Planning, Scheduling and Execution of Work: Part II

Part I of this series ran in the December 10 edition of the Electric Light & Power Executive Digest. 

Part 2

An Unfortunate Outcome

These types of failings compromise the integrity of the planning and scheduling process and the organizational design. It leads to a myriad of challenges. However, when people talk about their planning challenges, they tend to highlight symptoms and not the root cause. We often hear complaints from front-line crews about: delays in getting plans completed; engineering errors in work plans; late, missing, or outdated drawings; errors in the bill of materials or delivery failures; impractical scheduling decisions; substantial effort spent on shadow reporting of work status and budgets; projects at a standstill; and groups debating over how to address the issues.

While these types of problems are real, they are not the root cause.  Unfortunately, we see utilities redesigning their planning processes, restructuring the organization, buying new IT systems, and hiring more people to plug planning and scheduling gaps only to discover that the problems persist.

On the face of it, the solution to planning and scheduling problems are more straight forward – do your best at resolving the top four challenges above.

1)      Make sure accountability follows the lines in the organizational chart. Prevent members of one department from circumventing the established process or attempting to hold members of another department accountable. If the leader of a group is not holding their team accountable, deal with the real problem.

2)      Establish clarity around who has ultimate decision-making rights. Avoid split decision-making structures without a mechanism to break ties. Understand that consensus is not a decision-making process. A group in a room can reach consensus, but to commit an organization to action, somebody must approve the expenditure. Who is that?

3)      Make sure that the role leadership (at all levels) plays within the planning, scheduling, and execution process is robust. Leadership is the fundamental pillar that anchors the process. Whether it is unifying and aligning an understanding around the goals or clarifying decision-making rights, roles, and responsibilities, it is strong and effective leadership that provides the rigor necessary to consistently apply the right behaviours to sustain planning and scheduling performance.

4)      Create tools that provide visibility into the status of work as it moves through the planning, scheduling, and execution pipeline, so that everyone in the process can see the status of work upstream and downstream from their position.

Additionally, developing the data that allows senior leadership to monitor the health of the planning and scheduling process is a little more nuanced than coming up with a few KPIs that track in-service date performance. Ideally, the tools should:

§  Monitor the health of capital, maintenance, and emergent work “pipelines” as work packages progress through the cross-functional process.

§  Create visibility of upcoming work for front-line managers through the work pipeline dashboard tool to ensure proactive management of work volumes.

§  Clarify inter-departmental handoff points and associated performance requirements within business units.

§  Support the use of “pressure release valves” for managers to load-level work during times of peak activity, enabling proactive front-line skills development, management of material shortages, and adjustments to weather work. 

§  Involve refined process metrics to measure specific high impact performance indicators (previously, teams had either limited data or far too complex reporting to make measured operational decisions).

What is 15% worth to your organization?

So how big is the spread between good planning and scheduling versus the kind of dysfunctional process that frustrates all those who must endure it? Part of that answer is difficult. We know there is no “perfect way” to measure the efficacy of planning or the productivity of field crews; however, we would suggest that the following observations of “challenges” are not uncommon.

§  Field crews who have such a low level of confidence in their work packages that they anticipate between 30% and 50% of work packages will have flaws that require fixing.

§  We see crews travelling to the field only to discover that they can’t start work in 10% to 15% of their planned jobs due to “glitches” of one kind or another.

§  Engineers and Designers who spend less time engineering and designing because they feel obliged to either solve problems with work packages or step in to fill quasi-supervisory roles to make sure the work is being done as they anticipated.

§  Some Engineers estimate that they spend as little as 25% of their time engineering, with the rest being tied up in meetings, responding to requests, and fixing planning and scheduling problems.

§  We see organizations where reaching decisions on engineering standards can take years, with an incalculable amount of effort expended because of confusion over decision-making rights.

§  We see leaders and executives who simply don’t know how healthy their planning and scheduling process is because they lack the visibility into how well work is flowing through the process.

To begin to think about the dollar impact, we suggest that a conservative estimate in many Utilities equals 15% of an employee’s time being wasted due to planning and scheduling problems.

·         For crews, it manifests as literally standing around waiting – waiting for parts, waiting for drawings, waiting for clarifications, just waiting.

·         For engineers and designers, it manifests as time spent trying to resolve the problems with the last job – the one they thought was finished.

·         For supervisory and professional staff, it’s the time spent in meetings, which simply don’t feel productive because issues are debated with no clarity on how an actual decision will be made.

The interesting conclusion is that improving planning and scheduling and realizing value from the 15% of lost organizational productivity, often has little to do with the structure, the planning process, or the IT tools. It’s about making a material difference on the top four issues discussed here. What is 15% worth to your organization?

Duncan Kerr

Milan Trpin

About the authors: Duncan Kerr and Milan Trpin are managing partners at The Engine Room Group a Performance Improvement Firm that accelerates leadership development and workforce performance to achieve measurable business results.

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