Benchmarking PM Practices
varies greatly among utilities.
One portfolio measure that has emerged from survey and consulting work is “Percent jobs walked-in” – a measure of whether companies do what they say they’re going to do. One analogy is a trip to the grocery store. Say you give your son $20 dollars to go to the store and buy bread and milk, and he returns with soda and chips and $1 change. Using a portfolio measure, he was within 5 percent of budget – but in fact 100 percent of the activity was “walked in” during the last minute. Although “Walked in” is an extremely important measure of outcomes, it’s difficult to benchmark; survey respondents say walk-ins account for 20 percent of jobs, but they have different starting points for finalizing the budget.
The construction role appears to be one of the most important, but problematic issues among our utilities. Most utilities recognize the importance of having the PM involved very early in the planning process for large capital projects, but have difficulty engaging the construction folks earlier. Constructability and operability reviews are becoming more common, but the relationship between construction and engineering is often strained. The PM is seen as a key bridge between the groups – and companies are trying to find organizational solutions to involve construction, where most of the costs are incurred. Simply getting good status information is a challenge for most utilities who do not have well-developed construction management functions. When contractors are involved in design and engineering, the problems are exacerbated.
As it was previously, MS-Project was the primary PM scheduling software in this year’s survey, although Primavera was a close second. Almost all the companies rely on other systems that are cobbled together to consolidate cost, budgets, labor-hours, and construction status into useful reports. Even more challenging for most utilities is the ability to adequately forecast workload and resource demands. A schedule can’t be successful without capacity planning ( e.g., resources and outage constraints) to develop a reasonable schedule – and the software hasn’t proven up to the challenge for most utilities. (See Figure 4.)
Although project management practices at utilities have remained fairly stable over the last several years, it’s important to track changes over time. Further, identifying best practices can help utilities adapt to their changing workloads and project demands.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tim Szybalski ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a director at First Quartile Consulting (http://1stquartileconsulting.com) , a management consulting firm that also performs annual benchmarking studies across electric T&D and customer service for North American utilities. Szbalski’s career includes more than 15 years as an engineer and manager for SDG&E and PG&E.