I am often asked to explain about equipment management and why this discipline so often misunderstood. As you will learn from reading my blog posts, I am an advocate of adopting industry best practices for equipment management, and as these processes are adopted, these practices can be measured. I am also an advocate of automating these processes so that the normal workflow of the equipment manager would not be disrupted while following these standards. In order to do automation of any business process, it is essential to understand the process, to know what the key performance indicators are so that the process can be measured. If you know what to measure, and how to interpret the measurements, you get a good indication of what to optimize to make the process efficient. Getting organizations to adopt these processes is easier said than done.
The Process of Equipment Management Working Groups Can Be Doomed From the Start
In order to do good equipment management, the business process has to be examined, a working group has to be established to define the process, procedures and workflow, and all roles and responsibilities examined to determine the best possible workflow. Often this is done without the expertise of a domain expert or group leader, so right away, unless the group leader understands phases of group development as well as the best practices of equipment management, the working group is doomed from the start.
There is nothing more frustrating than automation that requires more work to use then to do without. In adopting an equipment management business process, this frustration turns into something we call Process Resistance and the people who do this are called Process Resistors. Gripes from the trenches are the primary symptoms of an inefficient process. Gripes turn into inaccuracies, and inaccuracies can lead to the process failure. Often each suggestion is countered with 10 reasons why that suggestion won’t work, or that the suggestion has already been tried and failed. A good process resistor can come up with 10 reasons for not changing the process, and not changing the work flow before the process is even suggested. Favorite reasons: “Won’t Work!” “The software takes too long to process!” “I don’t have time!”
Phases of Process Group Development
As a trained community organizer, I have often seen what is described in group work textbooks as a Storming Phase of a group. Storming loosely translated to Thunder Storms, Hurricanes, or Tornados by its degree of destructiveness is a normal phase of a working group or community group where the group questions its value, where different ideas compete for consideration. Bruce Tuckman, in 1965 outlined this phase as part of a group development model where the group goes through the phases of Forming where we work to organize the group, to learn about each of the group participants, and see how each of the participants work under pressure, followed by this Storming phase which can be destructive to the group. Getting beyond the storming phase, the group goes into the Norming phase where goals and directions are established, and all the team members begin to work together. Finally the group moves into a Performing stage where the group has gelled and all are working together.
Because this storming phase is a growth phase in the group, the successful group leader expects this phase to occur, welcomes it, and helps the group get through it. This phase is necessary because the group uses it to become cohesive, and the problems addressed are real issues that must be overcome in order for the group to succeed. It is in this phase that the process resistors become the most active. They see it as the chance to roll back the clock, to end the exercise, and go back to work the way they know it. However put, the process resistors are vocal because they are the most loyal to the group, have the most common sense out of everybody concerned, and see the need for smooth operations, and want only the best for all. It becomes contentious, often uncomfortable even painful to people who are adverse to conflict to sit in a group that is going through this phase. Someone who doesn’t care about the process sits mum. They don’t express their opinion and do what they are told to do without thought. Essentially they become automatons in the workings of the machinery of the business process. When the process fails, they lose nothing because they simply go back to the way they were doing things. Without good group leadership at this point, the working group disbands or falls apart.
Group Processes Do Work
So how does a good equipment management process get adopted? That some EOCs are practicing good equipment management and surviving the budget cuts proves that adopting process can be done successfully.
Here is my recommendation. I mention the phases of group development for a reason. In the hands of a good team leader, these phases are a tool to use to get this job done.
Know the Equipment Management Process Inside and Out
The first step for a team leader is to really understand the equipment management lifecycle backwards and forwards. At each steps there are metrics to employ, to determine if this process is working or not and the team leader must really understand what those metrics are before starting the process group.
Use the Phases of Group Development as a tool
As a team leader, your aim is to help the team reach and sustain high performance as soon as possible. To do this, you will need to change your approach at each stage. The steps below will help ensure you are doing the right thing at the right time.
- Identify which state of the team development your team is at from the descriptions of the group phase.
- Now consider what needs to be done to move towards the Performing stage, and what you can do to help the team do that effectively. The description below helps you understand your role at each stage, and think about how to move the team forward.
- Schedule regular reviews of where your team is, and adjust your behavior and leadership approach to suit the stage your team has reached.
The activity in this stage is to direct the team and establish objectives clearly. Build a team charter. Discuss the phases of equipment lifecycle management and ask participants to describe their work flow at this phase. Understand what your team offers in the form of experience, expertise, opinions (yes this is necessary) because in this phase, people are starting to learn about each other. Share experiences and get people to share frustrations about the current state of affairs as much as possible.
Establish process and structure, and work to smooth conflict and build good relationships between team members. Provide support especially to those team members who are less secure. Conflict resolution skills are important here. Listen to the “Why’s and why not’s” because the loudest of the process resistors are going to be your best allies once this gets going. This is where your knowledge of the key performance indicators and metrics for this business process will be helpful. The process resistor wants to see proof that what you are suggesting as a team leader or advocating as a team leader will make their job easier, because the metrics will measure their performance and validate their job. Good metrics indicate good grades and everybody wants an A+ in their job. Good metrics at this point show that the team is a worthwhile activity and that the group is making progress.
Step back and help the team take responsibility for progress towards the goal. Display the results of your key performance indicators, show where the team is succeeding. Help the team look at the challenges to suggest changes. Metrics for equipment management are valuable here, it shows you how well you are doing leading the group and shows the group how well they are doing. Some recognition here for team members is in order. Use this as a team building event.
Here is where the group has kicked in, and is working towards process improvement. Your metrics show you what to optimize and your process resistors will engage in providing their opinion on what is going slowly or what is frustrating them at this level.
Key Points to Remember
Equipment Management Teams are formed because they can achieve far more than their individual members can on their own, but it takes patience and professionalism to get to that stage.
Effective team leaders can accelerate that process and reduce the difficulties that team members experience by understanding the roles and responsibilities that the equipment manager must play, the frustrations that they face, and supplying the key performance indicators to help the team see how they are doing with the process.
I would like to hear from the process group leaders to share some of their stories on how they achieved results through these phases. I will continue to lay the groundwork in my postings on how to achieve a good equipment management process. Please email me with your comments and stories. You can follow me on Twitter or Linked In.
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There is a deficit in the Emergency Management Community when it comes to the art and science of equipment management. This is not an area that is covered well in national conferences, nor is it covered in the Emergency Management resources on line or otherwise. At the UASI conference in San Francisco, one session was devoted to the Department of Homeland Security audits, and the room was overflowing with the UASI equipment managers. The group of speakers reiterated the issue. There is no metric to measure the effectiveness of the UASI program, as some task forces have lost track of equipment allocated over the budget. There are no metrics to show how this equipment has been utilized and how and where the equipment is issued. Several UASI regions, according to a DHS auditor on the panel are going through "Reachback" processes where refunds back to the government are demanded based on the inability to locate key equipment. Because of the perceived failure of the UASI regions to measure and document the effectiveness of their equipment programs, budgets were sliced and programs were eliminated by congressional axe. Even after the UASI association published their report outlining the effectiveness of the grants, critics who have no clue of the reality of the situation are still voicing their opinion based upon the lack of equipment management metrics. Unfortunately, these critics were pointing to the same lack of metrics that the speakers in the UASI conference pointed out.
Budget Cuts Place New Demands on Equipment Managers
Cut budgets mean that new equipment is not purchased, and old equipment must be examined carefully to ensure adequacy of use during an emergency. Cut budgets mean that positions are eliminated and those who are left have the same amount of work to accomplish.
I recently concluded an exercise with equipment managers in the SE Pennsylvania Region (Philadelphia UASI) to help them get ready for the next step in the National Preparedness Framework. I have been looking at how this group does their job, how they have to manage through the demands of resource sharing and allocation of equipment, and manage the demands of equipment maintenance cost effectively.
Philadelphia did well in the DHS audit because of the equipment management program that they adopted. However positive the result, the issues that they now face because of the budget cutbacks means that equipment must be well maintained, documentation has to be kept in order, and paper trails of equipment assignments must be kept in order, as the resource sharing requirements now puts additional demands on time and energy in their jobs.
Equipment Management Standards Benefits The Community
As part of the risk assessment process, property and equipment management standards must be examined, as it is necessary to rely on the accuracy of records when requests for deployment occur. The community relies on rapid deployment of material and response equipment and this responsibility falls to the equipment manager to know and to update the equipment records. This is an impossible job and they know it.
Property tracking data gets stale quickly unless it is part of the business process, and often the incident response slows down considerably because equipment sought at one location is not where it is supposed to be. The problem gets more complex as disaster response becomes regional and crosses state boundaries. My point is that industry best practices must be adopted to manage equipment in a precise manner, and the metrics that industry best practices have developed in other industries can be used by the Emergency Management community to document their effectiveness. The equipment managers know this and have become somewhat cynical in their approach. I am hoping that they respond to this blog and start sharing their techniques and their frustrations with me so that we all benefit from their knowledge and experience and a better way of doing things.
So my new blog is here. I am going to be writing a lot of my experience and reflecting what I am learning about measuring effectiveness of your program through good equipment metrics and discuss how to gather this information and what it means in practical uses. I think we need to examine what is the equipment management lifecycle, and what are the simple (and maybe not so simple) tricks of the trade to get you through the day. I really hope people respond to these suggestions, to provide food for additional discussions, and provide questions that can be answered so that all of us can benefit.
About Eric Beser
I have come full circle in my career. I received a Masters in Social Work in 1974 from the University of Maryland with a focus on Community Organization and Planning. Having worked for 6 years in the Baltimore City School System I began to visualize a new direction for myself in Computer Science and Software Engineering. So I went back to school and headed for the safe pastures of Westinghouse Defense Systems where I learned the fine art of Software Engineering and I did well there, and on to NASA where I helped build a spacecraft simulator for the Solar Observatory project. I had also been on Active Duty in the Air Force and then spent 20 years in the Air National Guard. It was my service experience where I found my true calling, logistics and equipment management, and my software experiences taught me how to quantify the process, and my social work experience taught me how to look at the effect of the process through a Community filter. I am a sum total of my experience, because now over the last 10 years, I have been helping facility managers in large firms, property managers, and equipment managers in several key emergency management regions to work with equipment management software and to apply the industry best practices so that they can do their job helping the community. I guess people see me to be an equipment management expert, because a lot of people ask my opinion and when they are successful they get other people to ask my opinion. You can find me on Twitter @eisgvam and on linkedin. My email works nicely and I tend to answer them, especially if people have good questions and they want my opinion.
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