Performance Feedback and Refinement
Most organizations have only informal means of improving their maintenance programs. Many embark on projects such as reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) or other program to improve performance. While these programs have proven effective, they often only examine the current state of the maintenance program and the equipment. However, both can change over time. Furthermore, the maintenance program, if developed through RCM or other means, is usually built on assumptions and anecdotal evidence from senior personnel. This information can only be as good as human memory and awareness allow it to be. For both these reasons, maintenance organizations find value in routinely monitoring the performance of their equipment and the overall maintenance program to identify future enhancements.
This process has many names including: living program, continuous improvement, and others. At Loma Consulting, we use the term performance feedback and refinement. This describes what the process does, and what it aims to accomplish.
The feedback process involves first establishing means to monitor performance. Most organizations examine at least the following areas of performance:
Equipment performance- time out of service, failure rate, output/input, utilization
System performance- system reliability, customer satisfaction
Financial performance- profits associated with sales of output, costs associated with operating and maintaining the equipment, capital costs
These areas are usually described through a series of key performance indicators.
The overall goal of the maintenance department is to maximize company profit (to the extent that the maintenance department can control costs and revenues) over the life of the equipment. The feedback areas listed above can provide the department information to decide if the profit is acceptable, or if corrective action is required.
To determine if the profit is acceptable, the organization must establish its overall goals, and translate those goals into performance objectives. Most organizations seek to achieve a balance between the performance of the system and equipment, and the costs of ownership. Once these are established, the maintenance department can then compare the current performance to the objectives and determine areas of strength and weakness.
Management must compare the areas of strength and weakness with the overall condition of the equipment and the overall financial health of the company. For instance, some equipment has aged and will cost more to operate and maintain. However, replacement of the equipment may not be justified from a cost standpoint, or the organization may have higher priority needs for the funds that would be used for replacement. Therefore, this equipment may appear as a weakness, but no action may be taken. Likewise, corrective action may be planned for highly performing equipment on the principle that one does not need to be sick to get better. Solid documentation of such decisions can play an important role in responding to stake holder and regulatory inquiries. Part of performance feedback includes review of the performance of comparable organizations (through formal or informal benchmarking); these studies may indicate areas for improvement the key performance indicators miss. Furthermore, review of industry news can also lead to identification of performance enhancements.
Identification of areas where corrective action is needed is the first part of the process the organization must also master root cause analysis to determine the correctible cause of the deficiency. Root cause can be many things one thing it should not be is identification of blame. Instead, root cause analysis must involve participation of all involved, and should review the circumstances and background of any problem identified. Root cause is also needed for the investigation of individual failures or deficiencies in the program (not just macroscopic problems identified through performance indicators).
The refinement portion of the process is based on the comparison described in the previous paragraphs. The maintenance department may be limited in its range of actions however, alerting management to the need for action in other departments is an important part of the process. For instance, maintenance may have to spend additional funds because the operations department forces the equipment into a high duty cycle, or exposes it to unusual stress levels. Also, there are many instances where maintenance can identify a minor design change or one-time action that will improve performance. Generally, engineering identifies these items, but the ideas can originate from maintenance. In fact, maintenance is a key player in performance enhancement as maintenance is in contact with equipment often and is more intimately involved in the internals of the equipment that is any other group.
Overall, the combination of how the equipment is designed, operated, and maintained determines its performance (design includes fabrication, specification, procurement, and installation; operating and maintenance also include testing). All three are interconnected. All three are monitored using the same process described above.
Performance feedback and refinement are vital to the success of any maintenance organization. This process and the process of root cause analysis demonstrate an understanding of the organization and how equipment works. Too many organizations do not investigate or monitor performance on anything but a rudimentary level. Loma Consulting can provide the tools needed for the more in-depth analysis needed to properly manage the system.
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