Our client, a leading water utility, wanted to increase productivity and reduce costs in above ground maintenance. Tough efficiency targets had been set, but because the capital programme was under pressure, they needed to fund the additional maintenance of existing assets to sustain performance. This meant improving productivity without increasing the risk of an asset failure.
In our scoping assessment we found that the three operating regions were all approaching maintenance differently in terms of structure, risk management, ways of working, and performance measurement. We also discovered that while the actual maintenance job was done well, everything else in the system was typically a case of reacting to and accommodating failure.
We prioritised four areas for developing a new operating model in order to embed operational excellence and drive performance improvement. The subsequent discovery project gathered data from across each region to tell the story of what needed to change and why. Along with analysis, we ran best practice site visits using our contacts from inside and outside the utility industry.
These insights informed the eight-week pilot, which included building a business case and governance model for change. Then in collaboration with our client we developed a series of process changes to drive up productivity – for example, reprioritizing jobs and re-defining accountabilities for equipment lubrication regimes, pump unblocking and generator towing, and harmonizing planned preventative maintenance across all regions.
Our continuous improvement framework enabled the business to visually report, measure and manage performance. To ensure fast delivery, we implemented an approach to transfer capability to the frontline through team performance hubs. After the value of this approach was proved by benefits tracking, we helped plan rollout across the entire network. As implementation progressed, we transferred continuous improvement capabilities through bespoke training and coaching. Finally, we implemented a tailored change sustainability process to ‘hardwire’ the changes at every level.
It quickly became clear that inconsistencies in ways of working, combined with blockages in processes, were leading to significant inefficiencies.
Poor productivity was driven by various factors, including up to 40% of jobs poorly prioritised, 38% of jobs not ‘good to go’, ‘time on the tools’ (time spent fixing, not travelling, eating etc) was just 39%, and 30% of team leader time spent on tasks that could be done elsewhere.
There were also pockets of good practice, for example using data to predict and eliminate failure rather than accommodate and react to failure. So there were opportunities to share best practice as well as improve poor practice.
We found big efficiency benefits from analysing how work was actually being done at the coalface and connecting this with business-wide failure data. For example, we found that inconsistent methods in lubrication were leading to asset breakdown which amounted to £0.5m of avoidable failure costs each year.
The productivity improvement benefits case was built from a combination of process improvements, restructuring, new roles and new management practices. The result was an estimated £1.1m benefits case, or 8% of the budget, money which was reallocated elsewhere rather than resulting in redundancies.