Editor-in-Chief Elisabeth Lisican showcases a handful of features to read in the April 2017 issue of Water & Wastes Digest.
"Who's going to do the heavy lifting?" It is a
question that many employees undoubtedly had on their minds during the early
months of the project. One person had the courage to ask it. The answer that
Tampa found is that all of the employees need to help do the hard work that it
takes to make this kind of change and savings possible.
The City of Tampa sits on the west-central side of Florida,
a port of entry with an impressive harbor tucked along Tampa Bay. The City of
Tampa is progressive, launching its e-government initiative in 2000 with 24/7
interactivity online, including the ability for customers to pay their utility
bills. Serving a steadily growing population of 303,000, the Tampa Department
of Sanitary Sewers (DSS) has been serving the area since 1950. With more than
100,000 accounts, DSS operates a 96 mgd advanced treatment plant and more than
200 pumping stations.
At the height of the utility privatization activity in the
late 90s, DSS decided not to sit back but to move the organization swiftly
ahead. DSS began an optimization program at its advanced wastewater treatment
plant in 1999. Utility management put together a business case for advancement,
including what it would cost and why they should proceed. Together with EMA,
treatment plant employees took on the challenge to achieve their vision: to
become a world-class competitive organization within five years. EMA led DSS
employees in conducting an assessment of the plant as well as the collections
and stormwater divisions and also led plant employees in implementing
By focusing on people, practices and technology, the plant
has achieved significant progress toward meeting its goal of becoming a
world-class competitive organization. In order to facilitate people skills, a
significant training and certification program was developed. Practices were
evaluated and modified to support more flexible and productive employees.
Technology was assessed with an eye toward achieving the best practices by
using appropriate supporting technologies.
After the first year of the program, both the collections
and stormwater divisions signed on to optimize their departments, making some
adjustments to the process used at the plant. Several of the other 17 city
departments also are considering using the same methods.
Teams Involve and Develop Employees
DSS understood that employee involvement was essential to
the optimization program's success. Almost all employees were involved.
During the first year, DSS created a new mission in support
of their vision to be world class: "A team of professionals committed to
the relentless pursuit of excellence in environmental protection and customer
satisfaction through efficient wastewater services."
A Steering Team consisting of employees representing
virtually every level and function of the organization was formed, and
employees were trained to work together effectively as a team. The Program Plan
they developed included activities and tasks to address the three focus areas
of people, organization and technology. EMA led the teams in using scenario modeling.
Based on their vision, the teams defined a more streamlined approach, including
improved practices, a "flattened" organization and applied
technology. These models of the future became the blueprint for designing new
skill sets for employees and new technologies.
The Communication Team was formed to communicate the program
throughout the utility and to other stakeholders. They developed a
Communication Plan and began publishing a monthly newsletter for interested
persons both internal and external to the utility.
"We needed to overcome the fear that changes meant
something bad was happening. The best way to do that was communicate. If you
think you were clear, then say it again," Director Ralph Metcalf said.
A third team was created to address technology needs to
support optimization. This Technology Team drafted a Technology Plan for later
use as the framework or process to identify, prioritize and implement
technology tools. Each project identified in the plan was evaluated using a
business case tool to determine the cost/benefit for priority ranking purposes.
Finally, in the first year, pilot studies or tests were
designed for plant and pump station operation and maintenance to allow utility
employees to try new work practices and organization models.
In year two, the Leadership Training Program was designed
with the needs of a changing organization in mind. Utility supervisors and
managers designed the program around what new knowledge would be required to
lead the organization of the future.
The training program was designed by having the managers and
supervisors respond to two questions.
you were promoted to the next higher level in your organization, what new
knowledge would you need to perform that work?
your facility were to become a private operation and you were placed in charge
of the project, what knowledge would you need to perform your job?
The answers were grouped into 12 categories. Each workshop
participant was given a number of "votes" to apply to those issues
they felt were most needed.
Seven course modules were provided to all supervisors and
"One of the biggest outcomes has been seeing how much
employees have grown in these non-technical skill areas. Another is their
appreciation for costs and the impact of their actions," Deputy Director
Brad Baird said.
Many of the managers and supervisors who completed this
program have stated that it is one of the most significant leadership training
programs they have ever taken. Team training was provided for all employees
volunteering for pilots and teams in a week-long session. It focused on
establishing working agreements, commitments within the group and personal
responsibility and accountability.
The first six-month pilot was completed and a second pilot
was designed to continue learning new ways to work. Completion of the first
pilot saw payment of the first of three performance bonuses. The Tampa Mayor
approved sharing plant program savings with employees. The first bonus was more
than $659 per person. Every person at the plant, from front line workers to the
plant manager, received the same bonus amount. The allowance gave 20 percent of
the savings back to employees, while 80 percent went toward reducing the
operating costs of the department. Savings came from labor, chemical and power
reductions. The labor savings were calculated by demonstrating that the areas
piloted were operated and maintained by fewer employees than previously needed.
As Figure 1 shows, improved work practices allow fewer DSS employees to treat
more mgd per 1,000 hours worked.
On completion of the second pilot, another performance bonus
of $466 per employee was paid. "Obviously, employees are a crucial part of
making this work. So, we forged new territory with paying bonuses that are tied
to results," Plant Manager Dave Pickard said.
Meanwhile, several technology initiatives from the
Technology Plan were started and some were completed in the same year.
Initiatives included projects to automate processes and to get information to
employees in the quickest and easiest way possible. Technology initiatives with
the best return on investment were given highest priority. Examples of
technology being put in place include online analyzers and automatic sampling.
Plant equipment including the primary clarifiers also is being automated.
Whenever possible, technology initiatives are being designed and implemented by
employees rather than contracting out. Some of the freed-up resources from
operating more efficiently are contributing to technology projects.
Workforce Flexibility and Skill-Based Compensation
Another team began looking at current job descriptions and
pay scales in support of workforce flexibility/skill-based compensation
(WFF/SBC). The WFF/SBC Team designed new job descriptions based on what it
learned from the pilots. With the help of city human resources staff, new job
descriptions were created and pay scales were developed that were significantly
Personnel Manager Richard Coane who was intricately involved
throughout the process, stated, "This was a test of our ability to devise
a system that was driven by the needs of the organization without compromising
the integrity of the civil service law."
An interesting aspect of this WFF/SBC program is that
employees can move up through the new system as quickly as they qualify for the
next level of multi-skilled worker. No longer will employees have to wait for a
position to be vacated before being promoted. Now, employees are able to move
into higher positions based solely on qualifications.
employees take on greater responsibility to do a better job. They now have a
real stake in the operation," Chief Administrative Officer Sam Halter
The higher the overall qualifications of the workforce, the
lower the number of total employees that will be required to operate and
maintain the facilities.
The pilots provided employees with the first opportunity to
cross-train into new job skills. Within the pilot areas, the ratio of planned
maintenance (PM) to reactive maintenance (RM) improved from about 40 percent to
about 80 percent PM, based on the number of work orders completed. Figure 2
shows the decline in the number of corrective work order man hours since the
pilots started, translating to fewer emergencies, experiencing less breakdowns
and being more in control. There also has been about a 20 percent decrease in
This decrease was due mainly to the implementation of a
30-day work plan for pilot area employees and development of a maintenance
standard operating procedure (SOP). The success of the pilots in transitioning
to mostly planned work is attributed to the creation of a new position, O&M
Planner/Schedulers. Tony Leon and Eddy Drovie are two of the employees in this
role who work together using weekly planning sessions. Sharing an office, they
work out a schedule of work/week by teams, not separate skill areas as
historically was done. These Planner/Schedulers were given the responsibility
of developing tools and practices to reduce equipment failures by increasing
planned maintenance activities. They make a 30-day forecast of work and track
"There are new standards for reports. Now if someone is
out, someone else can pick up the project," Leon said.
"We've worked hard on establishing open communication.
For example, mechanics need to understand what's important to electricians and
vice versa. We were free to take some risks and try new things. Where it didn't
work, we tried again," Drovie said.
Finally, the second year of the program saw the start of
negotiations for Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between the utility and
several supporting city departments including Fleet Maintenance and MIS. The
SLAs have taken several different forms (e.g., from a formal contractual
agreement to less formal defined expectations).
"We wanted to be a model for the rest of the city and
made the decision to track our results," Metcalf said. In just two years,
DSS did what it set out to do. As shown in Figure 3, the hard savings to date
are $1.6 million.
Optimization also has resulted in these other benefits.
knowledgeable employees that results in better customer service.
of attitudes and culture to one of self-responsibility and self-motivation,
creating feeling of ownership.
of private contract operation concerns.
department involvement and best practice sharing to achieve world class goal.
of retaining employees and recruiting new ones.
As the third year begins, a Transition Team has been formed
and a Transition Plan has been developed to help the whole organization move
from old structures, work habits and practices to new organization strategies,
streamlined work practices and technology enablers. A radically different
organization model has been developed with only three levels: team members,
team leaders and the leadership team. This compares to an old organization
structure that had as many as seven layers.
Many hurdles are ahead for these teams and others that will
be formed. However, confidence is high that the strength of working in teams
and keeping focused on people, practices and technology will enable Tampa to
complete its successful conversion to a world-class competitive utility.