Software and process reviews enable continuous improvement

Editor's note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the value of software and process reviews. Companies completing a software and process review (SPR) gain closer adherence to documented procedures and instructions as well as ensured accuracy and integrity of the database data structure and reporting elements.


Companies completing a software and process review (SPR) gain closer adherence to documented procedures and instructions as well as ensured accuracy and integrity of the database data structure and reporting elements. Software users and business process owners become more comfortable with and more active in the use of the software and new procedures, helping to ensure that productivity gains are maintained.

Channeling results into productivity

The expected tangible results of an SPR include:

  • Generation of useful reports

  • Better trained personnel

  • Availability of valid information for better management decisions

  • A higher level of sustained productivity.

    • To sustain these results and channel them into productivity, it is critical that SPR findings and recommendations are reported to senior management as well as communicated throughout the organization. It is what the organization does with the analysis and review that demonstrates the real value of an SPR. Plants that use the analysis to implement further changes and improvements, more measurements of the few variables or parameters that provide the most quantifiable feedback on trends, and better management decisions realize this value.

      A company should make a firm decision about which few variables or parameters, out of the hundreds that they measure, to track in order to verify that trends are moving in the desired direction. For example, if scrap rate, unplanned downtime, or inventory levels are high, a plant should establish metrics to begin controlling those numbers. A word to the wise though: unless handled carefully, positive trends in one area of the company can generate negative trends elsewhere. If spare parts inventories are reduced, then unplanned downtime can increase dramatically, if not managed well. An out-of-stock situation can bring a manufacturing company to its knees in lost production.

      Generally, improvements occur through incremental steps. However, trends usually show marginal results unless senior management reinforces their value and contribution to the company's bottom line. Temporary and short-lived changes are easy targets; reaching and sustaining high-performance standards become the challenge.

      Company performance improvement goals must be tied to individual performance objectives to ensure the likelihood of success. Simply put, the company's financial, safety, and performance goals should be conveyed to every individual at the operational level of the organization. A mechanic must believe that ensuring machines run at optimal performance levels not only directly supports production, but also contributes to the overall health and performance of the company.

      SPR methodology

      The scope of an SPR can vary from analyzing maintenance resource utilization, to the effectiveness of stores management, to user satisfaction and maintenance system buy-in. It is important for you to determine this scope, identify the areas on which to focus, and plan the availability of staff and other resources.

      Having gained knowledge of the plant and familiarity with its business processes, the consultants work with the rest of the plant's team members to structure a unique SPR methodology. The following typical 4-step SPR methodology can provide immediate benefits and ongoing direction to the plant:

      1. Plant site team preparation — During presite activities, the consultants capture information specific to the focus and goals of the SPR, then distribute this information among the SPR team members to ensure that the audit moves efficiently and achieves the desired goals in the expected time. A checklist compiled prior to the necessary interviews can enlist team members to coordinate their resources and schedules, and to prepare for the audit by collecting existing metrics, operational analyses, and management reports. The consultants review the baseline performance data, which are critical to measuring the performance of operations and identifying opportunities for improvement, which are then shared with the company team. If the baseline performance data were not collected during the initial implementation, this then becomes one of the goals of the initial SPR.

      2. Interviews — Consultants conduct interviews to:

      • Determine areas where the company is not meeting its goals

      • Determine where there are significant opportunities for performance improvement

      • Identify critical issues that may exist with implementation of the software tool.

        • These issues may include reporting methods, individual users' knowledge, specific business processes, or the quality of the data collected during the maintenance management processes. The consultant conducts onsite interviews with key system users as well as the owners of the maintenance and MRO business processes. These "owners" are typically maintenance supervisors, engineers, buyers, storeroom personnel, and cost accountants. Usually, this step takes 3-4 days to complete.

          3. Debriefing — After the interviews, the consultants discuss results with SPR team members to gain consensus on the plant's progress compared to the initial implementation goals, and to determine where the issues and opportunities for performance gains exist. The consultants report on their observations of improved and streamlined processes, documented cost savings or cost avoidances, increased labor utilization, increased machine uptime and reliability, and other operational improvements. Although this debriefing is based on preliminary data, it provides immediate feedback to the plant regarding progress toward goals and observed shortfalls in training, process reengineering, and reporting.

          4. SPR Report — The SPR report delivered to the plant's SPR team includes specific recommendations on employee roles and functions, new reports, and ongoing analyses. The recommendations and followup requirements of the SPR then become the basis for the plant's next 90_180-day improvement action plan. Taking the SPR analysis and recommendations seriously usually lead to concrete results — especially when supported and promoted by the front office.

          Ongoing SPR

          Regular SPR assessments help you identify opportunities to increase productivity and run operations more effectively. An investment in software and implementation alone cannot achieve all the performance gains that are expected and possible. Conducting an SPR at least twice annually enables you to review the processes in place around the software tool.

          The frequency between regularly scheduled SPRs depends directly on the outcomes achieved and the continuous improvement goals of your company. Performance gains will be marginal unless the key stakeholders are held accountable to the SPR team's report recommendations.

          SPRs frequently serve as important contributors of continuous improvement and quality initiatives such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma. These projects require measurement, analysis, and control to achieve higher quality and better performance. A well-designed SPR requires the same tools — measurement, analysis, and control, and has the same objective — sustainable operational improvement.

          Bottom line, companies that make SPRs a fundamental part of continuous improvement efforts generate ongoing benefits in improved business processes, gain better use of the software tool, and ensure that new knowledge and insights are being put into practice on a regular basis.

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          Author Information
          Steve Pitsos is director of professional services at FBO Systems, Inc., Duluth, GA, which offers software and consulting services to help companies implement and achieve effective maintenance processes. He can be reached at 770-723-1011 or .