Operations & Maintenance

A Guide to Choosing the Right Metrics to Track for Your Maintenance Team

Ryan Chan

[alert type=”info” icon-size=”hide-icon”] Key Takeaways:

  1. Choosing the right metrics helps you prioritize the right tasks and align your goals with those of other departments.
  2. Lagging indicators help you monitor progress, while leading indicators help plan for the future.
  3. Choosing the right metrics begins with knowing your goals and assessing what you’re already tracking.
  4. Additional considerations include asset criticality, asset type, and assessment of cause-and-effect relationships.
  5. Both research data and some trial and error may be needed to pin down the best metrics to track.[/alert]

Most organizations are aware of how important it is to use data in their decision making. Maintenance teams are no different—if you have the right data, you’ll be able to make more sensible decisions. The challenge comes in choosing which metrics to track.

Here, we’ll discuss some strategies for pinning down the right metrics to track for your maintenance team.

Reasons for Tracking the Right Metrics

First, let’s get into a few of the reasons why it’s important to track the right metrics.

Prioritize the right maintenance tasks

According to the 2018 Plant Engineering Maintenance Survey, 49% of facilities cite a lack of maintenance staff and resources as the challenge of performing successful maintenance strategies. You only have so much to work with, so you need to prioritize maintenance tasks to make best use of the resources you have available.

The right metrics can help you do that by allowing you to identify where you’re lagging behind. That way, you can focus your efforts on tasks that will help your team improve the most.

Aligning goals across departments

A survey performed a while back showed that organizations that track and share performance information between operations and finance tend to have an advantage over those who don’t. When operations and finance are on the same page, both departments improve.

This works as a general principle. Tracking the right maintenance-related metrics allows you to coordinate with other departments and better align your efforts with overarching business objectives.

Improve coordination with operations

Maintenance and operations tend to be at odds, often because maintenance tasks frequently require equipment to be taken offline. Since operators generally focus on getting as much utilization out of equipment as possible, taking a machine offline for preventive maintenance can cause some friction.

Tracking the right metrics allows you to demonstrate how a bit of planned downtime can help improve overall uptime. When you use data, you’re more likely to get operations on board with PM tasks.

Tip: One of the keys to maintenance planning success is coordination with operations. Make sure your planners are on the same page with operators to improve schedule compliance. 

Main Types of Metrics – Leading and Lagging Indicators

When you start trying to determine which metrics to track, it’s important to note the difference between leading and lagging indicators.

leading and lagging indicators

Lagging indicators

Lagging indicators measure output, or in other words, they show the end results of your activities. They’re typically very easy to measure, but don’t help much when planning for the future. Nevertheless, they are great when it comes to gauging your overall progress.

For instance, if your facility has seen an increase in equipment downtime over the last six months, you’re probably doing something wrong. On the other hand, if that downtime is gradually diminishing, it’s a sign of progress.

While these indicators are very easy to measure, they don’t show you underlying causes. Why is downtime increasing or decreasing? The number itself won’t tell you that, which is where leading indicators come in.

Leading indicators

As opposed to lagging indicators, leading indicators are predictive in nature, meaning they help you plan for future events. For example, if your schedule compliance is relatively low, it’s a sign that you could probably expect more equipment failures in the future since you’re not keeping up with preventive maintenance tasks.

Tip: Low schedule compliance may indicate that you’re behind on preventive maintenance tasks. The simplest way to measure it is by looking at how many work orders are completed on time. 

It’s important to track leading indicators, but determining which ones are most important can be a challenge. Comparing different indicators can help. For instance, if your schedule compliance correlates with your planned maintenance percentage (PMP), it will further demonstrate that you’re not keeping on top of PMs.

5 Considerations for Choosing Metrics to Track

5 considerations for choosing metrics

When it comes to maintenance planning, you will likely focus on both lagging and leading indicators—the former to show your progress, and the latter to manage root causes. But as explained, choosing the right ones to track can be a challenge. How do you know what’s worth tracking?

These considerations may help in the decision-making process.

1. What are your maintenance goals?

For starters, consider your goals. The ultimate goal of maintenance is to make sure everything works reliably in order to support overall business objectives.

Of course, at lower levels, your goals would get more specific. In a manufacturing plant, for instance, you might have a goal to increase your conveyor system’s uptime by a certain percent. With that goal in mind, you’ll be able to start looking at which leading indicators would support that. Make a list of possibilities to get started. Your list might include your preventive maintenance (as a percentage of total maintenance), your schedule compliance for those PMs, and your maintenance backlog.

2. What are you already tracking?

When you have an idea of which indicators might help you meet your overall goals, determine what you’re already tracking and start there. For some metrics, you’ll need some time to get enough data to make it truly meaningful. As such, using those wouldn’t be as economical as pulling from existing data.

In our conveyor system example, if you’re already tracking preventive maintenance but not other metrics, start with that one. If you’re not tracking schedule compliance or work order backlogs, you can’t use those until you do, and getting that data together would take extra time.

3. What type of assets are you tracking?

The matter of which type of assets you’re tracking is another important consideration. Different assets have different needs and purposes, and what would make sense for one might not be right for another.

For example, if you’re tracking a mission critical mixer, you’ll likely want to focus on PMs, mean time to repair, and other such metrics. For something less important like lightbulbs in the men’s bathroom, you’re probably not too interested in the time it takes to replace those. Instead, measurements such as stockouts or other inventory metrics would be more relevant.

4. How critical is the asset?

Criticality, of course, should always enter into your decisions on what metrics to track. A non-critical piece of equipment wouldn’t be as important to track as one that’s core to your process.

If an asset is at high risk of failure, and if that failure would have a significant impact on your process, you’ll want to track it more carefully by monitoring leading indicators. For an asset that’s less likely to fail and that wouldn’t cause a significant disruption if it went down, surface level monitoring with lagging indicators might be more appropriate.

5. Cause and effect relationships

The last consideration is a matter of cause and effect. When choosing leading indicators, you’ll need to determine whether they truly have an impact on your desired results. After all, metrics are only of any value if they are predictive in nature.

Often, finding whether a given metric is truly predictive of future success is a matter of trial and error. You start tracking the data, and then see if lagging indicators correlate with it.

Existing studies can also help you pin down cause and effect relationships. Back to our conveyor system example, studies show that preventive maintenance provides 12% to 18% cost savings over reactive maintenance, meaning there’s a good chance that tracking and improving preventive maintenance as a metric would help reduce unplanned downtime.

Tip: Root cause analysis is one way to use recurring issues in your facility to pin down cause-and-effect relationships between your data. 

Choosing Metrics to Track – An Example

To bring these considerations together into a cohesive process, let’s look at another example.

Suppose a food packing company wants to cut down on the costs of maintaining their equipment. To do that, they’ll have to determine which pieces of equipment are most important to track and what’s contributing to their costs.

Since the goal at this point is to lower costs, they need to find where money is going. That will likely mean looking at data already logged into their CMMS and other sources. At this point, they’re looking for lagging indicators—indicators that show the end results of their maintenance processes. Some of these indicators may include:

  • Total maintenance costs per asset
  • Work order costs
  • Overtime maintenance costs

As they look through their data, they find they’re only tracking total maintenance costs per asset. As they examine those costs, they find that their vacuum packaging machine is responsible for a large portion of their maintenance expenses, followed closely by their air conditioner.

Tip: Use a CMMS to log work orders, track costs by asset, and more. 

Of these two, the vacuum sealing machine more critical (if the AC goes out, it’s not going to severely disrupt production). The fact that the AC is using a lot of their resources, however, shows that they’re likely focusing too much of their efforts on it.

With respect to the vacuum sealer, it’s now a matter of figuring out why it’s costing so much to maintain. Unfortunately, they haven’t been tracking past work orders. In order to find the root cause of their high expenses, they resolve to start. In connection with that, they also choose to start logging the following:

  • PMP
  • Mean time to repair (MTTR)
  • Unplanned downtime
  • Planned downtime
  • PM schedule compliance

By tracking these particular metrics, they’ll be able to find possible root causes for the sealer’s high maintenance costs. Once they have enough data to start seeing some trends, they can determine which metrics correlate with monthly maintenance costs on the machine and make changes accordingly.


Choosing the right metrics is a process that depends on the asset, its criticality, and your business objectives. Sometimes you have strong research to support choosing particular metrics. In other instances, you might need to do some trial and error to find out what’s really worth measuring. In either case, as you choose the right metrics to track, you’ll improve your maintenance planning and help your maintenance team become more efficient.

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