Making Metrics Matter
A growing number of organizations are turning to metrics to assess the performance of buildings under their management. Maintenance and engineering managers can use information generated by metrics to make tactical decisions about maintenance and operational activities.
A metric is a measure in standard units of a common activity that managers can use to measure one department over time or to compare one department with another at a point in time.
When measuring one department over time, the focus is on improvement and trends up or down, depending on the goal. This is usually an internal measure. When comparing against other departments, the focus is on being better than the competition or peer. Comparisons of this type are usually external.
Whether one chooses an internal or external metric, the challenge is to select information that has commonality to it, such as total area of constructed assets — gross square feet. The challenge also is to select information that has meaning to an organization, such as total area maintained per employee.
While a number of metrics exist that work well for those in maintenance and engineering, they might not work for others. Metrics can vary widely when shared with others or when focused on getting an important message out.
The chief facilities officer sees facilities differently than the chief financial officer, who in turn sees facilities differently than the head of marketing. So developing good metrics might depend more on the environment than on the department in which one works.
For example, suppose an organization produces a limited number of high-cost items that are sold in a highly competitive market. The cost of facilities will be high on a per-unit basis. Because of the high facility costs per unit, an essential metric is one that looks at these costs and focuses on making those costs as low as possible. The lower the per-unit cost, the more competitive or profitable the company will be.
But in an organization where the end product might be a high-demand, perishable commodity, it might be more important to measure the efficiency of handling the product and the ability to produce it with virtually no interruptions than the per-unit costs. A metric that focuses on percent of time the production line is operational might be more important than minimizing per-unit costs.
The headquarters of an organization might have to look impressive for potential customers in order to attract them for a sale. A maintenance manager might want to have a way to measure how attractive offices or sales areas are or how comfortable they are when visitors are visiting.
Thus, a manager should look for a metric that measures more subjective factors, such as style or ambience. While the costs to keep an office facility might be high on a per-square-foot basis when compared to a production floor, managers might be able to justify these costs by higher sales levels or profit margins. The head of sales will be interested in such a metric.
Metrics are not necessarily directly related to the area they affect, such as when a measure of customer comfort is used to justify whether sales facilities should be remodeled or not. But before to selecting a metric, managers should have a sense of what is important and why.
Ted Weidner, P.E. is an independent consultant who has worked in facilities management for more 20 years, mostly in higher education, He has a doctorate in civil engineering and masters of architecture, and he is a licensed architect.