Small Jobs in Maintenance

Every maintenance professional should strive to rise above reactivity. Effective planning and scheduling are critical components to rising out of reactivity, aka, the Circle of Despair (see Fig. 1.) If you are reading this, you probably already know why maintenance planning is important. This article is about small jobs in maintenance that need limited or no formal planning.

One struggle that comes with being reactive is an ever-growing backlog. You try to do the right things and plan every job, but you often think “How will I ever plan it all?” The good, and possibly surprising, news is: you don’t need to. With certain maintenance jobs the formal planning process isn’t necessary because it’s just overkill and not cost effective.

This maintenance job category is known as “small jobs.” Small jobs are managed instead of planned; they do not need to go through the formal planning process. However, there are some controls that must be followed to prevent this job category from being abused.

small jobs in maintenance
Figure 1.


There are four criteria that signify a job can be categorized as small.

  • Requires no more than two human-hours to complete.
  • Parts and materials cost less than US$200.
  • The job does not require a shutdown.
  • The job does not involve the modification of any equipment or process.

These are not hard and fast rules, only examples. Tailor your criteria to best meet your business needs. One important thing to note: the criteria you choose for your organization must be documented and communicated to be effective and to avoid complications down the line.


Now, let’s discuss the management process for a small job contrasted with the formal job planning process. The question to ask is: Who is responsible for managing small jobs? The short answer is: the maintenance supervisor.

First, a need for repair is identified that meets the small job criteria. Depending on your organization, the requestor should notify the maintenance supervisor about the maintenance deficiency.


After being notified of the work request, the maintenance supervisor assesses the urgency and scope of the job or possibly assigns a tradesperson to do this assessment. If the assessment finds that the job does indeed meet the small job criteria, the maintenance supervisor assigns a tradesperson and schedules the job in a way that is compatible with the weekly or daily maintenance schedule. The costs and labor hours associated with the job should be applied to a standing work order that is assigned to a specific equipment or asset number instead of creating a unique work order. Note: small jobs should not be considered break-in jobs, and experienced planners know to leave some flexibility within the schedule to allow for the small jobs that do come up.

The next step is to perform the work. If something comes up during the job that is going to cause the duration to exceed two hours or cost more than $200, return everything to a safe and as-functional-as-possible state and notify the maintenance supervisor that a formal work order will need to be created.

small jobs in maintenance
Figure 2.

The tradesperson will record the data for the portion of work performed into the work history of the standing work order so that the integrity of the asset history can be preserved and KPIs can be calculated (see Fig. 2).

To recap, some key differences between small job management and the formal planning process are:

  1. Small jobs are managed by the maintenance supervisor instead of planner.
  2. A standing work order is used instead of creating a standard work order.
  3. The job is scheduled by the maintenance supervisor rather than the scheduler.
  4. There are controls unique to small job management that are not part of formal planning.
  5. There are also KPIs that only apply to small jobs.

Planners always have so much on their plate, and they will be more successful if you start prioritizing your efforts and not just the work orders. There are unique small job management controls that must be in place to keep the planning and scheduling process from going completely downhill.


The first is a well-written work request, as this is where the supervisor gets most of the details (Fig. 3). The description should be clear enough that there is no need for a work order package or, ideally, any verbal instructions beyond what is on the work request.

The second is what is called a small jobs error report. This is a weekly report sent out by the maintenance supervisor that is basically an estimate vs. actual type of report. It lists data about tasks completed as small jobs that ended up exceeding the limiting criteria of a small job.

For instance, suppose there was secondary damage that was not observed during the assessment, but instead of reporting the updated estimate to the supervisor, the tradesperson decided to make all the necessary repairs since it wouldn’t take that much longer than originally thought. No! Bad idea.

maintenance work request entrie
Figure 3: Maintenance work request entries are an important part of planning and scheduling small jobs.

The supervisor must hold the well-meaning tradesperson accountable for not following the management process because, in this instance, the duration of repair only increased by five minutes, but the cost totaled $400, which disqualifies it as a small job.

This job should have gone through the formal process.

The last and probably most important element is a set of Key Performance Indicators that measure the percentage of jobs charged to equipment or asset numbers (Fig. 4) and one that measures the percentage of jobs that do not meet the small job criteria. You will need to be diligent with your small jobs error reports as this is where the data for this second KPI comes from.

Mills should use these KPIs to monitor whether people are abusing the small jobs process. Since there is no real benchmark for these KPIs, you will need to determine what percentage is typical for your organization and monitor for any significant changes.


Managing small jobs in this manner is a very effective way to take a big chunk out of your planner’s workload and will help reduce the maintenance backlog more efficiently. But for the remaining work orders, a simple yet detailed and disciplined approach to planning is required. As a planner, you will always have so much on your plate, and you will only be more successful if you start prioritizing your efforts and not just the work orders.

Sign up for IDCON’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Training or our new self-guided training based on your role in the organization. Thank you for reading, and remember to “keep it simple.”

Greg Mecomber is a consultant with IDCON Inc. Access more Reliability and Maintenance resources at