Don’t leave home without them: Why assessments are key to reliability success

If you want your continuous improvement journey to be a success, the best place to start is with assessing where you are right now.

By Catherine Marshall, Life Cycle Engineering

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When we’re about to take a trip, one of the first things we do is figure out where we are going, what it looks like, and what we will need to take along. We may just need clothes and a few essentials. But if we’re planning a big adventure trip, chances are we do some research ahead of time to figure out what we’ll need – and what we might need to acquire before we leave. What kind of fishing gear will we need? Will it snow or do we just need bug spray for the mosquitos? Do we need a fishing license? Maybe it would be a good idea to take those fly-fishing lessons before we get to Montana.

It’s not so different when you’re planning a continuous improvement journey – a trip that you’re hoping will help you improve financial performance by improving the reliability of your people, processes, and assets. To help you plan your trip, you need to do a little research. What’s your starting point and where do you want to go? And how do you need to prepare to make sure you’ll get to your destination as quickly as possible? If you want your continuous improvement journey to be a success, the best place to start is with assessing where you are right now.

Why do organizations do assessments?

Understanding the gaps between your current state and best practice is the starting point for planning a realistic and safe journey to achieving the results of applying best practices. You want to plan the route to get you there most quickly without taking unnecessary risk.

An accurate picture of your current state is clearly important to any effort to improve performance. Organizations consider doing assessments when they want to capture that accurate picture of their current state of operations or baseline performance. It may be planned as the first step in planning for a continuous improvement journey or a specific improvement initiative, or to diagnose the cause of problems that are impacting performance.

Another impetus for doing an assessment is the need to figure out how to measure performance and whether it improves. This need is commonly expressed by the saying “You can’t manage what you do not measure.”

Also, for organizations that use A3s as a management tool for planning and tracking improvement initiatives, an assessment provides the data for the current state and helps to shape the target condition as well.

Ultimately, the picture of your current state becomes valuable when you compare it to benchmark performance and best practice. You may want to compare your performance to industry benchmarks or compare it to best practices. Either way, the value is in understanding the gaps between how you’re currently operating and how you could be operating.

What’s the difference between an audit and an assessment?

An audit is performed to determine whether or not an existing procedure, such as production system startup, is being followed. They are limited in scope and are most useful when valid, best-practice processes and procedures are already in place.

Assessments collect a lot of different data points and perspectives and usually compare that information to a database of best practices. In the case of an organization-wide assessment, it evaluates the culture, processes, procedures and practices that the organization uses to perform business at all levels of the organization. The evaluation compares current performance with that of best-in-class organizations to determine what improvements are possible.

When planning to complete an assessment you need to determine the following elements:

Scope: Are you planning to assess a specific area within the organization or assess the overall performance of the organization? If you are trying to address a specific performance-limiting issue, such as a poorly performing storeroom or shutdown and outage issues, then an assessment of that area’s operating processes and procedures may suffice. Keep in mind, though, that it can be hard to isolate poor performance if the area depends heavily on other functions within the organization. If you have a larger goal in mind, such as improving the reliability of your assets, processes and people or moving from a reactive to a proactive culture, then you will need the scope of your assessment to be much wider so that it captures the relationships and impact between functional areas.

Goal: A defined goal for the assessment will help ensure that you get the information that you need to improve your operation. Identify your expectations for the type of information you’ll get to work with. Defining the goal and your expectations will also help you when planning the communication to employees on why an assessment is necessary and what information will be collected.

Expected outcome: Just as it’s not really useful to do market research or conduct a survey unless it will have an impact on future activities, it’s not productive to complete an assessment unless you know how the results of the assessment will be used to impact planning and future actions your organization will take. An assessment is not an end in itself. It is a starting point to help you plan your journey – how far you need to go and the best route to get there. Be as specific as possible about how you will use the results of the assessment to create your improvement plans and act on them, including confirming the sponsorship and financial support to implement your plans.

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