How to use KPIs to drive positive behavioral change

New software and technology options enable a more streamlined approach to compel continuous improvement, reduce unplanned downtime.

By Sheila Kennedy, Contributing Editor

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Ideally, key performance indicators (KPIs) are a reflection of a company’s strategic objectives and they compel continuous improvements. In practice, this is not always the case.

KPIs are wholly ineffective if they don’t drive positive change. If the data is not timely enough, the corrective actions are not prompt enough, the wrong information is measured, or no action is taken, their full potential will never be achieved.

Fortunately, there are new, more efficient ways to access KPIs and put them into action. In the past, specialists needed to pull data from multiple systems into a spreadsheet, perform the analysis, and present the data to decision makers. New software and technology options enable a more streamlined approach. Rather than waiting weeks or even months to receive reports, executives can now sometimes instantly receive actionable KPI data and analytics in dashboards and reports. Some software tools even go so far as to identify the root cause of problems and suggest possible solutions.

The following experiences of four reliability professionals hint at the many ways KPIs can drive behavior, for better and sometimes worse. A summary of innovative KPI enablers reveals how it is becoming much easier to spur positive change.

KPIs are making a difference

KPIs encapsulate large quantities of information into relevant snippets, making it easier to stay on top of trends, evaluate options, and formulate action plans. Leaders from the C-suite, plant floor, and external service providers need this high-quality information as fast as possible in order to make the best, most timely decisions.

BorgWarner, a supplier of automotive parts and systems, is a very data-driven business. “We keep our finger on the pulse of the manufacturing process by being aware of subtle changes in performance through our KPIs, taking action at the appropriate levels and times to eliminate any possible impact to our quality and productivity goals,” says Wilfred Venet, reliability engineer at BorgWarner PowerDrive Systems.

“We have evolved in my short term with BorgWarner as a result of the extensive use of meaningful KPIs,” adds Venet. “I have seen a cultural growth in terms of communicating opportunities with supporting data from several perspectives, allowing people of various levels in the organization to recognize their potential in contributing toward goals and objectives.”

At CB&I Peruana S.A.C., reliability & CBM leader Victor Manriquez manages according to the KPIs included in his client’s service level agreements (SLAs). “KPIs show us how the maintenance contract that we are involved in is performing in relation to the KPI clauses, and to the values that the client expects as result of our performance. It allows us to look at what measures we have to take in order to meet the contracted KPIs,” says Manriquez.

For instance, if the maintenance backlog values are high, his team will analyze the work orders to determine what kinds of tasks and what equipment are draining their labor resources.

“We are not chasing the KPIs, per se, anymore. We see the KPIs as a result of our actions,” explains Manriquez. “If we find any kind of deviation in the main KPIs, we look to find where to improve in order to manage the deviation.”

Amber Monceaux, reliability engineer at Solvay Specialty Polymers, says that KPI monitoring has had an overwhelmingly positive impact with very few exceptions. “In my previous role as maintenance manager for another polymer manufacturer, we started off way behind the curve. We had no KPIs, an ineffective maintenance management system, and a minuscule maintenance budget. We spent most of our time ‘bailing water,’” she says. Then the company standardized all sites on one computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). “It allowed me to monitor several KPIs – the most significant at that time being storeroom stock-outs and mean time between failure (MTBF).”

Over time, her team was able to reduce the overall stores value and nearly eliminate stock-outs by making changes such as correcting the inventory levels in the system. The tracking of MTBF from their CMMS dashboards revealed a few failure modes that were happening across multiple pieces of equipment, and they very quickly realized where extra time and attention was warranted. Maintenance began to ask the right questions and lead initiatives to solve problems, after which the seeds of a reliability-centered culture began to take hold, she remarks.

Every positively changed behavior had a marked effect on plant reliability and uptime. “The greatest example is how my first maintenance crew transitioned from parts changers to troubleshooters – a change that was relatively easy to accomplish,” says Monceaux. “They used to look to me for direction and would comply, whether it was a good or bad idea. Finally, we began coming together as a team whenever a significant failure occurred and would brainstorm, troubleshoot, plan a solution, and apply a permanent fix. Eventually, this became ingrained in our culture.”

The only somewhat negative experience she had with KPI monitoring was regarding a shift board used to hold each shift accountable for housekeeping. “The areas that were on the board were cleaned, so in that sense the board worked. But in many cases the mess was simply moved to another area,” explains Monceaux. “I guess the lesson here was that KPIs need to evolve over time, especially once you have started to meet your goal in that area.”

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  • Good article. Thanks. The first two sentences set the stage well. Leaving off technology for a moment, it is worthwhile to say to yourself and colleagues/teammates as you come up with and use performance indicators, is this an essential result that everyone with a stake in the process understands and finds essential to cause and track improvement? If a measurement can't show, in simplest terms, reliable level and trend (if present) of an easily visualized business result, why that level and/or trend, and what we should do to improve, then the measurement needs more work, or to be dropped. U.S. readers have probably heard and seen recruiting ads by the Marine Corps, containing the memorable phrase, "The Few, the Proud, the Marines." KPIs warrant something the like, "The few, the practical, the KPIs." OK, that's maybe too dramatic, but time spent measuring and analyzing is not free. Be sure that your KPIs add value. Change them if they do not.

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