Why Do We Need Work Orders? We Don’t !!

Lean companies – for the most part – do not use Work Orders to control production. Why not? Because work orders are very wasteful. It takes a lot of time and effort to run the work-order process, and it is 100% waste.

There is another, deeper reason also. In many companies, work orders are designed for push production;  usually they are needed to bring a semblance of control to out-of-control processes. They are band-aids for poorly performing processes.  Lean companies, on the other hand, control their processes through pull, visual management, standard work, and empowered people. Using work orders gets in the way of visual management and empowered people, and perpetuates poor processes.

So How Do We Go About Eliminating Work Orders?

When I help companies tackle this issue, we do it in steps.

First,  you list the reasons why you need to use a work order. I have identified 15 reasons (plus lot traceability) for using a work order. In your company it might be more or it might be fewer. But there are typically a lot of good reasons for using a work order.  Here’s my example list:Picture1Second, once you have the list and everybody involved agrees that this is the right list – then you ask the question: “What would a truly lean organization do?” You go through step-by-step on your list and show how a truly Lean company would achieve these important needs without using a work order.  The picture below shows the answers one company came up with. As you can see, they found Lean ways to eliminate work orders for every thing except Lot Traceability which they are required to do by law.


Lot Traceability can be considered “required waste.”  So if you need it, you will want to come up with the least-work way of achieving the traceability. In some companies the least-work way is a simple database. In one sophisticated Lean plant I have worked at, they went back to doing it by hand in a notebook. Sometimes even using a work order is the least-work way. But in this case, you would use the work order ONLY for traceability and not for anything else.  No matter what you choose to do, your goal should be to achieve lot traceability by taking away as much waste as possible from the process, so least work is also least waste.

Third, you ask the question: “What must be in place within our organization to eliminate the work orders and still have the business under control?” This may require the introduction of more Lean methods. But more often, you do not need to introduce NEW Lean methods; you just have to use your current Lean methods in a more rigorous and controlled way. We all know that Toyota has no work orders and no computer transactions to run their production. And yet their plants are under very rigorous control and capability. Lean methods and Lean thinking take away the need for wasteful, transaction-intensive systems including work orders.

Why Eliminate Work Orders?

  1. Your processes will be under much better control.
  2. Your visual management will be enhanced.
  3. Your people will be more empowered.
  4. Your eliminate 1000’s or millions of wasteful transactions.
  5. You eliminate the work required to correct the transaction errors, and the reconciliations and meetings that go with it.
  6. You eliminate a complicated part of the ERP system which eliminates waste for IT.
  7. You use a lot less paper – which is good for the environment and the orderliness of your business.