Podcast: Why everyone is faking their KPIs (but shouldn't be)

Podcast: Why everyone is faking their KPIs (but shouldn't be)

July 6, 2024
In this episode of Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast, author and YouTuber Joe Kuhn explains why faking numbers is too easy, and it stunts real growth and gives everyone a false sense of security.

Joe Kuhn, CMRP, former plant manager, engineer, and global reliability consultant, is now president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC. He is the author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges” and the creator of the Joe Kuhn YouTube Channel, which offers content on starting your reliability journey and achieving financial independence. In our monthly podcast miniseries, Ask a Plant Manager, Joe considers a commonplace scenario facing the industry and offers his advice, as well as actions that you can take to get on track tomorrow. This episode offers insight into why fake numbers fake real progress.

Below is the transcript of the podcast:

PS: For all of our listeners, this is really your chance to ask those burning questions that you want to ask maybe your plant manager or leadership, but you're unsure of how they might react. Ask us those tough questions. Joe has 30 plus years of experience working in plants as a manager and in maintenance, but he's retired from that, so he can share all the secrets with us. And he can answer those hard questions or touch on those more controversial topics that might be difficult to bring up in your everyday operation. So Joe, you're definitely not afraid to answer those tough questions, right?

JK: Exactly right. And working through these is a big part of the culture change that people need to go through. But it's a big part of my story, and that's why I enjoy sharing. 

PS: Alright, so today, we're going to dive into one of those, maybe more of a problematic topic for people. And so last month we talked about celebrating a planned maintenance culture rather than championing the emergency maintenance saves that you have to make as a result of poor planned maintenance. So as part of that discussion, you laid out an interesting scenario related to planned maintenance and KPIs or the important key performance indicators for maintenance. So in this example, we're looking at the plants assigned planned work for the next day. This specific job that we're talking about in reality is two hours of work for two people. But the job is planned as two hours for eight people, because they know they're going be pulling people off to do emergency work instead. So sometimes PMs don't get done entirely, and yet, they still get marked as complete, or emergency work gets marked as planned work, so the PM KPIs aren't truly reflecting the actual work environment. 

Joe, how common is it for plants to fudge their KPIs like this? And why might they be doing that? Aside from this example, what are some other maintenance and reliability KPIs that plants might doctor in their favor? And ultimately, why is faking KPIs not a good idea? What are you actually losing by pretending to have better numbers than you do?

JK: Well, there's a lot in there. One correction I will make, and I know you just slipped up on this, but instead of planning a job for eight people, two hours, they plan the job for two people, eight hours. Okay, so they just add a lot of time to that. Unfortunately, this is very common, and one of the things I used to call it, I used to call it managing by Facebook. It's like people's Facebook life is not exactly the same as their real life. You don't see everybody struggles. You just see all the nice things. And the problem with KPIs, I'm telling you, when I go into a plant, the plants I worked at, I believe less than 50% of what the KPIs told me. 50%, okay. And for some of them, that's a little generous. 

Now, you may say, why? Why is this going on? It's a great place to start. Top management, I blame them at least 50% here. Top management, they may not know anything about maintenance. They go to a seminar, or somebody gets in front of them says, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get your PM compliance up, your preventive maintenance compliance up, you’ve got to get it to at least 90%.’ Then, they go back to their plant, and they see that it's at 50%. So they say, ‘It needs to be 90%. You got 30 days.’ Well, you've got 50 years of culture there. You've got all kinds of issues going on. You may have 80% unplanned work, could be 20. I don't know what the planned work is. But getting PM compliance to that level that quick, with the same number of people on the same budget, the same culture is a difficult task. 

What you do is you start redefining. Put your thumb on the scale, let's just call it that. Put your thumb on the scale and say, ‘Well, we're doing this PM. It's only two hours long, but they always find something so we want them to correct it. We don't know what it's going to be, so let's just add six more hours to the job and then we'll be sure to get it done.’ And that's all called PM hours. And it seems innocent. It seems innocent, and it placates top management. 

Top management, even now, and this was started about the time I retired, people have apps on their phone, and their phone has these 27 KPIs for the plant, say five of them are maintenance. ‘I want them all great. Why is your PM compliance red? Fix it. Okay, fix it.’ Put your thumb on the scale, it's pretty easy to fix. Sometimes it's just to survive. Sometimes it does show improvement. I really think it's trying to preserve the current culture. I think a lot of people, unfortunately, in maintenance, I hate to say the word leadership, but it's more they're in the management of their current state. They know this system. They've been doing it for a while. They refuse to lead their way out of it. Okay, so what do you get if you get the expectations from top management to change this KPI? Well, we're doing all good stuff down here. I'll just modify the definition, that KPI. Put my thumb on the scale a little bit and can modify it. 

Hey, I'm sorry, this is blunt, but this is what I found. I've been in over 40 locations, and this is common. This is common. If you don't think it's happening at your plant, there’s a good chance you're wrong. A good chance you're wrong. You got to go and see. And when you go and see, and you audit PMs, you'll see ‘Hey, the PM is supposed to be two hours. Corrective work is not part of the PM.’ Unless their PM is to change the brake pads out, but a lot of PMs are to inspect this, look at this, adjust that, not, ‘Oh my gosh, we found this oil leak. Oh my gosh, we found this other problem.’ And you're supposed to write a different work order for that, and that is unplanned work. The vast majority of people don't do that, and quite often when you're doing that PM you schedule it two people, two hours, and it's only two hours long. So what's the other eight? Or six? Sorry. What's the other six? Well, could be emergency work, could be some honey-do jobs out there. It's not tracked and you lose it. And you think on paper, when you're doing your planning and staffing, you think that the PM takes that full amount of time, and it doesn't. So that's the why it's a dance to appease top managements, kind of a dance to maintain the culture that you’ve got. 

Now, second part of your question was, what are some other KPIs that I have horror stories on? Another one that was big at my plant was we tracked R&M dollars (repair and maintenance dollars) per metric ton we create. Every plant’s got something like this R&M dollars per, a million dollars in sales, per linear foot, whatever your product is there you create. What part of that cost of goods sold is R&M. Well, that's easy to manipulate very easy. You may decide to start calling some expenses that you have today, tomorrow you can call them production expenses. So for example, say you want to change out some rolls on a conveyor. Well, you're not changing those rolls out because of a maintenance issue, you're changing them out because of a quality issue. That's a production issue. They're the ones that need the quality. These rollers aren't quite making the turn. They're still turning. There's nothing wrong with them, but we’ve got an increased quality standard for this one customer. So we're changing out the rolls for production reasons. So that's a production cost. That was very common in an aluminum rolling mill where you had to change the rolls, because you would change with the product. So if you're running a narrow product and you'd go to wide product, you'd have to change the rolls. And maybe people did that yesterday, that was a maintenance cost. Today, it's a production cost, extremely easy. Just to take money out of one pocket, put in another pocket and make your R&M dollars change as you're relating it to production. Extremely easy to do. Schedule compliance. This is related to PM compliance. ‘We created a schedule last Thursday. We executed it this week, and we add hours into the PM. We add hours into the outage time and boy, we just did exactly what we plan to do.’ That's because you plan to do unplanned work. That makes sense. 

About the Author

Anna Townshend | managing editor

Anna Townshend has been a journalist and editor for almost 20 years. She joined Control Design and Plant Services as managing editor in June 2020. Previously, for more than 10 years, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review. In addition to writing and editing thousands of articles in her career, she has been an active speaker on industry panels and presentations, as well as host for the Tool Belt and Control Intelligence podcasts. Email her at [email protected].

About the Author

Joe Kuhn | CMRP

Joe Kuhn, CMRP, former plant manager, engineer, and global reliability consultant, is now president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC. He is the author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges” and the creator of the Joe Kuhn YouTube Channel, which offers content on creating a reliability culture as well as financial independence to help you retire early. Contact Joe Kuhn at [email protected].

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