One of the challenges of operating an electrical utility is that the grid has to be constantly updated to meet customer demand. This calls for a coordinated effort from many individuals; every time a new building is added, design documents have to be created and approved, parts have to be ordered, and crews have to be allocated.
In late 2010, Hydro Ottawa enlisted Lean Advisors to help reduce project lead times and improve efficiency. After a series of training seminars, multi-functional teams used the Lean Value Stream Mapping (VSM) tool to analyze the entire project delivery process, from request of a new service to final hookup. By mapping out the current and desired future states for the entire value stream, participants were able to create a roadmap for improvement across the three functional areas involved – design, installation, and material management.
“We are definitely trying to address this value stream, because it crosses so many different departments,” says Brent Fletcher, Hydro Ottawa’s Manager of Business Performance. “Instead of pointing fingers we think that we can deliver a process that is better for everybody. It will keep our inventory down, our carrying costs down, reduce the number of parts being returned, and ensure the parts are where they need to be when they need to be so that execution doesn’t slow down.”
One of the breakthroughs was to align teams by region. “Instead of 22 designers working in all parts of the city,” says Fletcher, “we’ve aligned our designers geographically to help build relationships with the local construction forces, develop a stronger knowledge of their area, and improve communications.”
The biggest impact of Lean, however, has been a marked improvement in the working relationship between the groups, who have improved communications, reduced lead times on designs getting out, and improved the accuracy of the designs.
Scheduling is now done through bi-weekly meetings where upcoming projects can be reviewed from end to end. “We are giving more clarity and visibility to the schedule, and where our resources are being used,” says Fletcher, “and also more advanced notice of jobs that are coming up.”
The groups are currently looking at ways to deliver materials more efficiently to jobsites. “We are looking to reduce inventory, and are finding ways to ensure that when a crew shows up in the morning they have everything they need in order to execute on the job,” says Tony Mittiga, senior advisor with Lean Advisors, who is consulting on the project. The key will be a Just-In-Time approach where crews are supplied with smaller batches of materials on an as-needed basis, as opposed to larger shipments that tend to clog up jobsites.
Feedback from the field has been decisively positive. “We are definitely, anecdotally and qualitatively, getting very good feedback from the workers and from the designers,” says Fletcher.
“They are making quite a bit of progress,” says Mittiga. “I think the interesting thing is the enthusiasm from the team members. They really, really want to see things happen.”