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Front Line Leadership and Performance Indicators

by Christer Idhammar

You can develop, document, and preach your improvement plans as much as you want, but if those plans do not result in better front line maintenance performance, you have just wasted money and time. The front line of maintenance includes supervisors, planners, craftspeople and operations; all others in the maintenance organization exist to support the front line.

Good front line leaders, combined with organized work and good processes, are the only way to achieve sustainable results. Managers cannot produce expected results without the help of others, especially the frontline.


Those organizations that have experimented with autonomous teams lacking front line leadership often fail to deliver sustainable results. If you believe this statement is wrong, I am very interested in This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

ACTIONS VS. RESULTS

What do I mean by “results”? A common mistake organizations make is mixing up actions with results. Actions are the things we do to produce results, but if these actions do not generate results worth more than the cost of these actions, the whole effort is a waste of money and time. Results can include (this varies organization to organization) improved competitiveness, productivity, and overall production efficiency (tons made/tons that could have been made, etc.).

A real life story of Actions without Results

Five years ago, I visited a company that had formed improvement teams to re-engineer the maintenance function. Eight people worked full time with two outside facilitators to draw maps of existing maintenance processes and then proposed improvements. They found that planning, scheduling, and preventive maintenance could be improved, a fact that was identified in several days. This effort took a total of no less than 16 weeks for eight people (5,120 hours), plus the cost for two outside facilitators.

I recently met with members of the original improvement team. They reported that (after five years!) some improvements had started in one area, but most areas had done nothing. This example is not an exception. It is very common, and I can give many more examples of wasted efforts than of true success stories. I always wonder how management can get away with such wasted initiatives. On the other hand, it helps me understand why most organizations don’t show enthusiasm for new improvement efforts. They have seen too many wasted efforts.

How do you make sure your actions (efforts) translate to results in the frontline?
The first step is that top management down to middle management demonstrates long-term dedication for the improvement effort. Good advice: do not call the effort a program because there is no end to the improvement effort, and there is nothing revolutionary about it. Most actions are to improve the basics in preventive maintenance and work management so don’t complicate it.

Successful organizations decide what they need to do then execute it. This is the only difference between the best performers and the rest.

FRONT LINE PERFORMANCE INDICATORS. Again, do not mix up actions and results. Results include improved competitiveness (e.g. tons/cost), productivity (egg. tons/hours worked), and overall production efficiency (tons made/tons that could have been made, etc.).

Actions include better alignment, balancing, lubrication, planning, scheduling, etc. The outcome of all these actions can be measured, and the indicators used should be as closely related to the action as possible. Action indicators should be used to drive continuous improvement and necessary change of behaviors to deliver expected results.

Front line performance indicators include:

  • Break-in work within weekly and daily schedules. To use this indicator, you must have weekly and daily schedules. You also need a clear definition of break-in work—for example, work added to daily schedules less than 19 hours before start of the working day or shift. Best performers have less than 10% break-in work, often achieving only 5% break-in work within daily schedules.
  • Combined trends of overtime, contractor usage, and back log hours;
  • Average vibration level trend;
  • Average life of select components.

If you don’t measure selected front line performance indicators, you won’t know if you truly improve. If you measure them and see improvements, then you can also expect results indicators to improve.