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Queensland Urban Utilities adopts new approach to optimise water treatment plant operations

Taking a ground up approach to optimising water treatment plant operations is one that Queensland Urban Utilities (QUU) has recently adopted, resulting in “astounding results”.

Presenting at the upcoming Ozwater’18 conference about delivering value at sewage treatment plants, QUU Treatment and Production General Manager Peter Donaghy said the utility’s new approach has already shown many benefits.

“In our biggest resource recovery facility, we have some very strong key performance indicators. Over two years, we have improved productivity by 40%, reduced transport volumes by 20%, increased energy generation by 30% and boosted biogas production by 20%,” he said.

“Possibly the most important parameter is our cultural uplift. We have seen a significant improvement in the way our operators feel about their work and their contribution.”

Donaghy said adopting “world-class practices” to deliver value across a broad range of parameters starts with empowering personnel.

“Rather than trying to focus on particular issues we could fix, we decided to empower our teams to seek out practices that they wanted to use and apply them at our treatment plants,” he said.

“In the initial phases, our teams decided there were 10 to 12 practices that they thought appropriate in a resource-recovery context.”

Donaghy said they then introduced some simple initiatives to improve efficiency, such as structure problem solving, visual management and one-page plans.

“If a group of people are coming together to discuss a treatment facility, it’s useful to identify key issues to provide focus: What are we trying to achieve? What are our metrics? These are nominated in advance by the people attending the meeting,” Donaghy said.

“Another practice we have adopted is one-page strategies. When an initiative has been identified, it’s useful to clearly define the objective, approach and steps. We make a conscious effort to get these onto one page.”

Donaghy also said even though these simple approaches yielded productivity results, they needed to be supported by cultural changes to be effective.

“What we are doing is changing the way we interact and work together. We are changing how we go about things,” he said.

“In some respects, cultural improvement is not just another objective – it is the vehicle that will help us achieve those business outcomes.”

While changing culture is challenging, Donaghy said it was well worth it as the whole business benefits.

“Changing the culture requires leaders to a step back and enable employees to have greater control,” he said.

“One of the challenges is that leaders are in some respect, translators. We are translating corporate business objectives to front line, where people are doing things on a daily basis.

“Frontline staff often make more day-to-day decisions than their leaders. Ensuring that staff know the impact of their decisions and how they contribute to business outcomes is empowering.”

Register for Ozwater’18 to hear more from Peter Donaghy about how QUU is delivering value at its sewage treatment plants on Thursday, 10 May 2018.