If you can measure it, you can control it.
Something that can't be measured, can't be controlled effectively.
Your description regarding firefighting and pressures in food / beverage manufacturing operations brought smile on my face.
Well, our lives are really complex, it doesn't mean that we stop planning. We plan and then try and improve, I think the same applies in our professional life as well.
OEE is an excellent metric which tries to cover many variables in manufacturing into a single parameter.
Machine capability, quality and delivery all are meshed into a single number which gives the current status of manufacturing operations performance and the improvement potential at the same time.
In simple terms, Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) is calculated as
OEE = Availability × Performance × Quality
where Availability = Run Time / Planned Production Time
Run Time = Planned Production Time − Stop Time
Performance = Ideal Cycle Time × Total Count / Run Time
Quality = Good Count / Total Count
OEE benchmark provides a very valuable insight – a picture of how effectively the manufacturing Operations is performing and, it makes it easy to track improvements in that process over time.
The causes of lost productivity can be understood by closely monitoring the Availability, Performance, and Quality metrics.
So, OEE definitely is a single metric which is of utmost importance if you want to control the manufacturing operations performance in a structured way.
You are right, it is really hard to improve OEE as it requires change in mindset, looking at the losses very closely and then making sure that all the constrains, problems are resolved. All the workforce gets involved and the machines are maintained and workforce is trained effectively.
The fact is, nothing is easy in life and every good thing requires a genuine effort, I think improving OEE is definitely something one should cherish and the rewards will come when there is productivity improvement