With the turn of the calendar page from December to January, many of us also turn our attention to New Year’s resolutions. After all, January represents a fresh start — and it’s as good a time as any to take stock of how we’re doing, both personally and professionally, and how we might change for the better.
The trouble is that it can be tempting to set overly lofty goals. While the desire to make changes is commendable, putting too much pressure on ourselves to attain unrealistic objectives can thwart even our best efforts to stick to the well-intentioned promises we made to ourselves on January 1. The key to success is making small, incremental changes that are practical and achievable.
This is no less true for water utilities that want to operate more efficiently and effectively. In the face of aging infrastructure, rising costs, limited funding, and increasing regulations, it can be overwhelming to tackle everything at once. Where to begin?
A few years ago, a coalition of water sector organizations, including U.S. EPA, AWWA, WEF, NACWA and several other thought-leading associations, developed a comprehensive and useful guide to help water utilities start down the path toward effective, sustainable operations. Effective Utility Management: A Primer for Water and Wastewater Utilities outlines a framework for addressing water utilities’ challenges “in a step-wise process, at a pace that you control based on the capacity of your utility.”
In the very broadest of terms, the first step is identifying where your pain points are and then mapping out a plan of realistic milestones that ultimately lead you to where you want to be. To accomplish that, the Primer provides a self-assessment tool to help water utilities evaluate current performance, compare it to internal goals, and identify ways to improve. It comprises four steps: assess current conditions; rank the importance of certain attributes (such as customer satisfaction, financial viability, resiliency, and others); chart the results; and select attributes to focus on.
From there, the Primer walks through subsequent steps — strategic business planning, implementation of effective practices, measurement, reflection, and adjustment, and back to self-assessment. This cycle, the Primer explains, “reflects how a utility’s self-assessment results can build into a continual improvement management process.”
Whether a New Year’s resolution or not, continual improvement is what it’s all about — making adjustments that result in a series of little wins. Over time, those small successes add up to big accomplishments.
If you’re ready to make some impactful changes in your water utility, the Primer is an excellent resource for ideas, direction, and inspiration.