We Need to Move and Fast

Our electric delivery industry is facing a crisis. We have seen the slumping economy result in lost customers, lower revenues and more costly collections.

Our electric delivery industry is facing a crisis. We have seen the slumping economy result in lost customers, lower revenues and more costly collections. And our aging infrastructure is badly in need of replacement. Much of our experience in the form of the aging work force is being lost. At the same time, customers and regulators demand lower rates and improved reliability. What a difficult situation we face.

We need to move and move fast if we are to make it through this crisis. Hopes cannot be pinned on long-term projects that promise improvement in the distant future. Costs need to be reduced quickly while improving the quality of service. The traditional “same olds” — cuts in overtime, reducing staff and training, and eliminating merit increases — have limited effectiveness and are hurting us long term. There is a better way. We need to embrace “Rapid Results.”

This better way is based on a simple premise: There is nothing like a crisis to create dramatic and immediate improvements in performance. A perfect example of this is how utility employees respond to major storms. United in purpose, they overcome obstacles and restore power in a fraction of the time their normal pace would require. Why? Every company has a tremendous capacity for better performance if unleashed under the right circumstances. People innovate, they collaborate and they abandon inefficient work methods. These breakthroughs in performance take place in every industry but particularly in electric delivery companies.

A Case Study: Connecticut Light & Power

Connecticut Light & Power needed to improve reliability performance and focused on the Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI). Its average outage duration was 127 minutes for the first eight months of 2007. The year-end goal of 125 minutes appeared unachievable with only four months left. Using Rapid Results, CL&P formed a cross-functional team consisting of people closest to the work: line supervisors, system operators and crew dispatchers. The execution plan consisted of four key elements:

  1. Involvement of people at all levels of the organization.

  2. Clear expectations and accountability for progress.

  3. Empowerment of teams to set goals and create work plans.

  4. One-hundred-day implementation time frames to force innovation and deliver results.

The first task was to evaluate past reliability data and identify the greatest opportunity for rapid improvement. This evaluation discovered that, although CL&P's outage restoration worked well for most of the year, there were 20 days each year where performance suffered during mid-sized storms. The team's focus went from how do we fix particular problems to how do we manage events when these type of storms occur. Improvement had to be “event driven” not “cause driven” to discover the critical elements of effective outage response.

The team developed a Rapid Results goal to achieve a “model month” of outage-restoration performance, where no one day would contribute more than one minute to the overall CAIDI measure. They changed the outage-restoration process along four dimensions:

  1. Early recognition of the escalating outage events
  2. Targeted warning system across the organization.
  3. Immediate decision-making in response to conditions.
  4. Better utilization of field resources.

By monitoring conditions, engaging decision makers, deciding on the right course of action and mobilizing resources faster, CL&P achieved a CAIDI of 91 minutes in September, the first month of the Rapid Results implementation. This was a 28.35% reduction in restoration time compared to the first eight months. In addition, CL&P's performance continued to improve in the final months of that year, and it ended the year with a CAIDI of 122 minutes and outperforming its annual goal.

Best of all, unlike most performance-improvement methods, a company can test the Rapid Results approach quickly, easily and with very little cost. Once a company succeeds, it can move ahead as fast as it wants.

Each company's Rapid Results support team, consisting of two experienced professionals, helps senior management select the goals, design the projects and help keep the “crisis” attitude alive.


John Arceri (arcmi@comcast.net) has been involved with electric distribution for 45 years, 33 of them with Consolidated Edison of New York and most recently as the lead author for EPRI's new reference manual on underground distribution.

Editor's note: For a complete description of the “Rapid Results” approach, developed by Robert H. Schaffer & Associates, check out Schaffer's book Rapid Results: How 100-Day Projects Build the Capacity for Large-Scale Change.

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