Bridging the regional GAP

Working with Trinity Horne, Yorkshire Water has implemented a programme of change within its Waste Water Asset Management team, leading to savings of £1M-plus. The programme has been highly successful and is being extended

Working in partnership with Trinity Horne, Yorkshire Water implemented a programme of change - the Great Assets and People (GAP) project - within its Waste Water Asset Management (WWAM) team. An amalgam of 250 technical and scientific staff, WWAM is responsible for investigating the performance of assets across the business.

The GAP project was designed to counteract a shortfall in consistent work and management practices as well as to eliminate operating inefficiencies and the consequent ineffective capital spend these resulted in. The project has enabled Yorkshire Water to reduce operating costs by £1.6M and restructure the WWAM business unit.

Processes have been simplified and redesigned so that work across the four Regional and Central Asset Management teams can be carried out and measured consistently. Managers have also been coached in performance management skills and now lead teams much more effectively than before.

The benefits of the programme are due to be extended to the rest of Yorkshire Water's Waste Water department through a further programme of change - "Waste Water 20:20".

Yorkshire Water is one of the UK's best-known and most successful utility companies. Regulated by OFWAT, the utility supplies over 1.24bn litres of drinking water per day, collects and disposes of one billion litres of waste daily and operates more than 700 water and sewage treatment works as well as 40,000 miles of pipes. Constantly seeking new ways to improve, Yorkshire Water aims "to be clearly the best water company in the UK".

As part of its drive to improve operating efficiency, Yorkshire Water engaged Trinity Horne to implement a far-reaching programme of change within its WWAM function. Divided into four regionally based Area Teams and one Central Asset Management Team, WWAM is responsible for assessing, reporting on and developing solutions in relation to the utility's physical assets (e.g. pumping stations and sewage treatment works).

Trinity Horne was initially engaged to carry out a one-month operational review. This highlighted of weaknesses in the structure and working practices of the WWAM:
  • SAP was implemented into the business but did not include the WWAM team. Work that was completed could not be tracked: progress and productivity was almost impossible to assess
  • A lack of standard processes meant that work was delivered inconsistently across the four Areas: each regional team had "its own way of doing things". Comparing performance across teams was extremely difficult
  • No visibility as to whether work was done effectively: clarity and visibility of workload also lacking. In effect, managers at WWAM were "working blind"
  • Duplication of effort, especially reporting. Central and Area teams frequently investigated the same issue, unaware that another team had already reported
  • Blurring of roles between Central, Area teams and Catchment teams (ultimately responsible for the operation of the assets). Central teams would, for example, attend a pollution incident, despite the fact that attending such incidents was in fact the responsibility of the Catchment teams, assisted by Area staff
  • Best practice was viewed as a "central function", lack of communication between area teams (e.g. optimisation engineers) and central optimisation managers meant that ideas contributing to operational efficiency were only implemented sporadically. No "across the board" system of best practice existed
  • Poor management skills (particularly at supervisor level), lack of meaningful information and free time prevented managers from directing their teams' efforts effectively
Yorkshire Water's aim is to establish itself as the leading water utility, and the GAP project forms part of this objective. Specifically directed at eliminating inefficiencies deriving from inconsistent working practices, the project aimed to standardise working methods, clarify roles and responsibilities and bring a greater level of control over operations. The project also had a target of reducing operating costs by £1.2M.
All the elements of the project were delivered over a six-month period. Trinity Horne worked closely with three Yorkshire Water representatives (tier 3 managers, with high levels of credibility and experience within the business), forming "a virtual team". The team also had considerable support (both in terms of expertise and resources) from Yorkshire Water tier 2 managers, notably project sponsor Judy Anderson, as well as from WWAM's director, Graham Dixon.

The first phase of the project focused on process mapping. All processes used by WWAM were identified and recorded. A series of workshops was held to collect data on all work types plus their volumes and duration.

Once a complete picture of the various processes was established, these were "distilled" to form one generic process - Management Operating Framework (MOF) - which was designed to facilitate a more structured approach to management, enabling managers to forecast, plan and manage workloads on a daily basis, as well as report more effectively through the application of benchmarks.

Tier 3 managers were trained in the use of the MOF. Training encompassed use of key performance indicators, structured around availability of resource, performance (i.e. how well the available resource was used) and productivity. Managers were encouraged to adopt a more proactive approach to directing their teams' performance (e.g. use of action plans, addressing why tasks had not been completed).

The second element of the programme of change involved extensive redesign of the business unit's structure and processes. The Business Process Redesign (BPR) was aimed at delivering a more efficient and consistent approach to the asset management process. The new processes were finalised with tier 3 and tier 2 managers during a course of eleven workshops. Once the review was complete, appropriate staffing changes were made, including new appointments, and people trained in their new roles.

To support the project, extensive use of technology was also made:
  • Creation of universal tracker (GRS "GAP Reporting System), linked to the processes identified in the MOF. The tracker enables a process to be monitored from start to finish. If, for example, an asset has a shortfall, an investigation is triggered, a task created for investigating technicians, and the issue tracked through to solution/capital expenditure
  • The introduction of GRS has enabled both team and individual performance to be tracked. GAP timesheets record volume of activity, allow consistent measurement of output, as well as comparison between teams and individuals
  • Tier 3 Managers meet weekly to discuss the information generated by GRS with project sponsor Judy Anderson
The level of innovation led to:
  • A reduction of processes to one generic process (MOF) required high levels of skill and innovation. Processes (about 20 for each of the Area and Central teams) were not transactional and repetitive but highly varied and complex
    * Work was generally project related and often lasted over days/weeks: tracking had to be structured around key milestones rather than work done
  • Trinity Horne adapted its own existing business performance and capacity application to form the basis of the GRS system at Yorkshire Water
  • Trinity Horne used an adapted version of six sigma, services six sigma to review, redesign and improve Yorkshire Water's processes
Application of management skills / knowledge meant:
  • Yorkshire Water had an internal performance improvement/change team but chose Trinity Horne because of previous experience both within Yorkshire Water and within the water industry and wider utility business
  • Trinity Horne worked with a number of Yorkshire Water's managers directly and indirectly to test and develop ideas
  • As the existing processes in use at Yorkshire Water were viewed as "tried and tested", changes and development had to be delivered gradually: the programme of review and change was often difficult for staff to adjust to
The challenges have been overcome thanks to a number of factors including:
Tracking with effective management tools:
  • A baseline was established for the project in terms of people and performance, this was then monitored to ensure work and benefits were delivered
  • A detailed programme was maintained, reviewed weekly and actions taken to recover any delays
Careful management of risk factors:
  • A risk register was established, to measure the priority of risks, based on an assessment of the consequence and likely occurrence of each risk
  • Technology played a significant part in managing the risk associated with the project: Trinity Horne formed a team with Yorkshire Water's IT department to ensure that the implementation of GRS (GAP Reporting System) was completed as effectively as possible
Communication:
  • Changes were regularly communicated to Yorkshire water staff and a communication plan was also put in place, including weekly progress meetings, monthly steering board meetings, updates via Yorkshire Water's monthly company magazine and intranet
  • Transparency: open access to all project files for all Yorkshire Water staff
  • Throughout the project, Trinity Horne also interacted with the unions operating in the business to test changes
All the project objectives have been met and exceeded, and the quantifiable outcomes (strategic/financial) comprise:
  • Reduction in operating cost of £1.6M
  • New business processes and structure in place
  • Reporting carried out consistently
  • Workload including, any backlogs, is clearly visible
  • Work can be quantified and therefore costed effectively, leading to improved control over operating costs
  • Duplication (of reporting) reduced by 25%
  • Resource sharing between the Area teams e.g. to balance workload
  • Risk is now visible
  • Managers focus on staff driving performance, not technical issues
  • Managers have more time and access to better information
  • A tracker system monitors progress on all of the projects/investigations/solution development processes
  • Consistent best practice: communication between optimisation engineers in area teams and optimisation managers in central teams is significantly improved
  • The customer service team has been expanded and is now better resourced with a wider set of skills
What were the intangible benefits?
  • Managers now have greater control
  • Staff work to clear objectives and have clearly delineated responsibilities
  • Individuals receive better feedback on performance. Weekly meetings with managers and performance related quarterly payments encourage staff to focus on personal performance
  • Enhanced feeling amongst staff that WWAM is a "great place to work"
  • Work across the whole business unit (within scope) is delivered consistently
What were the lessons learnt?
  • Involve a greater number of Yorkshire Water staff and create "buy-in" at an earlier stage in the programme
  • Six-month timeframe for the project was extremely short: more time required in complex areas for the design and development process
Commenting on the results of the GAP project Graham Dixon says: "Yorkshire Water WWAM is now a better place for our people to work. It's a more controlled environment - people are losing less sleep at night, people in the field feel better, they know their issues are being tackled."

He continues: "Teams have a more consistent, controlled work load"

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