The Right MAP Will Get You There

Benchmark assessment offers utilities comparative data to better direct future performance

Utility performance has been the subject of many benchmarking tools over the last decade. Professional water and wastewater associations have offered programs to their members to fill this need, focusing on various indicators. Typically, the measures are broad and all-encompassing at higher levels of management and more specific and narrow at the lower levels of an organization.

A number of tools provide assistance in strategic planning for the areas of human resources, technology, regulatory compliance, customer satisfaction, and organizational knowledge capture and retention.

Perhaps the best-known program, Qualserve, is a series of organizational improvement tools jointly developed by the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation to improve public health protection and operational performance and increase public confidence and support.

The Qualserve Benchmarking Clearinghouse offers an annual national survey for utilities to compare their results with more than 100 high-performing utilities from across the country. These standardized measures address the areas of organizational development, business management, customer relations, water operations, and wastewater operations. The survey results are available to nonparticipants at a cost of several hundred dollars but are free to survey participants. The benchmarking survey has greatly improved the depth and breadth of comparative data available, and the cost has dropped dramatically.

An Environmental Management System, or EMS, is a set of management processes and procedures that allow an organization to analyze, control, and reduce the environmental impact of its activities, products, and services and operate with greater efficiency and control. Based on private-sector improvement approaches to environmental performance, an EMS uses a continuous cycle review of a “Plan, Do, Check, Act” system methodology rather than the traditional command-and-control approaches. The elements of an EMS can be found at EPA’s Web site. The University of Florida TREEO Center also is a direct source of EMS assistance and information on a third tool, the National Biosolids Partnership program.

All of the instruments mentioned provide utilities roadmaps to higher performance. It is most important to note that measuring current performance against the industry is the first step in overall improvement.

Another tool, the Management Assessment Profile (MAP), provides a way for progressive facility managers to measure how they are performing relative to others and how they are improving over time. People value comparative analysis. “How are others in our profession addressing this issue?” or, “Is our group a top performer?” A common template of measuring quality performance ensures direction, systems control, teamwork, and a sense of accomplishment.

MAP was developed in 2003 by Woodard & Curran of Portland, Maine. It measures the following elements of quality performance: • customer service, • leadership, • technical management, • community, and • vision.

Each of the five elements is further defined by five standards, creating a matrix of 25 achievement goals. Standards are divided into requirements, and specific measurements are assigned to each.

A group of water and wastewater facility managers that perform contract operations refined MAP over a six-month period. They defined the five core elements of performance and five standards for each element. During a series of three meetings, groups of 15 to 30 project managers discussed each element and standard and more carefully crafted them. A consensus process finalized the standards and performance measure for each element. After the matrix was formed, the consulting firm developed a wall chart using icons and text to easily and routinely remind facility managers and staff of their expectations and goals.

How to use a MAP
MAP audits can be used as the primary management tool to ensure that facilities operate in compliance and in a consistent, professional manner. Each audit can result in the formation of a list of recommended and required action items. The audits are conducted using a consistent template. A score is assigned by the auditor. Each item is scored with zero, one, or two points. A two-point assignment suggests that the manager and staff have achieved the spirit, intent, and details of the standard. A one-point assignment suggests that the work is in significant progress but not yet completed. A zero-point assignment suggests that the facility has neglected the item.

Within the Woodard & Curran contract operations system, which comprises about 32 facilities, scores must achieve or exceed an 86 percent level. A zero-point assignment in any one category results in a failed audit and a rescheduled visit. In more specific detail:

• The facility environmental safety and health contact, manager, or designee accompanies the auditor(s) onsite visits and generally must be available to answer questions.

• The auditor has unrestricted access to all operations, records, and personnel.

• At any time, an auditor may advise the facility contact or manager of conditions and deficiencies as discovered. The facility contact or manager is responsible for undertaking any and all measures immediately to cure such conditions and deficiencies.

• At the conclusion of activities, the auditor provides the facility manager with an overview of conditions and deficiencies noted during the assessment to assist in the development of appropriate corrective measures, including action items.

• Generally, the action agenda should include a timeline for when the necessary actions or improvements can be completed.

Facility management and staff at contract operation sites who pass the audit are entitled to financial bonuses and may attain further recognition for individual achievements in the areas of compliance, safety, facility maintenance, and customer service. The zero, one-, and twopoint system was deliberately used to address any subjectivity associated with matrix standard measurement. Those being audited have described the rating system as consistent, fair, and reasonable.

A MAP of your own
Essentially, the MAP program may be used by any water or wastewater facility manager to perform a self-audit against a set of 25 criteria-based professional standards. Consider the following:

• Public works directors or city administrators can use the MAP audit to see the big picture of how an objective assessment characterizes utility plant operations. Recommendations can be prioritized to fulfill all standards that impact public health, health and safety, and compliance with operating permits.

• Utility directors can be given a report card that identifies deficiencies or areas needing improvement. Specific observations and recommendations regarding staff structure, operational procedures, maintenance practices, equipment practices, or administrative bottlenecks can be identified.

• City engineers or engineering consultants can review MAP results before designing, planning improvements, or recommending capital expenditures.

• Plant managers can be given specific action activities designed to establish their facility operation and team management in the “best-inclass” group.

The MAP program and other benchmarking instruments offer detailed and valuable insight into the management performance of a utility system.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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