Utilizing Deming’s Key Principles for Vegetation Management (UVM)

Utilizing Deming’s Key Principles for Vegetation Management (UVM)

by Derek Vannice, Executive Vice President, CN Utility Consulting

Dr. W. Edward Deming was a leader in the movement toward quality improvement in the manufacturing industry. I first learned about his work while I was working on my MBA at Ball State University. Since then, I have found that his 14 principles can apply to any industry. At our annual CN Utility Consulting (CNUC) Leadership Academy which is our annual weeklong leadership and training event, we review and discuss his 14 points in detail and how they can improve CNUC and the UVM industry. Below, I have listed the 14 principles and some key points for each.

Create a constant purpose toward improvement.

  • Plan for quality in the long term.
  • Resist reacting with short-term solutions.

For UVM programs, this principle stresses the importance of inculcating a long-term commitment to making improvement an integral part of your program’s mission, vision and values. Constant improvement should be a natural part of your routine.

Adopt the new philosophy.

  • Embrace quality throughout the organization.
  • Put the needs of your customers first, rather than reacting to competitive pressure.

It’s important to make quality improvement and understanding the needs of your customer part of your organization’s status quo and temperament. This philosophy must be expressed and acted upon by everyone within the organization, and most importantly demonstrated through your leadership.

Stop depending on inspections.

  • Inspections are costly and unreliable. They don’t improve quality. Rather, find a lack of quality.
  • Build quality into the process from start to finish.

This principle is not talking about line or vegetation inspections, but rather condemning an inspection methodology that seeks only to find mistakes at the end of the assembly line. UVM inspections should focus on identifying defects within the process and using the information to improve the quality of the work, in addition to identifying required work.

Use a single supplier for any one item.

  • Quality relies on consistency – the less variation you have in the input, the less variation you’ll have in the output.
  • Look at suppliers as your partners in quality. Encourage them to spend time improving their own quality. They shouldn’t compete for your business based on price alone.

For UVM programs this principle is not talking about sole source versus multiple contractors on a property, but rather this principle focuses on the need for consistency between all suppliers in your organization. There is also a big emphasis here on not focusing on price, but the quality of the end product. Consistency is the by-product of clearly understood objectives, priorities and practices in part to all participants.

Improve constantly and forever.

  • Continuously improve your systems and processes.
  • Utilize the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach to process analysis and improvement.

Your team needs a commitment to the PDSA process to ensure new ideas and processes actually work the way they were intended. PDSA is an ongoing model for continuous improvement, validation and inspiration. The inspection and audit process is a big part of the PDSA process.

Use training on the job.

  • Train for consistency to help reduce variation.
  • Build a foundation of common knowledge.
  • Allow workers to understand their roles in the “big picture.”

Focus on recognizing the value of creating a learning organization as part of your ongoing commitment to quality. This effort must include all members of the organization (utility employees and contractors alike).

Implement leadership.

  • Expect your supervisors and managers to understand their workers and the processes they use.
  • Don’t simply supervise – provide support and resources so each staff member can do his or her best. Be a coach instead of a policeman.

Ensure that leadership is demonstrated throughout your organization. In the words of another business icon, Peter Drucker, “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Put another way, simply “facilitate employees’ success through training and development.”

Eliminate fear.

  • Allow people to perform at their best by ensuring that they’re not afraid to express ideas or concerns.
  • Let everyone know that the goal is to achieve the highest quality of work by doing more things right. You’re not interested in blaming people when mistakes happen.

In our neck of the woods, there is a strong need for a clear and unambiguous set of objectives for everyone in your UVM program. No UVM worker should ever fear speaking up about efforts to improve safety, reliability, fire mitigation and ensuring compliance with the laws. Our efforts should be focused on coming up with better, faster and more cost effective ways of doing those things, and these improvements typically come from all levels of your UVM organization. Fear of speaking up eliminates these ideas.

Break down barriers between departments.

  • Build the “internal customer” concept – recognize that each department or function serves other departments that use their output.
  • Build a shared vision.

This principle applies to the vast majority of stakeholders in the UVM process. A short list includes engineering, construction and customer service departments at the utility, in addition to any barriers between the service providers on a given property. There should be one set of mission, visions and values for each UVM program and they should be understood and acted upon by all stakeholders.

Get rid of unclear slogans.

  • Let people know exactly what you want – don’t make them guess. “Excellence in service” is short and memorable, but what does it mean?
  • Don’t let words and nice-sounding phrases replace effective leadership.

Move beyond slogans and into measurable action and improvement. While we all love the slogan “right tree, right place,” by itself, it hasn’t stopped many new bad plantings.

Eliminate management by objectives.

  • Look at how the process is carried out not just numerical targets. Deming said that production targets encourage high output and low quality.
  • Provide support and resources so that production levels and quality are high and achievable.

For the world of UVM, make sure the targets you have set are based on good data, and employees and contractors have the necessary training and tools to achieve those targets.

Remove barriers to pride of workmanship.

  • Allow everyone to take pride in their work without being rated or compared.
  • Treat workers the same and don’t make them compete with other workers for monetary or other rewards.

Focus on setting a level playing field within your organization. Make sure any type of reward programs are based on achievements of the entire team, so that employees will not compromise standards to achieve individual rewards at the expense of fellow employees.

Implement education and self-improvement.

  • Improve the current skills of workers.
  • Encourage people to learn new skills to prepare for future changes and challenges.

Training and employee development has never been so important. As the UVM industry changes, we must give our employees the type of training to help them be safe, productive and successful.

Make “transformation” everyone’s job.

  • Improve your overall organization by having each person take a step toward quality.
  • Analyze each small step and understand how it fits into the larger picture.

For UVM programs, this principle focuses on the need for buy in from all your employees and contractors. Everyone understands that continual improvement occurs at all levels of an organization. An improvement at any level can lead to positive changes in an entire program.

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