5 steps to set the best engineering metrics for project-based manufacturing
Project-based manufacturing has a lot more variables than standardized production, so finding and tracking the right metrics can be quite a puzzle. Tracking and measuring the process is the only way to find inefficiencies and improve the process – not to mention forecast projects and plan production in the first place.

Has your purchasing or production department waited around for product technology? Have you had production stops to specify the product technology? Such delays and bottlenecks are rooted in the engineering department. In this article we focus on engineering metrics and how it helps you detect and solve workflow problems. Our goal is to understand the process dynamics and improve the overall quality, speed and efficiency of production.

So without further ado, here are 5 key steps to help your engineers prepare production technology faster and more efficiently.
1. Track production technology preparation time

Your first goal is to understand how much time is really spent on preparing production technology. This isn't rocket science – just track the time when sales materials go to engineering; and the time when the technology is completed and purchasing and production can get to work.

Pay attention to two things:

  1. Pinpointing the exact time when the engineering team is handling the project. Can you draw a clear line between different workflow phases (sales, engineering, purchasing, production)? If not, that's your first indication of workflow quality.
  2. Adding project type and level of complexity. Keep things simple and categorize in broad strokes, e.g. machinery, building constructions, bridges, etc. If they differ in complexity, mark that down as well.

This should give you a clear picture of how different types of projects move through your engineering department, which type of projects move along faster and how long it all takes.
E.g. production technology preparations took 12 days but during that time you had 2 incidents that took 5 days to solve altogether. The technology should have taken 7 days to prepare and 41% of the time engineers wasted time on specifying the information or waiting behind sales
2. Check the input quality

Next step is getting work done faster. The quality of work depends on the input quality. If the sales team doesn't put together all necessary information and engineering has to ask additional questions, the project gets delayed or stopped altogether.

Firstly, you should track all such back-and-forths with the time spent and project time wasted. Subtract the delays from the overall time to find the time this project really should have taken.

Use this information to set clear rules both about the necessary project information expected from sales and benchmark preparation time expected from engineering. Find out what information is definitely needed from the sales team so that engineering can prepare technology as quickly and smoothly as possible. As an end result, sales people should know exactly what information to ask from the clients and engineers should get all the necessary input at once.
3. Check the output quality

Only after input quality can you focus on output quality (which becomes the input for purchasing and production). Similarly to step 2, sloppy engineering output creates delays in the next stage of production. Your engineering team can send projects into production really quickly but if the production technology needs numerous clarifications, it wastes everyone's time.

The easiest way to track that is from inside the engineering department. Any time an engineer gets additional questions about the project, they should track the issue and how long it took to solve it. Just a couple of weeks of tracking should be enough to make conclusions and improve the process.

You can also track production technology delays on the production side but this can further waste their time. It can also put a strain on the company culture as such reporting can be seen as snitching or finger pointing. Make sure your employees know that it's not a matter of finding the culprit, but a process of collective self-improvement.

Ultimately the engineering team should know exactly what information should be included in product technology and production should be able to complete the project without additional information or delays.
4. Plan and track deadlines

Once you know production technology preparation time and input and output quality, you have enough information to predict preparation time. This helps all parties manage their expectations and keep focus. Now it's time to start planning the process.

If something gets ready before or after the predicted deadline, you have valuable input to ask why that happened and what you can learn from it. This also brings out engineering bottlenecks, e.g. when several complicated projects overlap. Since now you know how much time such a project takes, you should be able to foresee the potential problem – and prioritize, plan or allocate resources accordingly.
5. Next level metrics

By this step, you probably feel that everything works smoothly. Are you all done? Not quite yet. Now you can redirect your focus from the process to specifics. E.g if you have several engineers, you can analyze data about each engineer. Does someone significantly out- or underperform the others? Why is that? What can you do (e.g. training wise) to help level them out?

You can also track project metrics by clients. How many delays and stops are related to the client? Should you address the issue and how? (E.g. set specific rules for updates and input.)
E.g. when a medium complexity machinery project took 7 days to prepare and 86 tons of metal, you can estimate that a medium complexity project needs 12,28 tons of metal per day
Bonus step: plan on the go

When you cover all previous steps, you can already plan your workflow better. It would be even better, if others could use that information too. For example, sales could know how much time product technology preparation takes with specific metrics. This gives you planning units to use in budgeting before confirming the project.
To sum it all up, you track and measure things to understand them. Metrics only have value if you act on them and improve over time. Take it one step at a time – only when you've completed one step and feel that it has settled well in your workflow, should you move on to the next step.