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Assessing the Health of your Field-Based Operations – Take a Look under the Bonnet

Jan 19 • Features, Management • 3538 Views • No Comments on Assessing the Health of your Field-Based Operations – Take a Look under the Bonnet

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Workforce optimisation specialists Leadent Solutions have recently launched a new health-check service for companies operating a mobile workforce to ensure they are getting the most out of their existing systems and processes. In this series we will be looking into the various stages of the health check. Here in this first instalment of this series Emma Newman, Managing Consultant with Leadent Solutions, looks at the perhaps the most important element of any field service company, it’s people.

There is also an accompanying video interview series Emma Newman the first instalment of which you can see here.

Your operational business may be about maintaining and repairing assets, it may be about resolving customer issues, or both.  Without doubt, you will be looking to improve the performance of your assets or service to customers.

Given the breadth of processes involved in getting an engineer to site and completing work, covering planning, asset and job management, customer management, scheduling and deployment, and job execution, there may be issues that are, so far, unknown

You will be concerned that the right work is being done by your field-based workforce, that engineer productivity is maximised, that idle time and travel are reduced, and that cost and risk to the business are minimised. You may be aware of issues with your operations, be they related to performance, process non-compliance, behaviour or systems.  Given the breadth of processes involved in getting an engineer to site and completing work, covering planning, asset and job management, customer management, scheduling and deployment, and job execution, there may be issues that are, so far, unknown.

Many of us are car drivers.  When the car is not working it gets a visit to the garage.

However, we also know that keeping your car regularly serviced means that you avoid unexpected breakdowns, costly repairs or even worse, a completely new purchase. The principles relating to car servicing can, and should, be applied to field-based operations.  In this exclusive five part series we aim to explain why and how checking the health of your field-based operations can avoid short-term crises and result in greater long term value.

Across this series we will explore the following four areas…

  1. People
  2. Process
  3. Systems
  4. Improvement Planning (Planning for the Journey)

In this first article in the series we take a look at ‘People’, and their role in your business operations.  Subsequent articles will cover Process, Systems and Improvement Planning, and will finally be followed up by a case study which highlights how Leadent Solutions worked with Anglian Water to review and improve the set-up of their scheduling system.

Part 1: Focus on People

If you’re responsible for operating field-based services to maintain or fix assets, or ensure service delivery to customers then you already know that people are your most important resource.

Ideally it’s the planners, call centre agents, schedulers, job deployers, customer liaison agents, as well as the field workforce that ensure processes are adhered to and systems updated accordingly.

Well thought-out, practical, yet innovative processes and solutions can lead to far more effective field-based operations

Well thought-out, practical, yet innovative processes and solutions can lead to far more effective field-based operations, and with recent advances in technology, the benefits and cost saving opportunities just keep getting better.  This is great news for any organisation seeking to drive business improvements from the activities of its fieldforce.

Innovation and transformation, who wouldn’t want that?  However, we see many transformation programmes focus on technology and process, but fail on the people aspect.  This often results in processes not being adhered to and workarounds being put in place, where systems are misunderstood or perceived as lacking in functionality.  These workarounds are, in most cases ineffective to some degree, leading to additional costs, and, in the worst cases, creating a risk to asset performance or customer service.

Losing the Faith

In a recent Field Service News research report, it was suggested that 56% of companies interviewed were using a dynamic scheduling tool, but of those companies a shocking 43% had experienced two field workers turning up to do the same job.  This is more common place than you might think.  Technology is great when it works, but if staff lose faith in the system and revert to manual or paper scheduling then your productivity, cost and service targets are likely to be missed.

The loss of faith extends to field-based workers who see limited value in back office functions and associated systems – leading to a strained relationship between ‘office’ and ‘field’.  In the worst cases, activities are conducted ‘off system’, leading to issues of visibility and control.

Listen to your Employees

Across all functions involved in field-based operations, employees too have to ‘work’ existing processes and systems, and may have to adopt new solutions quickly.  Maybe the old practices weren’t that good, but the new process and systems may not feel quite right either…

Whether it’s managing the old way or adapting to the new, your employees’ views are all important; it’s feedback that should be valued and utilised. Staying with the car analogy, when you take your car to the garage, even for a service, don’t you expect the mechanics to listen to your observations?

Any review of operations seeking to identify issues or areas for improvement should encompass the views of those who operate and manage processes.  The Leadent Solutions healthcheck does just that.  The key is to being able to provide a mechanism and environment for honest feedback, and then be able to sort fact from the ‘noise’ (there will inevitably be a degree of ‘noise’, largely expressed through frustration).

A structured approach to understanding the employee point of view will require:

  • Boardroom sponsorship
  • Appropriate corporate communications (what we are doing, and why)
  • Full functional representation across the end-to-end process  (back office and field)
  • Facilitated workshops
  • Analytics for issues classification and prioritisation
  • A review of potential remedial actions
  • Employee buy-in and sign off (via representatives)
  • Executive understanding and buy-in

It may be appropriate to measure employee engagement before and after the review, to confirm the integrity of the output, for example via a Change Readiness Assessment.

Moving Forward: Change Management Is Key

In part by taking on board the views of process owners, we know change is required.  In any change, process or system driven, minor change or part of a larger transformation programme, the consideration of people is all important.  Projects fail where the people element receives inappropriate attention. How many projects design new processes and systems without properly engaging the workforce?

A Gartner Survey conducted in 2013 showed where IT programmes fail, that nearly two thirds fail primarily because of shortfalls in change management.

Most typically it’s not the technology!

Any change in approach should ensure subject matter experts and functional representatives are involved in all project phases – including design and testing.

In setting up and running improvement projects, project sponsors, funding and other governance boards and project managers must ensure the people aspect is covered appropriately.  Typically this means a ‘change’ approach is required for stakeholder management, communications, training, roll out / implementation, and post-go-live support.  Any change in approach should ensure subject matter experts and functional representatives are involved in all project phases – including design and testing.

Making sure your people follow processes correctly takes time and effort, but involving them in the development and testing stages as early as possible will help them to feel part of the solution, which will result in much greater level of user adoption.  Utilising super users and process champions will also help to ensure that people feel empowered to use the systems in place and will help to enforce best practice and governance across the board after go-live.

Training is often an afterthought – if you are able to combine user acceptance testing, service rehearsals and training, it will create a much more natural progression throughout the business changes that lie ahead – focussing on roles, and their dependencies throughout the workforce management process.  Understanding how roles, responsibilities, actions and consequence are drawn together will also create a greater sense of responsibility within the change and adoption process.

All projects additionally need to consider post-go-live support and business as usual feedback mechanisms once the project team has disbanded.  If anything, issues may only surface after implementation.  This is why the particular problems of remote mobile workers providing feedback or getting issues fixed needs consideration.

Power to the People

People are your most valuable resource.   The very best way of improving your job and workforce management operations is too get them involved.  Listen to what they have to say, use their expertise as key input to making transformation changes.

To a very large extent, the way you engage and manage people has the power to make or break the success of your operations – take them with you and you’ll have the potential to create sustainable long-term value for your organisation and customers, leave them standing as the organisation ploughs on with a technology change or implementation and you could be left wondering where it all went wrong.

Next time we’ll be looking at the role of Process in assessing the health of your field-based operations……

If you think your company could benefit from the Healthcheck you can contact Emma and the team directly by clicking this link

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