BY ZACH PETIT

With continually changing regulations and workforce shortages, utilities must develop efficient and accurate work planning and scheduling solutions. This is the first in a series of postings on work management for the utility industry.

Whether it is for job readiness, construction, or asset maintenance, it is increasingly critical to have systems in place that are responsive to the regulatory and economic forces that directly impact work prioritization, methodology and technical requirements. Gone are the days of pushing off a maintenance program until resources are available, or showing up on a municipal street to start work two weeks earlier than the permit allows simply because the crew finished a project early.

The formula for work management seems straightforward: have the right resources, in the right place, at the right time. In the past, that has often (but not always) been as simple as running down a list of projects, assigning a resource and date and showing up to execute. Success was frequently measured by one statistic: if the work was complete, or not. This basic formula hasn’t changed. What has changed, and will continue to do so, is what goes into these three variables, how they tie together and how success is measured.

The right resources: It is no secret that the utility industry is facing a shortage of skilled, qualified workers. Compounding the issue are regulations that continually drive changes in required training, qualifications and knowledge. Add to that economic or political drivers that cause sudden priority shifts, and organizations can find themselves with an entire new work stream and nobody to execute it.

The right place: This seems like a no-brainer – the right place is where the work is. When other factors are considered though, it is more complex. A local division office knows the right place for a gas service replacement crew is the customer’s yard, and an integrity manager knows the right place for a gas main replacement crew is in the street. Are they correct though, if they are executed 6 months apart? Could they have been bundled together, with one crew, in one location?

The right time: When planning and scheduling work, managers need to consider far more than resource availability. Using the common example of a utility that provides both power and gas, the right time to convert an electric transmission line to underground may be when a gas transmission line is being installed in a parallel right of way. Factors such as weather, public works construction, current resource location and upcoming regulations must all be considered when scheduling work to take advantage of possible efficiencies while meeting deadlines.

What can an organization do to elevate their work management? It starts by adding two more variables to the formula:

The right data: All too often, organizations are faced with more information than they know what do with it, and all too often it’s not the information they need. A systematic focused approach is required to understand what data will positively affect planning and scheduling, and how it is collected and analyzed. “Traceable, verifiable, and correct” can apply to far more than asset information – data related to work planning and execution should be held to the same standard.

The right feedback: The right data is of little benefit if the staff managing and executing the work can’t access it, or don’t understand how it should be used. Performance metrics around safety, quality, production and financial management need to be accurate, simple and easily accessible to the right people. For a crew lead, this might mean a simple report on equipment downtime and how it affected production. For an executive, this might mean a sophisticated forecast on upcoming residential development that will increase customer demand.

Taking the right data and generating the right feedback results in knowing the work. Combine knowing the work with an effective process to place the right resources, in the right place, at the right time, and you have reached the holy grail of resource management. Stay tuned for more on how to effectively manage your company’s pursuit of this elusive goal!