DC Water Innovation Program Taps into the Hidden Strength of the Workforce

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1 DC Water Innovation Program Taps into the Hidden Strength of the Workforce Saul Kinter 1*, Sudhir Murthy 1, Claire Dixon 2, Gage Muckleroy 3, Jeremy Stone 2, Seth Yoskowitz 3 1 DC Water, District of Columbia 2 GHD, Melbourne, Australia 3 GHD, Bowie, Maryland * ABSTRACT As one of three primary themes of DC Water s Blue Horizon 2020 Strategic Plan, DC Water is developing an Innovation Program to crowdsource ideas across the authority (and ultimately with customers and stakeholders), and deliver the best ideas that achieve value. DC Water has a strong record in R&D innovation adopting new, safer, quicker, and less costly approaches. The Innovation Program builds off this success and involves a wider audience. DC Water worked with key internal stakeholders developing a strategy and implementation plan. Facilitated workshops with 50+ employees focused on defining innovation at DC Water, opportunities, barriers, innovation vision, and considerations for implementation. DC Water established an Innovation Vision that reflects the desire for Innovation to be wideranging in ideas considered, and focused on realizing value for employees and customers, not limited only to monetary savings. Ideas are not only changes or inventions, but may also be advances not previously implemented at DC Water. DC Water strives to achieve an innovative culture that is open and collaborative, democratic and empowering, and voluntary with a strong commitment to learning and improving. The innovation process starts with asking the right question, or identifying challenges that, if solved, provide great benefit. Then a focused and transparent idea selection process to choose the best ideas from the many proposed provides clarity for determining which ideas to implement. Success requires cost effective and engaging capture and filtering of ideas from DC Water s multiple business units and geographic sites so a central technology platform was competitively procured after clearly defining the critical functionality requirements. As DC Water continues to implement Innovation, program specifics are adjusted to reflect operating needs and to realize the benefit of full-utility engagement in idea generation. The vision aims to tap into the wealth of knowledge and creative problem solving that DC Water staff possess. KEYWORDS: innovation, R&D, efficiency, technology, DC Water INTRODUCTION The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) provides water and wastewater service to the District of Columbia and several surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia. With over 1000 employees, DC Water has 1,350 miles of water pipes, four pumping stations, five reservoirs, three water towers, 43,860 valves, and more than 9,510 fire hydrants that make

2 up the water distribution system; and 1,900 miles of sanitary and combined sewers, 22 flowmetering stations and nine off-site wastewater pumping stations that make up the sewer system. DC Water also operates the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. DC Water s Blue Horizon 2020 Strategic Plan identifies Innovation as one of three strategic direction focus areas that cut across the organization s goals and objectives. The Innovation Focus Area is defined as: Innovation: DC Water will achieve international prominence in development and adoption of science, technology and processes in support of a culture of innovation. (DC Water, November, 2013). To achieve its strategic goals, DC Water is developing a formal innovation program that seeks to crowdsource ideas across the organization (and ultimately with customers and stakeholders), and deliver the best ideas that achieve value. DC Water has a strong track record in innovation and R&D, adopting new approaches to perform work safer, quicker, and at lower cost. DC Water s R&D unit has advanced the state of technical knowledge, developed new technologies for application, and created patent opportunities. The objective of DC Water s Innovation Program is to do more, by building off these successes, and involve a wider stakeholder set. The Innovation Program at DC Water has two primary goals: new revenue and operational efficiency. These are achieved through four primary intersecting paths, listed below. Shared Ideas Program (SIP) Co-Innovation Research & Development (R&D) DC Water Task Forces Each of these programs is integral to creating and fostering DC Water s culture of innovation. This paper focuses on the Shared Ideas Program, which provides processes, governance and systems for DC Water staff to submit ideas for consideration, prioritization, funding, and implementation. Co-Innovation is DC Water s approach to working with industry partners to advance knowledge and bring new products, services, and consulting/technical advice to the market. DC Water partners with other utilities, product manufacturers, and consulting / engineering firms to develop products and methods with utility in the water and wastewater industry, co-owning the resulting output(s) and realizing a share of the resulting commercial revenue/value. DC Water s R&D function is well regarded and brings scientists from the global academia community to the utility to address a robust and advanced research agenda. DC Water Task Forces are ad hoc committees with specific mandates to address key technical issues important to utility service delivery. As of the writing of this paper, there are currently 10 Task Forces in various stages of progress and advancement. Each of these paths to innovation may intersect: for instance, an idea proposed as part of a Shared Idea Program Challenge may inspire a Task Force dedicated to addressing the issue in a more comprehensive manner. This paper focuses on the initial development of the Shared Ideas Program, which plays a crucial role within the broader innovation ecosystem at DC Water. Additional background on the planning of the Innovation Program in general is presented when relevant. The primary objective of the Shared Ideas Program is to deliver ideas that create value for DC Water. Specific objectives and outcomes for the Innovation Program are shown in Table 1, with reference to related goals from Blue Horizon 2020 (DC Water, November, 2013). Targets are being developed based on the objectives and DC Water will seek to verify that the overall Innovation Program is adding significant value to the organization. In addition to the tangible

3 benefits (e.g., cost savings from implementing an idea), there are a number of intangible benefits that are also valuable to the business (e.g., employee retention associated with improved culture, safety improvements) that are associated with a robust and well-embedded innovation program. Table 1 DC Water Innovation Objectives and Targets Type Objective Outcome Related Blue Horizon 2020 goals Customers Identify and deliver on new opportunities through collaboration Improved performance Goal 2: Collaborate locally, regionally and nationally Goal 4: Enhance customer / stakeholder confidence, communications and Employees Drive efficiency through business and technology improvements Fully utilize intellectual and material resources Encourage a more engaged and sharing workforce to ensure a sustainable innovative culture Improve employee job quality Cost savings New revenue Employee productivity Employee morale perception Goal 5: Assure financial sustainability and integrity Goal 8: Optimally manage infrastructure Goal 5: Assure financial sustainability and integrity Goal 1: Develop, maintain and recruit a high performing workforce Goal 1: Develop, maintain and recruit a high performing workforce METHODOLOGY DC Water has been at the forefront of innovation for many years, particularly with respect to its Research and Development (R&D) program. The utility maintains a robust R&D program, bringing together significant university involvement, process investigation, and laboratory activity. In addition, engineering, operations, maintenance, administrative, and other DC Water staff have made innovative, cost-saving, value-adding advancements to many aspects of DC Water s business. Recognizing this success, the executive leadership of DC Water has identified that innovation also exists in other facets of the organization, but has not previously been organized or supported in a systematic way. Tapping into this innovation potential is a critical imperative for DC Water s strategic plan and a primary goal for the Innovations Chief. In response, DC Water initiated a program to design, develop and implement an Innovation Program. Moreover, DC Water seeks to create and nurture a culture of innovation throughout the organization. With engaging and supportive processes, DC Water aims to deliver tangible and intangible business performance benefits to customers, stakeholders, and employees.

4 Phase 1 started with the confirmation of overall objectives and establishment of the organizational context for innovation. DC Water recognized that the Innovation Program would require dedicated, skilled resources to lead development and implementation. A position description for the Innovation Program Manager was developed and used to identify the appropriate candidate to assume this important role. The Innovation Program Manager reports to the Innovations Chief, is responsible for leading the overall Innovation Program, and delivers on the key innovation performance indicators. Primary functions include leading and promoting awareness of the Innovation Program, meaningfully involving key staff in the Innovation process, identifying and proposing needed policy changes to eliminate barriers to innovation, creating verification processes to measure outcomes, developing approaches to encourage submission of ideas from all parts of the organization, and assisting idea generators and idea reviewers with the successful progression of those ideas through the innovation process. The Innovation Program Manager has the primary accountability for the Shared Ideas Program and is responsible for supporting the other pathways to innovation. During Phase 2, DC Water worked with key internal stakeholders developing a strategic plan and implementation plan for an innovation program. It involved facilitated discussions and workshops with over 50 employees from various functional units. Initial workshops focused on defining innovation at DC Water, opportunities, barriers and a vision for the program. Subsequent workshops focused on specific methods and considerations for innovation implementation. Key opportunities identified by participants during the focus groups are summarized in Table 2, including indication on how opportunities identified could be leveraged. Table 2 Summary of Opportunities Identified Opportunities Greater collaboration and sharing Smarter use of technology for efficiencies Reduce bureaucracy / paperwork Revenue generation Staff attraction and retention Potential actions to leverage opportunities Develop a user-friendly online collaborative idea management platform to encourage collaboration across business units and sites. Facilitate face-to-face ( offline ) workshops and discussions to encourage open constructive dialogue to complement the online tool. In particular, this will assist employees who do not have access to IT infrastructure. Specifically encourage ideas for the development or application of new technologies to solve problems. Share stories about smarter use of technologies. Develop a methodology for gathering, assessing and delivering ideas that is robust, streamlined and efficient so that the program itself becomes an example of work process streamlining. Encourage ideas that streamline business processes to reduce paperwork. Share stories about implementing smarter business processes. Specifically encourage ideas for generating non-regulated revenue. Share stories about implementing revenue generating ideas. Build capacity for DC Water to successfully commercialize ideas (e.g., Intellectual Property management). Proactively nurture valuable intrapreneurs through recruitment as innovation team role holders. Reward and recognize outstanding contributors to the program, whether they be idea generators, collaborators or facilitators.

5 A range of perceived barriers to success were shared during consultation. A summary of key barriers and potential actions to overcome those barriers are summarized in Table 3. Table 3 Summary of Barriers Identified Opportunities Cross departmental relationships Reactive rather than proactive Bureaucracy complicated processes Lack of dedicated resources to deliver program and ideas effective communications and engagement, (timely) execution, measuring success and sharing stories of success. Potential actions to overcome barriers Ensure that the group responsible for decision making has representation from across key departments. Implement an innovation process that enables proactive problem solving by running challenge campaigns seeking ideas in response. Work with key departmental representatives to ensure process for gathering, assessing and implementing ideas is streamlined. Select an idea management platform that provides a robust, streamlined and transparent process to avoid the need for duplication of effort and documentation. Develop a robust estimate of scale of effort required to implement program effectively. Secure appropriate resourcing to deliver activities both time and skills. Ensure employees recruited into innovation team roles are allowed time and resources to fulfil their roles, and that such roles are recognized as valuable and respected. Lack of trust in management Ensure a transparent and democratic process for idea gathering and evaluation and by providing timely feedback to idea generators. Demonstrate commitment to innovation by progressing quick wins early. Lack of (ongoing) commitment from management Strong support from GM and Executive Management Team and leadership by example. Organizational memory past innovation/change initiatives that did not succeed (real or perceived) Accountability Strong support from GM and Executive Management Team and leadership by example. Develop specific performance measures and targets for key innovation role holders. Develop specific performance measures and targets for innovation program outcomes. Phase 3 consolidated and documented the key outcomes from workshops in Phase 2 and defined a framework and implementation plan for innovation. The Innovation Plan and Implementation Plan are living documents that are updated as the program continues to develop.

6 As part of this phase, DC Water staff during a series of workshops developed the following definition of innovation at DC Water: Implementation of fresh ideas that provide value to employees and customers The definition reflects a desire for the program to be wide-ranging in the ideas considered, and focused on implementation to realize value for employees and customers, not limited only to monetary savings. The term fresh was used to highlight that ideas do not have to be fundamental changes or new inventions, but may be ones not previously implemented at DC Water. Based on the strategic priorities in Blue Horizon 2020 and in consultation with DC Water employees from across the organization, a vision for innovation at DC Water was developed: DC Water is recognized as an industry leader in workplace innovation. This is achieved through an innovation culture that is embedded in the way we work, everywhere, every day. With engaging and supportive processes, we repeatedly deliver tangible benefits to our customers and stakeholders, our people and business performance. For the initial launch, the Innovation Framework includes the five primary elements as shown in Figure 1: Figure 1 DC Water Shared Ideas Program Primary Elements The five primary elements are further described in the sections below. A. Culture and Leadership At DC Water, people are the heart of the innovation process. Innovative cultures are open and collaborative, optimistic and future-focused, democratic and empowering, with a strong commitment to learning and improving. The program is voluntary with positive encouragement for participation. Innovative collaboration will emerge through a balanced mix of face-to-face

7 initiatives, interaction with an online idea management platform, and other online and offline channels. To achieve an appropriate innovation culture, the Innovation Program requires active support from DC Water s leaders, effective communications, quality training, and appropriate recognition for participation. The communications initiatives to establish and maintain engagement are a key element of the Implementation Plan, taking into account factors such as work location and diversity of skills and backgrounds. Consistent terminology and messaging are critical for effective engagement. Formal recognition for participation is consistent with broader policies on reward and recognition and is developed to reinforce desired behaviors. Of the primary pathways to innovation, only the Shared Ideas Program will automatically reach every DC Water employee, making it crucial to achieving the desired cultural change. B. Process At the core of innovation is the need to gather ideas, assess them, and deliver the best of them to realize value. To achieve success, it is important that the innovation process is clear, transparent, streamlined and aligned with the program objectives. The Innovation Process (Figure 2) recognizes that innovation starts with asking the right questions, or identifying challenges that, if solved, provide the greatest benefit. The Shared Ideas Program solicits ideas via targeted prompts known as Challenges, which are opened for a set period of time, managed by a Sponsor, and evaluated by a committee of those most impacted by the subject of the Challenge. Employees can also submit ideas on other subjects through a general submission process. Within the Shared Ideas Program, ideas can be submitted by DC Water employees through an on-line software platform or via manual submission methods. Each idea is made visible to the employees of DC Water for comments and suggestions. The review committee is responsible evaluating ideas via two gated processes. First, during the Challenge, ideas are reviewed for completeness in the Screen Gate. Ideas that are in an implementable form are passed directly to the next gate, or in rare cases, straight to implementation. Ideas that require more specification or further development are referred to the idea generator or other potentially interested individuals for refinement. Then, after a set period of time that is specific to each challenge (usually, about 6-10 weeks), the committee reviews all of the ideas submitted in the Select Gate and evaluates them to create a prioritized list of ideas for authorization, planning, implementation, and delivery. Successful delivery of selected ideas is critical to the program success. Not only does delivery unlock the value of the ideas, it also demonstrates to employees that the authority is listening to, and acting on, their great ideas. Where appropriate, the delivery phase is integrated into standard DC Water project delivery processes. In other circumstances, delivery may use another innovation pathway: a dedicated Task Force, Co-Innovation, or R&D.

8 Figure 2 DC Water Innovation Process A focused and transparent idea selection process in the Select Gate to choose the best ideas from all of those submitted (Figure 3) provides clarity for determining which ideas to implement. The criteria for evaluating the value of an idea to DC Water and its chance of success continue to be refined. Each challenge or issue can have criteria appropriate for the situation. Criteria currently being considered for formal implementation are positive impact on customers, positive impact on DC Water employees, positive impact on financial performance of DC Water, technology availability, cost to implement, and regulatory considerations. The Shared Ideas Program recognizes that different types of ideas require different methods of evaluation and implementation. A key step for the review committee at the start of each innovation challenge is to define clearly the evaluation criteria and the specific rationale that will be used for prioritization of ideas. Figure 3 Idea Selection Conceptual Framework It is important to recognize that only a small percentage of ideas submitted into the process will eventually be delivered. The vast majority of ideas will be submitted, appreciated, but then closed. This reality of innovation needs to be acknowledged and expectations managed across idea generators, employees and management. Clarity and transparency in the review process can

9 help manage expectations and help close the loop to help idea submitters understand why a specific idea was implemented or not. C. Governance The Innovation workshop sessions made clear that accountability at DC Water is a significant staff priority. Senior management desires that the program reach out and engage all staff. Key stakeholders were also interested for the Innovation Program to focus on supporting idea generators as a key means of demonstrating encouragement and participation. Based on these requirements, a team structure has been developed to focus on: Distributed engagement that embeds innovation across the authority Centralized accountability for decisions and to oversee delivery Nurturing idea generators throughout the process While each Challenge contains a committee specially dedicated to that issue, a broader Innovation Team with two roles has been defined to advise and support the Shared Ideas Program as a whole. Innovation Sponsors generally hold mid-level or upper-level management positions; Innovation Facilitators hold front-line or lower-level management positions and were identified as individuals with significant charisma and/or organizational respect. Role holders, with the exception of the Innovation Program Manager, perform their roles in addition to their day-to-day jobs. Where appropriate, the performance of role holders within the Shared Ideas Program is being incorporated into performance evaluations. Figure 4 shows the SIP organizational chart, including an overview of primary role descriptions. Members of the Innovation Team are frequently involved with specific Challenge committees, and Innovation Sponsors will generally each lead Challenges on a regular basis. Figure 4 Shared Ideas Program Organization Chart

10 The organizational chart has been developed to support the idea generator to develop and progress ideas (Figure 5). Figure 5 Idea Generator at the Heart of DC Water Shared Ideas Program D. Funding The Innovation Program has key funding considerations that will enable success. In addition to allocating appropriate resources to establish and maintain the program (e.g., communications, idea assessment and management, technology licensing and support), an initial budget has been established for idea testing and implementation. The budget supports both quick wins (low initial costs, fast implementation speed, and short payback) and longer-term operational implementations. Ideas from the Shared Ideas Program in particular are anticipated to often be smaller in scope and faster to implement; quick wins funding will be crucial to the continuing success of the SIP innovation pathway. The assessment process for ideas includes an assessment of value from delivering each idea. Therefore, the allocated budget may at times be offset by savings or revenue generated by the Innovation Program. E. Idea Management Platform In addition to the encouragement of idea generation from across the organization, the success of the Shared Ideas Program is dependent on effectively managing and maintaining the innovation process to capture and filter ideas from the multiple business units and geographic sites that make up the utility. A central technology platform for gathering ideas and administering the process is a key part of an effective and transparent method for managing the innovation process. Upon development of system requirements and surveying the market for qualified software vendors, DC Water procured its innovation platform software through competitive procurement

11 process that yielded several viable options. Key features that drove the selection included the ability to comment on ideas for collaborative development and improvement, options for gamification, and automated administration of idea evaluation. DC Water selected a proposal from Innovation Framework Technologies to supply QMarkets Idea Management Software. The QMarkets platform is customizable and will provide the flexibility to manage Challenges on varied subjects with different criteria for idea selection. As of the writing of this paper, the system is being implemented to meet DC Water s specifications and customized to present a familiar look and feel for DC Water employees; it will be fully online later this year. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION As DC Water continues to implement the Innovation Program, specifics of the approach will be adjusted to reflect the needs of the operating units and to realize the benefit of full-utility engagement in idea generation. DC Water is working to embed and integrate the Shared Ideas Program into the daily routine of all DC Water employees while connecting it to the other innovation pathways, both planned and currently in existence. Establishing both a strong culture of innovation as well as robust processes that support DC Water s innovators will help DC Water achieve its strategic goals to be a world-class utility. The vision aims to successfully tap into the wealth of knowledge and creativity in problem solving that DC Water staff possess to deliver the highest quality of service to ratepayers in the most efficient manner possible. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The authors would like to acknowledge all of the DC Water staff that participated in the directed focus group sessions and in the Innovation leadership sessions. Their enthusiasm and candor during the process contributed significantly to the outcomes and is another strong indicator of the yet untapped idea potential that exists among the talented DC Water workforce. REFERENCES DC Water, Blue Horizon 2020: DC Water Strategic Plan

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