Featured Maintenance Management

A Quick Guide to Avoid Getting Pencil Whipped!

Pencil whipping in manufacturing and maintenance management refers to signing off inspection work, preventive maintenance, quality check, or even filling out behavior-based safety observation cards without actually auditing or checking if those tasks were completed.
What is pencil whipping? How can you use a CMMS to avoid getting pencil whipped?

We've all been guilty of clicking the 'I agree’ button on a website's privacy policy or signing off work documents without reading them thoroughly. This process of approving any document or form without reviewing it is known as pencil whipping.

What is pencil whipping?

Pencil whipping in manufacturing and maintenance management refers to signing off inspection work, preventive maintenance, quality check, or even filling out behavior-based safety observation cards without actually auditing or checking if those tasks were completed.

Pencil whip often happens for tasks you take to prevent assets from breakdowns.

Now, let’s look at some examples to understand when you run the risk of pencil whipping.

Examples of pencil whipping

These common pencil whipping examples show how inattention from facility management staff can cause serious operational threats.

  • Equipment inspections: Planned maintenance inspections help organizations keep assets in tip-top shape and ensure worker safety. Some technicians may not do these inspections as frequently as they should or take things for granted because everything seems alright. They mark the inspection checklist complete and send it to the manager, who approves the report without verification. As a result, equipment remains unchecked for months before they break down.
  • Safety procedures: Frequent building maintenance is key to spotting safety risks, evaluating, and finally eliminating them. However, facility managers may overlook building safety checks because of a lack of staff in busy facilities and workplaces. This lack of machinery or employee safety checks causes pencil whipping. This negligence causes deferred maintenance and may attract hefty Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fines.
  • Inventory checks: Facilities with a large number of goods often struggle with inventory management. When employees report stocks falsely for the sake of completing the task, they run the risk of pencil whipping.
  • Training certifications: Some technicians may get certificates without completing the training. They may already know the contents of the training or received similar training earlier. Regardless, training certification is another area that frequently deals with pencil whipping.

Pencil whipping often causes you to miss early signs of future disaster, but once you understand why it occurs, you can deal with it better.

Common reasons for pencil whipping

Pencil whipping doesn’t always happen because your employees are lazy or unwilling to do things. Check out these common reasons to understand the why.

Too few technicians

Preventive maintenance checklists tell you how the maintenance cycle works. Ideally, you go through four stages i.e., planning, doing, checking, and acting for task scheduling, completion, evaluation, and iterative improvement. Following these stages to the ‘t’ gives you the intended maintenance results.

However, many facilities suffer from too many tasks and too few workers. This worker shortage means workers aren’t able to complete every task, and maintenance managers are swamped with paperwork, so they cannot analyze preventive maintenance tasks thoroughly.

Pencil whipping happens as technicians and managers cannot optimize preventive maintenance yet mark tasks complete without actually doing them.

Lack of accountability and management

Any maintenance inspection you run based on condition-based maintenance helps you save time on preventive replacements or repairs. As these inspections pass every time, technicians may stop doing them altogether, believing they are useless.

Ideally, you should use the P-F interval — the time between when you initially detect a potential failure and when it functionally occurs — to understand when asset inspection is a must.

It’s also possible that technicians aren't completing tasks because management hasn't communicated what needs to be done.

Too ambitious metrics

Monitoring maintenance metrics helps you determine whether or not you are meeting your goals. Your employees may whip the pencil to prove that everything is going well if you set unattainable goals and prioritize numbers.

This pencil whipping will be visible in lagging metrics — numbers you set for long-term goals. That’s why it’s important to set realistic goals and numbers for your maintenance staff.

The good news is that you can prevent pencil whipping with the right precautions. Keep reading to know more.

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How to prevent pencil whipping

The problem of pencil whipping is more serious than you think. It’s an organizational problem that requires a combination of multiple strategies or measures.

Start proactively using these strategies to eliminate pencil whipping.

Create a transparent work environment

There are multiple ways to introduce transparency in your facility. The easiest way is to use maintenance management software so no one can manipulate records.

Additionally, you can encourage transparency by providing clear instructions and giving staff enough time to complete their tasks. Also, ask employees to add narratives instead of just yes and no responses in checklists.

Perform random inspections

Random checks on equipment once in a while help you manage asset lifecycle, keep users safe, and ensure procedures are followed correctly.

During these checks, pay attention to signs of pencil whipping, such as multiple checklists submitted without spotting problems.

People who collect data also influence maintenance decisions. That’s why try changing worker routines once in a while so that everyone has to pay attention to the data they’re capturing and recording.

Understand workers’ challenges

Technicians may want to rush through records as they fill out multiple maintenance checklists daily. Then, it becomes a habit over time to assume that machines are working fine.

Take the time to help technicians understand the company's larger goals and objectives to avoid this mentality.

Making important decisions depends on the data they report. So, take time to analyze and resolve their challenges without punishing them.

Don’t rely on quota

Employees may act carelessly and neglect checks when they know they have to hit certain numbers every day.

Quota-based rewards aren’t the right way to motivate them. Motivating your employees with incentives will make them care about your business.

Consider using a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to track maintenance checklists and understand whether assets are about to experience critical failure.

Let’s look at how having a CMMS can protect you from pencil whipping.

Using a CMMS solution to avoid getting pencil whipped

A CMMS solution like Facilio helps create accountability and transparency at all levels.

For example, you can use it to create, schedule, and track work orders.

That way, maintenance managers have a 360° view of scheduled and pending tasks. Plus, you’ll have a dashboard for faster insights into maintenance key performance indicators (KPIs) and decisions.

Technicians can also use CMMS mobile apps to fill out checklists and forms — which prevents them from pencil-whipping data.

For every inspection, you can also provide them with feedback so that they know what to do next. Moreover, technicians can use CMMS to check O&M manuals and receive notifications about assets.

Don’t let pencil whipping blind you

Pencil whipping often starts with a few people skipping inspection because of too much work or lack of communication. Then, the problem slowly starts creeping up and influencing others.

Until massive breakdowns occur, you don't see it coming. With CMMS software, you can cut pencil whipping down and streamline maintenance seamlessly.

Get started now.

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