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Notes from the War Room: Don't Let Performance Data Kill Your Strategy

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Abstract:

Setting up a performance measurement system with levels of service, metrics and targets is a good start. A great second step is to organize the performance data and make it easy accessible to the supervisors making decisions. These initiatives are necessary building blocks for a performance measures program, but they are just the bare bones, and won't build a living, breathing performance measures system that is reactive to change and can be used to form strategy in a utility. In fact, setting up these initiatives and thinking that you have a functioning performance system can be a detriment – it can cause fear among your employees, cause them to splinter into deeper factions, and keep them from participating in your performance measurement program.

The Manager of the Sewer Maintenance Operation Center (SMOC) for the City of Columbus' Department of Sewerage and Drainage has built a performance measure system with the resiliency and authority to support not only the continuity of a post-consultant CMOM program, but the ability to change and adapt the program as needed for the future of the utility. The performance measure program evolved over the life of the CMOM program, but, in its most recent and effective form, it resembles a utility's war room – triaged information flowing in, strategies decided within, and correctly allocated resources flowing out.

SMOC's performance management program, called M2M (Manage 2 Measures), initially helped raise awareness of job scope and enabled improved work planning. As SMOC changed, however, and as demands on their performance deepened toward asset management principles, reporting of the measurement system was becoming stagnant, or, some feared, counterproductive.

The M2M Program, through the vision of the SMOC manager, began changing to meet the changing needs of the organization:

• The first step was to move from control-oriented, functional reporting to an analytic, root-cause thinking effort by the crew's immediate supervisors. The most immediate effect of teaching the supervisors to think about the measures program in an analytic way was that they began to prioritize their own measures, whittling them down to a just a few that were the most critical. This switched the supervisors from the mindset of “all performance measure data must be collected” to “how can I tell that my crews have been successful each month?”

• The SMOC Manager also encouraged the supervisors to decide what specific measures to report during the monthly staff meetings. This trust in the supervisors allowed them to triage only the most important information each month – allowing them to tell a succinct story about what was happening with their crews as well as encouraging them to crystallize their requests for resources.

• The supervisors also began switching measures and targets from being organized and oriented around functional groups to being oriented to an inter-group process (i.e. From CCTV crews to a Small Diameter Condition Assessment Program). This shift in organization and audience allowed for inter-group accountability as well as ownership of a process amongst a heterogeneous group of individuals. These clear, common goals and measures strengthened the sense of team performing these processes.

• Most importantly, however, the M2M program became the forum to discuss the sustainability of the CMOM program the City had been in engaged in, with the help of a consultant, for the last five years. Each year, a consultant had led the M2M program in re-setting targets and measures. With the consultant leaving, and the M2M program shifting, City staff began facilitating the M2M program and using the annual target-setting meetings as strategy meetings to discuss the continuous improvement and continuity of the CMOM program.

Based on the SMOC experience, this paper addresses the following questions: How can performance-measurement systems are improved to maximize the effectiveness of teams and the continuous improvement of existing programs? The SMOC example enforces the following principles long documented as essential aspects of effective utility management:

• The overarching purpose of a measurement system should be to help a team perform, rather than allow top managers judge its progress.

• Teams must play the lead role in designing its own measurement system.

• Measures should be process or team based, and,

• Measure only a handful of things for each team.

SMOC's M2M program has become the backbone supporting their CMOM program. A performance metric program, built and supported correctly, is a necessary vehicle for building leadership among City staff, continuous improvement, and deciding and correcting strategies in any utility.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2175/193864712811694794

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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