Challenges in designing and implementing a comprehensive work management system

Jeff Jorgenson, Manager Roadways Section, Public Works Department, City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Raymond J. Gerke, CEO, VEMAX Management Inc., Edmonton, Alberta

This article discusses the challenges of designing and implementing a comprehensive work management system by the City of Saskatoon Water/Sewer and Roadways Sections. The project commenced in 2004. The City of Saskatoon is located in central Saskatchewan, Canada, and has a population of approximately 215,000. The Public Works Branch of the Infrastructure Services Department is responsible for the maintenance, operations, and rehabilitation of the City of Saskatoon's street, lane, sidewalk, water distribution, and sewage collection infrastructure. The Branch's budget exceeds $20,000,000CDN annually.

This article focuses on the critical success factors and the major lessons learned from this project. The details of the design are being implemented by the City at the time of writing this article.

The City has been using Maintenance Management Systems (MMS) to plan and track work on the street network for a number of years and attempted the same approach in the City's Water/Sewer area in 2003. This approach did not work well for Water/Sewer as the level of detail regarding tracking work accomplishments was far greater than used for roadways. As a result, the Manager of Public Works convened a multi-disciplinary project team to develop a common approach to managing an annual work plan throughout the Public Works Branch.

The City engaged VEMAX Management Inc. to assist the project team in technical and business process issues.

The project team developed a document that describes how various documents, reports, and procedures are used to control the work programs for which Public Works is responsible from commencement to completion of the annual program.

The mandate of the project team was to design and implement a comprehensive work management system in the Roadways and Water/Sewer Sections of Public Works based on the principles of asset management and, specifically, the ibos asset management software suite supplied by VEMAX.

The project team was provided with a clear mandate, which described the operations environment sought by the Public Works Manager. The mandate was based on the principles of asset management pertaining to operations management, as follows:

  1. A comprehensive annual work plan is prepared for the year that is based on defined service levels. The annual work plan is developed considering budgets, available resources, service levels, and other priorities such as special requests of Council.

  2. A comprehensive annual staffing plan is developed based on the annual work plan and specific operator or skilled labourer competencies.

  3. Operations staff strives to achieve the approved work plan, and monitor progress (planned work versus actual accomplishment) throughout the year.

  4. All work is scheduled. All work carried out by all crews is documented by a supervisor considering all appropriate inputs, and provided to crews in hard copy or digitally. Plans will consider work requests, inspections, programs from Asset Preservation, and other defined inputs, and can be altered through the day only by defined process.

  5. All work that should be driven by City inspections will be driven by City inspections.

  6. Operations staff continually strives towards improvement of activity efficiencies.

  7. Operations field staff regularly reviews and considers graphical and tabular performance reports.

  8. Senior management are briefed regularly in the status of work programs, and anticipated end-of-year forecasts which predict work accomplishment and expenditures.

  9. An end-of-year report for each operating section will be prepared and delivered to senior management. The report will outline the previous year's accomplishments, reasons for significant variance (if applicable), and summarize highlights of the year.

  10. Accountabilities and responsibilities are documented, approved, and implemented to ensure long-term institutionalization of these principles.

The above principles were all accommodated in the final system design by the project team.

The key lessons learned by the project team included:

  1. Once a change is decided upon by the organization, have a "draw the line in the sand" meeting. At the meeting the leader should clearly articulate that past practices are no longer allowed, and introduce the new practices followed by detailed training.

  2. Management must then follow up to ensure that the obsolete practices are no longer being followed, and relentlessly enforce the new practice.

  3. Once crews begin tracking work accomplishment information, ensure that appropriate levels of the organization review reports on a regular and ongoing basis. By reviewing reports, problems with data tracking will be identified early and the quality of information will be enhanced significantly.

  4. Hold supervisors accountable for their accomplishments regularly.

  5. Shelter the new system from negative internal comments. NEVER berate employees for poor performance based on reports—the reports are to be used to help the supervisors understand their performance, such as differences between crews, the impact of new work methods, or yearly variance. Supervisors and crews use reports as input to making good decisions. The integrity of work tracking information is paramount.

  6. Focus on "organized operations," not on cost control. The organization's financial system won't miss a single expenditure, so don't worry about lining up with your accounting area. It is easy to be lured into trying to match work management systems with financial management systems. The work management system focuses on prudent management of operations—work should be well-planned, well-organized, well-executed, and well-monitored. Finances are an important aspect, but not the end—it is the means to the end, the end being an overall well-managed work force.

  7. Clear commitment from senior management is required. Although grassroots initiatives can be rewarding, a total cultural shift must be led from the top.

  8. It is difficult to change the business while running the business. The nature of operations agencies is that there are always "fires" to put out. Set aside key implementation staff for a fixed period of time, and find a good business-oriented consultant. A good consultant can help keep the project focused and progressing.

Jeff Jorgenson can be reached at (306) 975-2869; Raymond J. Gerke can be reached at