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Process Optimization – Elvis Gets It

By June 27, 2022Energy Rant
elvis presley

When I was a kid, maybe in junior high, we were assigned a project to describe, step by step, how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. After moment of, “huh,” I understood the task and purpose of the assignment. There isn’t enough of this type of assignment in efficiency programs or business today.

On many occasions in recent years, I’ve had to explain how the utility business works, how we handle aspects of our business, or how a program process works. When the receiving end is fully invested in understanding these things as well as they can, both sides learn a lot, but the describer must be open-minded to questions like, “why do you do it that way?”

Dilbert CartoonStates and Markets Vary

For instance, a product manager may have a successful track record, but hit a wall when launching that product in a different region because the market is completely different. The topic of this post originated from such a scenario. Successful messaging used for Utility A did not work for Utility B because of the utility’s relationship with customers. Managers must quickly pivot and be open-minded to change rather than bludgeoning customers of Utility B with the message of Utility A. Nobody wins.

The same can be said for working with trade allies, which varies 360 degrees from one state to another. In one state, we had an explosive opportunity to engage with controls contractors on a retro-commissioning program. A contractor shared their customer list and wanted to leverage the program to scale up projects and engage with their customers. An anvil was dropped on that effort because it was considered unfair leverage. Wha?

In another state far away, contractor responses were far different. Impacts in that state relied largely on performance contracting, while in other states performance contractors never participate because they run an opaque operation. In “our” particular state, the performance contracting companies, which are often rooted in control systems and typically have a major HVAC manufacturing arm of the same company[1], saw our program as a threat to their business, rather than a lever to get into more buildings. They charged ridiculous fees for mostly simple measures.

Why Not Evaluators?

Third-party evaluators should find and share some of these things for process optimization by having program implementers walk them through their program. Unfortunately, portfolio evaluations are usually driven by regulation and compliance, and provide disappointing information and feedback. “We’re not hiring you for that,” is the undertow. They instead spend millions and millions of dollars year after year showing that realization rates[2] bounce around between 85% and 95%. Who cares?

Dilbert CartoonSo, what are program implementers to do? Hire their own evaluator to assess programs and processes for optimization of messaging, method of messaging (email, postcards, inserts), the market (see A-B states and utilities above), trade ally engagement, key account manager involvement, relationships with other program implementers serving the same segments, and all kinds of things.

What are the qualifications of such a person?

  • Many years of experience across many portfolios and states.
  • Free of agendas and pet projects – you know the persona, and if you don’t, you’re not qualified.
  • Experience in program management (75%) and evaluation (25%).
  • Insists on understanding the details.
  • Firm and cooperative.

Confident Humility

Elvis Presley says it well in Walk A Mile in My Shoes.

Elvis Lyrics to Walk a Mile In My ShoesWow. That is deep and the song isn’t bad either!

Dilbert CartoonWe are not Michael Jordan or Deon Sanders in their prime, and therefore, we need confident humility and vulnerability. A different opinion may not be a bullseye but may lead to a better solution.

They say, “fail fast.” I say, recognize and accept failure fast. A lot of people fail fast and deny or think it’ll start working any time now. Stop beating the dead horse expecting different results – but know why the horse is dead.

[1] E.g., Trane, Johnson Controls & York HVAC, Carrier.

[2] Evaluator’s assessment of savings divided by implementers estimates of savings.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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