In the modern Utility sector, demand for field services has continued to rise consistently over time, leading to increasing cost pressures and more intense workloads. The demand from both regulators and customers, for the delivery of more reliable and diverse services, is challenging field operating models like never before. This is compounded by a complex infrastructure that is now ageing; impacting all areas of the sector.
We understand that planning in field operations is key to achieving operational excellence. It improves safety, prevents accidents and work stoppages, and boosts the efficiency of operations and resources. Without it, the low productivity of field operations teams can put operational outcomes at risk, which leads to work backlogs, Customer Service levels falling below expectations, much higher costs to serve, and a disengaged field workforce.
When we held a recent roundtable discussion with senior leaders, many of them assumed these low productivity levels stemmed directly from the teams themselves, citing reasons such as standard job times, Third Party suppliers working different hours (which resulted in disjointed operations) and limitations of resource availability. Such views often stem from a limited perspective of an operation, as opposed to holistically viewing operations activity and processes as a sum of many parts.
Are you Setting Your Field Force up to Fail?
Truly understanding the root cause of poor productivity levels requires a clear understanding of what the entire field operations process entails.
Value Stream Mapping allows you to see all elements of the field operations process across the entire value stream. This mapping process gives insight into all areas, and not just the steps contained within a particular sub-process, or the elements managed by any given functional team. By taking an end-to-end view and mapping each element of the process, insight can be gained into the reasons for off-target delivery.
This process enables the identification of all blockages to effective execution. In many cases, poor planning in field operations functions can be identified as one of the key areas where problems stem from.
The outcomes of poor planning
Logistical efficiencies vs. strategic priorities
Organisations are consistently creating job schedules that disregard the efficiencies that locating work in a systematic route can deliver, in favour of pursuing a particular KPI.
In these instances, poorly planned schedules resulted in increased travel times, a reduction in the available hours, increased operational costs, and ultimately, a reduction in the volume of completed work.
There are some instances where a job may be deemed necessary, and is required to be undertaken irrespective of the priority that organisational strategy might dictate; but in the long run, overlooking and even overriding these basic logistical elements during the planning stages will set your field operations teams up to fail.
Standard job times vs. reality
‘Standard job times’ are used as an indicator of how long a particular job should take to complete, to provide a platform from which targets are set, and to monitor performance - a benchmark that could prove useful in the planning of field operations.
However, in many cases, these times are misleading and even unrealistic due to standard job times not taking sufficient account of the varied elements of the whole process. Missing elements often include travel time to and from jobs, or time spent waiting for other process inputs, such as traffic management systems or the delivery of crucial parts.
Not only are the overall times inaccurate, but there are currently only a few organisations who regularly re-baseline their times, and all of these factors impact on the reality of delivering the field operations’ processes – detrimentally impacting upon an organisations’ ability to schedule efficiently.
The experiences faced by field operations teams can be a frustrating one, with poor planning contributing to poor resource distribution and inefficient practices throughout their day-to-day operations.
Poor planning is a key contributor to low productivity levels in utility field operations, although it is not the only one. Field operations is a sum of many parts, and to ensure the true potential of the whole process is realised, all elements must be considered.
As each element is explored, the appropriate change process or performance-improvement initiative can be introduced, and directed not only towards the field teams, but to the entirety of the value stream process. This approach will help to cultivate employee engagement across the organisation, and will enable long lasting and sustainable change. Our approach of ‘performance through engagement,’ makes the implementation of change processes, such as within planning, will become much more effective and efficient, enabling the development of a culture of continuous improvement.