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How is your backlog?

If you are managing an organization, I will assume that you have experienced the overwhelming sensation of uncovering a backlog that is out of control. It could be your backlog of open safety incidents, open corrective actions, or maybe a backlog of open work orders in a CMMS (computerized maintenance management system). Regardless, we have all most likely experienced this overwhelming sensation of this mountain in front of us that is as old as the dinosaurs. Previous habits or a lack of controls indiscreetly increase the age and size of your backlog drip-by-drip.

In front of you, the size and amount of work by one individual are extremely intimidating. This most likely transitions your organization to manage just the latest events or work that only “I” put in. Then one by one, some of these that “I” put in creep into the aged backlog. Next thing you know, you have hundreds of items that are old and you don’t know where to begin to address. How can we fix this habit to overcome the burden of having an aged backlog and transition to managing decisions from one list? How do we clean it for good so that it stays in a controllable state?

What frames the backlog?

A phrase I have often heard is that your backlog is work that is in an open status, and open is from the time of the dinosaurs to when the zombie apocalypse will begin. The intent here is that it is a collection of all identified work that is not closed or complete. When you first look at your backlog from this view as a team, I will assume you and your peers have the common reasons for its clutter and obnoxious size. You have probably heard that most are complete but the status just isn’t complete. Or you may have heard, that most are duplicates or the person that created it is no longer here to complete it. There is a laundry list of reasons why it is what it is.

This list of excuses is endless. However, when the backlog is this deep, I will challenge the fact that no organization can effectively manage the intent of having a backlog. The backlog is intended to reflect the debt of the organization while indicating work that has been identified and needed to transition to close or complete status.

The maintenance backlog provides a list of tasks to be carried out over a specified period. A certain backlog is generally acceptable, otherwise, it may indicate excessive work. The idea is not to eliminate the backlog but to manage it effectively. -

What frames the backlog?

From this view, you obtain two important measurements that should be clearly understood as individual attributes denoting the health of the backlog. The first is the size, which is typically the number of hours of work divided by the number of hours available to do the work. This is typically trended and targeted to be between an upper threshold and a lower threshold. The second is the age of the backlog. The age denotes the average age of the work, providing a pulse of when the work was identified today.

Backlog age

Two things are typically missing that have enabled the age of the backlog to grow. The first is that departments tend to be missing an “age” metric. The Society of Maintenance Reliability Professionals refers to this in 5.4.6 Work Order Aging. It is a simple calculation that takes the date that the work was identified minus the current date. Then takes the average of these values in an entire backlog. The intent is not to have everything due in the future, there is no perfect plan nor an endless supply of resources to get everything completed before the due date. The goal is to ensure we are conscious of what is aging.

Deviations from the criteria indicate the need to review and update the backlog or to identify and correct the causes of work orders that are not being completed in a timely manner, based on priority and age. - SMRP Best Practices 5th, 5.4.6 Work Order Aging

Backlog housekeeping

The second thing typically missing is periodic housekeeping. The best practice I have seen is that the organization simply places a calendar invitation in their calendar system or preventive maintenance (PM) within their CMMS to “cleanse the backlog.” This is a fairly simple activity evaluating all work that is “old.” Consider an organization classifies “old” as 90 days, they evaluate all work that is older than 90 days. Coming from this activity, there is action being conducted on everything old. These actions can include deleting, completing, or rescheduling the work. The intent of this cleanse is to come away with nothing considered “old.”

Here is a simple but overlooked concept: Items on the maintenance backlog should NOT celebrate birthdays. If the work has been in the queue for a year, odds are that you are not going to do it. Get rid of it. - Jeff Shiver, CMRP,


Understanding the health of the backlog is critical for an organization to transition identified work through a planning and scheduling process. Housekeeping initiatives and measuring the backlog are essential for the organization to understand the identified work and its importance to today’s mission. It doesn’t have to get to a point of an overwhelming task, it can be managed with some simple actions.



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