The first three posts on work management in the utility industry have focused on the core foundation of developing a successful work management plan, and touched on the importance of utilizing the proper systems to execute the plan. For organizations that find lower resource utilization rates acceptable, that may be all you need to create a path to success.

However, in today’s market it is critical to maximize utilization of manpower, time, and funding. Particularly in companies with multiple work streams and continuously fluctuating workloads; achieving utilization rates over 90% requires robust processes that both structure resource allocation and are readily adaptable to change.


field assurance blog image.pngLet’s look at a common scenario:

A LDC has a pipe replacement program taking place over multiple regions of a large territory. Using a top-down planning method, projects have been identified, funding has been approved, and the initial crew assignments are complete. They have even developed a resource loaded schedule to identify resource restrictions based on project estimates, and the schedule considers regional labor availability to minimize travel costs. All this planning takes place in a central office with input being received from project management, engineering, and investment planning groups.

The first few weeks go well – some projects slip a day or two, others wrap up early, crews are smoothly progressing to the next job and close to wrapping up the first region. The production and financial metrics coming back from the field shows that the investment and commitment in the company’s new work management group and system is paying off. Schedule updates are as easy as keeping track of project start and finish dates.

As crews wrap up in the first region and work is slowly ramping up in the second region, problems begin to surface. City inspectors are calling to report incomplete paving, an entire crew is now sitting idle because of a delayed permit, and crews starting in new regions are providing feedback that the planned method of construction won’t achieve production targets, which results in more crews on standby. The resource management group is scrambling to react and facing two critical questions – “What went wrong?” and “What do we do to fix it?”

What went wrong:

When asked to consult on similar situations, I often hear versions of the same answers: “Top-down planning never works! Bottom-up planning would have identified the construction method issue ahead of time,” “Maybe the permit requirements changed,” and “The plan was focused on getting pipe in the ground, we will get to the paving later”.

All of them are pertinent responses, but one stands out when you consider the steps taken in developing a program plan: the choice of planning method, aka top-down vs. bottom-up. Let’s take a quick look at what these two terms really mean.

Top-Down Planning - maintains the decision-making process at a senior level, with a programmatic view. Execution-level employees are generally not consulted during the planning process, and goals/targets are often established by allocating “buckets” of funding and defining expected production results.

Bottom-up Planning - gives the team that will be executing work a high level of input into resource requirements, estimated production and cost, and other details that are critical to the daily success of a project. Program goals/targets are then set based on these detailed plans.

How to fix it:

When you look at all issues the program is experiencing, the construction method is one item that could have been addressed in the development of the work plan. The key mistake here was leaving the construction leads out of the planning process. Consulting with the appropriate experts would have likely revealed that the proposed construction method wasn’t appropriate for that region and resulted in a more realistic project plan. A logical next step would be to review the remining program plan, and bring the proper execution groups into the discussion. Their added input can then be used to reset project schedules accordingly.

Future Insights

So, what determines if an organization should use top-down or bottom-up planning methods? What actions can the organization in this scenario take to mitigate the ongoing paving and permit issues? Stay tuned for future posts discussing how to integrate both planning methods, and how to develop an end-to-end process that covers both the planning and execution phases of work management.

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