Shiver | Founder and managing principal at People and Processes, Inc.

Jeff Shiver CMRP is a founder and managing principal at People and Processes, Inc. Jeff guides people to achieve success in maintenance and reliability practices using common sense approaches. Visit or email [email protected].

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