A Guide to Work Orders & Work Order Management (Sample Included)


A work order is the connective tissue between a customer and the work they want to be done. Work orders act as the paper trail defining what needs to be done, by when and for how much within an organization. Work order management is the lifeblood of many industries that provide service and maintenance.

Most of us have signed off on or have been given a work order, but like so much of what is commonplace, we don’t really have a firm idea of what it is and why it’s such a crucial link in many business transactions.

What Is a Work Order?

A work order is a document that describes a job between a customer and a contractor. Work orders can be generated for use within an organization, likely with work management software, but they most commonly serve as a contract between the customer and whomever they contract to execute the desired work.

A work order includes a description of the job with an estimate of what it will cost to get it done, including labor, parts and materials. There might be forms attached depending on the type of work you’re assigning, which may require permits or other paperwork.

The work order will also have information on the location where the work is needed, who will carry it out and the timeframe in which it should be completed. The customer information is also included and can be used as an invoice for the work.

Related: Free Work Order Template for Excel

What Are Work Orders Used For?

Work orders standardize workflow and create a simple and fast process for scheduling, assigning and tracking work while documenting resources and tracking performance.

Work orders are primarily used in the construction industry for service requests, but can also be used for products, inspections and audits. Work orders may not always be referred to as such. For example, in manufacturing, a work order is often called a sales order when a build or engineering is to take place.

Regardless of what industry a work order is used in, it is used to track and monitor the status of the job to make sure it is finished on time and within budget. This is true when work orders are used in field service or within an industry that is tasked with regular inspection. In that regard, they act almost like a project status report.

Work Order Types

In terms of structure, there are several types of work orders.

  • Quotes: This type of work order is a list of products with their pricing included. These quotes are captured and the customer can then make the decision as to whether they meet their financial requirements for the work. These products are not committed to inventory.
  • Orders: The difference between a quote work order and an orders-based work order is that the latter is a list of products that are more likely to be purchased by the customer. Therefore, these can be committed to an inventory.
  • Unplanned Work Order: This addresses work that has not been planned ahead of time, such as when machinery breaks down or when there is an urgent, unplanned corrective product maintenance.
  • Planned Work Order: When you have work that recurs and can be scheduled ahead of time such as preventive maintenance or other automatic updates, it is referred to as a planned work order.
  • Internal Work Order: These are work orders that originate from someone in the organization and are sent to another person within the same organization. The majority of internal work orders are digital.
  • External Work Order: When a work order originates from outside the organization, it is referred to as an external work order. These are often reviewed and scheduled before execution.
  • Manual Work Order: Maintenance managers often schedule manual work orders by hand after receiving a work request. They assign manual work orders to the corresponding team member either internally or externally.
  • Automatic Work Order: When a work order can be set up to automatically schedule assignments to corresponding employees, often through a software tool, it is referred to as an automatic work order.

If you’re talking about a service work order, then rather than a product, you’re detailing the schedule for that job to be delivered.

These types are somewhat flexible in that once the work order is made, it can be changed from a quote to an order, detailing how many products on the quote can be committed to. An order to a quote has order-only information, such as an authorization date.

Work Order Sample

You may be wondering what should be on a work order to yield the most effective outcome. To get a better general idea of work orders and what they entail, let’s look at a sample. ProjectManager has a number of free project management templates, and pictured below is a full version of our work order template. We will outline the different elements of the work order and how to use them.

Contact and Internal Information

Our free work order template can be customized to fit the perimeters of your business, but it’s fully loaded with the basics. At the top is where much of the pertinent information is captured, such as company name, address and contact.

There’s also a place to add the work order number, which is key to keeping track of the job and finding the work order quickly. Dates are included for when the work order is issued, when the work is expected to start, finish and when it’s completed.

A priority level can be set. The person who requested the work order is identified and a customer ID for internal use is given. For larger organizations, the department can be specified.

Job Description

The meat of the work order is of course the job and its related labor and materials. Here the work is described, who is billed is identified, and, if necessary, where the work will be shipped is identified.

Following this is a detailed description of the work to be done and how many hours it will take to do each line time, as well as the rate of the worker tasked with the job. This is then totaled.

Required Materials

The next section in our work order sample lists the materials needed to complete the job, how much of each, the cost and any applicable tax. All this is added to the above total for a subtotal. Any additional charges are added to this subtotal to reach the total price of the work order.

Finally, there’s space to add additional information. Then there’s a signature and dateline. Again, this is a work order example, but a few tweaks can apply to almost any work order you have to need to produce.

Key Principles of Good Work Order Management

A work order is in effect a task. It’s a way to describe, assign and track a job to make sure it is completed on time and within an agreed-upon budget. Managing the creating and flow of a work order as it moves from initiation to execution and completion is key.

The work order management process follows three simple steps:

  1. Create a new work order: Whether it is a tangible or digital work order, it’s important to task the correct individual(s) with details on this task, including information such as purpose, priority level, descriptive information, and more.
  2. Traffic through the organization: Ensure that the recipient has the necessary information they need to complete the work order according to your specifications.
  3. Close the work order when complete: To keep the workflow organized, ensure that all work orders are completed before creating a new work order.

In terms of those who are involved in work order management, they include the person who requested the work, the individual who is authorized to approve it and those who carry it out.

Having some reporting mechanism will also help to keep track of the work and make sure that it’s finished by the deadline. When finished, payment is required, and so payroll needs to be involved to manage any down payments and then final pay.

How ProjectManager Streamlines Work Order Management

ProjectManager is award-winning software that helps organize work and drive efficiency. Generating, tracking and paying for work orders is enhanced by our cloud-based tool that gives you real-time data to always know if you’re keeping on schedule.

Kanban boards can be used to create work orders, add attachments, set priorities and track progress. These boards are particularly appealing to those who prefer a visual workflow. Work orders are made on digital cards that are then placed beneath columns that represent the phases of the work, which can be customized to match your organization’s nomenclature.

ProjectManager's kanban boards are ideal to manage tasks while executing work orders

Track Progress for Better Results

Keep track of progress on dashboards that automatically reflect status updates and calculate metrics such as time, tasks, costs and more. For example, if you’re putting together a mechanic work order and your crew is in the field, as long as they have internet connectivity, they can update their status or collaborate by commenting at the task level.

real-time dashboard monitors progress and performance of work orders

Time logged on work can also be tracked with timesheets that streamline payroll as well. They’re secure and easy to use. Our unlimited file storage means you can use the tool as a centralized hub to manage all your work orders.

ProjectManager is a cloud-based tool that organizes work and workers for greater productivity. Manage your work orders and keep your team working wherever they are or whenever they’re working. Try ProjectManager today by taking this free 30-day trial.

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