What is a Work Order?

Malcolm Tatum

A work order is a document that provides important details about goods and services that a client wants to obtain from a vendor, a supplier or another department within the same company. This document — which might be a printed piece of paper or a document on a computer system or the Internet — often includes elements that help the person or people who will be fulfilling the work order to know exactly what the customer wants done or wants delivered, including how many units and details relating to things such as size, shape, color and other important options. A work order might be issued when a computer or other piece of equipment needs to be fixed, when equipment needs to be upgraded or replaced, when a stock of supplies needs to be refilled or in other situations when the client has a need for a certain good or service.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

There are other items of interest that might be added to the work order form at some point in the process. If the customer has been quoted a specific price for the goods and services requested on the work order from an outside vendor or service provider, that price is often listed. In the event that multiple units are ordered, the work order usually will include a column that lists the total cost of those items. The time and date that the order was issued might be included as well as the time and date when it is expected to be or must be completed. After the work is done or the delivery made, the time and date when this occurred usually is added to complete the document.

Work order forms also tend to include information about the process for delivery or the service being performed. The requester might specify a specific mode of delivery, such as general mail or by courier. In the event of large items that require shipping, the customer might request a particular freight line to be utilized. The customer might also request the delivery or service by a specific date or give instructions that the delivery or service must occur only on certain days of the week or at certain times of the day. This allows the person or people who will be fulfilling the order to adjust shipping or service arrangements to meet the needs of the customer.

Work order software is often used today to generate work orders that can be transmitted electronically. This cuts down on the amount of time that is required to receive an order from a customer. The vendor is able to print out the order or electronically transmit it, making it easier to track the progress of fulfillment from the point of receipt to completion.

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Discussion Comments


I am negotiating a Master Services Agreement with a consulting firm. Their process is to prepare a proposal that both parties sign in lieu of a work order. I didn't have a problem with that, except that their proposals were pretty skimpy on the details of what they were going to do. Now they have offered us a template for a work order that refers to a separate document ("project") for the details of the work. Can anyone provide any insight as to why they want two documents instead of one (for example, why not just include the details of the work in the work order)?


Your scenario shows that the vendor doesn't have good work order management system in place. I'd like to know what company it is and tell them that they're lacking a few years behind in IT.

A work order at the cost estimation stage is just an estimation unless it is at the invoice stage (in my opinion, your question on your agreement is just agreeing to an estimate, not the final pricing).

Work order -> Purchase order -> service entry -> invoice.

The actual work is the one that is precise and after that comes the invoicing although EPCC companies don't follow this format and does it as follows:

Work order -> purchase order -> invoice (with marked-up price because risk is factored in).

In this case, it can be estimated well and this is the only scenario where it is legal.



Can you tell me if a work order that has been signed after all work was done can be altered and then used to increase the bill after? I have this situation going on now with my oil company who says it is only an estimate and even after I signed it and the installer signed it that they can add more charges on it after. I would like to know if this is legal?


Work Orders, if you do not mind some added perspective, can also include orders to perform tasks at a facility, property, or on a specific item like an asset or piece of equipment. This is commonly referred to as a work request and found in work order management systems, like NetFacilities or MicroMain (or the like). I often see work orders as an integral part of facilities or asset management. So it is not always just related to orders but also scheduled work events (requests). I think there is a consistent trend to use web-based work orders because it improves communication and record keeping without the complexity of software installation.

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