Shhhhh, there's gold in the right metrics

ask jeff shiver there is gold in the right metricsQuestion: Jeff, in my organization, we have a lot of metrics. Sometimes I feel like it’s data overload, and I struggle to understand how to apply our metrics best to make real improvements. Sure, we go through the motions and calculate them religiously, yet they lack focus, it seems. Can you provide some insights on how to better utilize them?

Easton, maintenance manager, Toronto, Canada

Answer: Easton, it’s common to find lots of metrics or KPIs in organizations and at the same time little focus on driving outcomes from those metrics. Define metrics to drive the achievement of business objectives or continuous improvement efforts. I’m a fan of what I call "living metrics," meaning that many have a lifespan. The reason is that we can’t focus on 15 metrics, much less the 30–40+ that I often see in organizations. As an example of numbers of metrics, the SMRP Best Practices Guide, 5th edition, has around 60 metrics defined. The intent of the guide is just that: to promote calculation standardization across differing organizations. No one can effectively implement and action all 60-plus.

Obviously, we can’t manage our business on one metric, and as stated, we can’t effectively manage 30 metrics, either. I look for about 7–10 metrics based on what we are trying to achieve within the maintenance and reliability organization. There are core metrics such as cost, schedule compliance, and PM compliance to manage on a weekly or monthly basis for improvement. Then, depending on the objective, I add other metrics to drive concrete improvements. Some need to be lagging metrics; more should be leading metrics. Consider implementing metrics for areas that you struggle with – areas where you might be bleeding downtime and money as an example.

I was doing an SMRP chapter visit locally in Jacksonville, FL, at the Anheuser-Busch site, and the plant manager stated that we “measure what we treasure.” That statement has stuck with me. As one example of bringing focus, one of the organizations I work with had issues with lubrication-related failures.  So, it tracked the number of lubrication-related failures as a metric and trended it monthly. Over the course of a year, the organization drove improved practices and significantly reduced the number of failures resulting from that issue.

Another site I worked with in China focused on its planning and scheduling activities, implementing metrics and renewing its drive for improvement. The site was able to return $1.8 million in the first year back to the budget across a large chemical facility.

At an organization I worked for, we were struggling with a single line. We implemented a "critical event" metric for that line. If the line was down for two hours or more, we initiated an eight-step RCA document that indexed the metric. By bringing focus and taking action, we significantly reduced the amount of downtime, rework, and costs (millions) in the first 18 months.

What's the status of your metrics? Do you find that you have too many or too few?  Is there a focus on specific ones, or are they only put on the wall every week or every month, with no one paying attention to them? Do you use the metrics to drive improvement? Please post your comments or questions below so all can learn.

Talk soon,
Jeff Shiver, CMRP

If you have problems in the fields of maintenance, reliability, planning and scheduling, MRO storerooms, or leadership as examples, please contact Jeff Shiver with your question(s) here.