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Is Your Maintenance Organization Caught in a 'Fitbit Trap'?

June 21, 2017
While numbers and goals are important, applying a well-rounded maintenance performance management system ensures results and outcomes become the focus.

Ten thousand steps a day is quickly becoming the gold standard for maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. Getting steps in has transformed the image of exercise from an uncomfortable and uninviting activity to something very achievable for many people who want to improve their health. Perhaps, like me, you have been bitten by the 10,000 steps a day fad, what I now like to call the “Fitbit Trap.”

During the last several months I have been trying to get in at least 10,000 steps a day to achieve a level of well-being and health. Ensuring I was on track to achieve my daily goal of 10,000 steps became an hourly habit. With a quick glimpse at my fitness app, I could easily gauge over the course of a day if I would achieve my goal or have to do some late-evening “walking in circles” to reach my numbers.

Jeffrey Nevenhoven

It was not until I went to see my physician for some unrelated issues that the full picture of my health came into view after the nurse took my vitals. In my case, achieving 10,000 steps a day was not having the effect that I expected; other critical health indicators had considerably slipped. I had fallen into the trap of striving to make a number instead of achieving the outcome I desired.

Unfortunately, many reliability and maintenance functions are caught in a similar numbers trap without any real impact on the bottom line or organizational objectives. Employees have been tasked with and held responsible for attaining numbers over impactful outcomes. And yet, management wonders why operating performance is poor.

I often observe performance management systems where objectives and goals are being reported to help visualize and drive performance, a good practice when done correctly. The selected metrics make sense. There might even be a convincing story provided about why the measures were selected and what is being done to improve performance. It is easy to walk away with the initial impression that the department, function or process is healthy and making strides toward successful achievement of objectives and goals. On the surface, everything looks fit but underneath there’s a different story unfolding.

Beneath the Surface, Another Story

A manager at an organization within the metals and mining industry was very proud of his department's schedule compliance performance. Over the previous year, they had improved from less than 65% schedule compliant to consistently above 95%. He was even more proud of the fact that they were consistently hitting their preventive maintenance compliance numbers. However, after meeting with maintenance employees within his department, it was apparent that they were struggling to meet those expectations and had discovered ways to make the key performance indicators look good so they would not be reprimanded. Instead of surfacing and addressing the issues and barriers that prevented them from achieving the departmental goals, they took strides to ensure their numbers met expectations. The employees learned that if they decreased the amount of scheduled work within a given timeframe and preselected jobs that they were almost certain to complete, they would still make the numbers. They had also learned that they could adjust due dates with no one noticing.

During a visit to an oil and gas refinery, a similar situation was playing out. This company’s computerized maintenance management system was set up so that it allowed schedule compliance, preventive and corrective, to progressively improve throughout the month. By month-end, the overall numbers looked much better than they actually were. Employees found a loophole in the way the KPIs captured and reported data. They realized that they would get credit for work even if it was completed outside of the scheduled due date. For example, if the specified work was due last week, or even two weeks ago, but was not completed until the current week, the system would give the credit back to the original due date. When management reviewed the reliability and maintenance metrics at the beginning of the next month, everything looked fine.

Valuing Numbers Over Outcomes

In these organizations and with many others, numbers were valued over value-added, outcome-oriented work activities. Then to complicate matters even more, a comprehensive picture of reliability and maintenance effectiveness did not exist due to a narrow focus on a select few KPIs. Both management and employees had become victims of ensuring the numbers looked good versus delivering value-added sustaining maintenance.

Thinking back to my personal fitness example, I was too heavily focused on achieving 10,000 steps a day. It didn’t matter how I achieved it – walking, jogging or running. It only mattered that I achieved or exceeded the number. Unfortunately, most days all I did was walk. We all know walking is not a bad thing; it’s much better than doing no activity at all. However, 10,000 walking steps across 16 hours have a different effect on the body than achieving most of the steps through strenuous exercise, at peak heart rate, in a shorter amount of time. Both are beneficial but one has a greater value toward overall health than the other.

Now factor in the lack of monitoring other health indicators. I ended up with a limited view of my health. If I had included other health performance measures I would have known far in advance that my overall health was slipping and should have included other healthy habits.

Limited Measures Equal Limited View

Switching back to the organizational setting, if your company is using a limited set of reliability and maintenance measures you may not be seeing the full picture, along with inadvertently focusing the workforce on numbers instead of outcomes.

For example, the old school view of assessing reliability is to measure asset uptime versus asset downtime, where the goal is to see high levels of uptime and low levels of unplanned downtime. However, this measure provides an incomplete picture. It does not identify if the asset is performing at designed specifications consistently; it only shows if it is operational or not.

In contrast, assessing reliability by measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) provides a complete picture. OEE offers an in-depth and well-rounded evaluation of asset reliability where availability, performance and quality are measured. OEE requires effective asset maintenance strategies, precision, and timely work execution, and drives a different set of behaviors than just measuring uptime versus downtime.

Remember, you always get what you ask for. If all you want is for equipment to not be down, that’s what you will get. On the other hand, if you set the expectation of availability, performance, and quality while optimizing cost and extending asset life, the workforce will give it to you.

The organizations I visited thought focusing on schedule compliance was an adequate measure of maintenance performance. The presiding perception was that if work was being done on time, then reliable performance would follow. However, there were many unwritten and verbal indicators that told a different story. Schedule compliance looked good, but employees throughout the organization expressed that equipment reliability and rework issues were still problematic and highly evident. Even so, the employees worked hard to ensure the numbers looked good.

There were two predominant issues with the performance monitoring program in these organizations. One, they were more concerned about achieving a widely popular KPI than they were about ensuring that the work being performed was productive and value-added. The number became what was important instead of the outcome of the work. Two, there was a shortsighted view of overall reliability and maintenance performance. Too few KPIs existed to fully understand whether or not activities were sustaining and extending equipment life.

Both organizations would have benefited from applying a holistic performance management system that fostered the understanding that while schedule compliance can be one of many important leading indicators, OEE was an equally important, interrelated lagging indicator. Rather than solely focusing on getting work performed as defined in the weekly schedule, the focus would shift to whether or not the work being performed was conducted efficiently and effectively. The maintenance function would be able to assess whether or not resources are being utilized productively and whether the maintenance activities are positively affecting asset reliability.

If you find that the KPIs your organization is monitoring do not mirror observations, perceptions and performance, there’s a good chance that you don’t have a complete picture of reliability and maintenance performance. It’s also quite possible employees are focused on getting steps in rather than achieving asset health. If this is true for your organization, take a moment to do a self-assessment and evaluate the following:

  • What needs to be managed and why?
    • Is it risk, reliability, cost, regulatory compliance, productivity, etc.?
    • Is there a need to improve, sustain, comply?
  • Do leading (cause) and lagging (effect) indicators exist?
    • Do leading indicators exist that direct activities and predict future performance?
    • Do a complementary set of lagging indicators exist that report how well a process, system, resource and an asset is being managed?
  • Are performance measures aligned?
    • Do the existing performance management indicators link and align roles, responsibilities, behaviors, processes and department goals to the business strategy and organizational objectives?
  • Are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals being applied?
  • Have goals been selected that take into account the organization’s current maturity and ability level? Do managers and employees have a clear and balanced understanding?
    • Do awareness and understanding equally reside between activities and outcomes?
    • Do employees strive to achieve a performance indicator or do they strive to ensure reliability, optimize cost and extend asset life?

It’s easy to get caught in the trap of focusing on a few select items while losing sight of the big picture. It’s happened to all of us. Applying a comprehensive set of leading and lagging indicators will provide a 360-degree view of performance. While numbers and goals are important, applying a well-rounded performance management system ensures results and outcomes become the focus, instead of simply achieving ‘10,000 steps a day’.

As senior consultant for Life Cycle Engineering, Jeff Nevenhoven develops solutions that align organizational systems, structures, controls and leadership styles with a company’s business vision and performance objectives. Jeff’s experience enables him to work effectively with employees throughout an organization to implement solutions that remove functional barriers and prepare and lead people through sustaining change. You can reach Jeff at [email protected] .

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