Improve Field Engineer Productivity
Just how do you improve field engineer productivity and what are the most cost effective strategies for doing so?
In the not so distant past the two founders of this business were MD & FD of a large National energy brand and part of the business was a large workforce of skilled technicians providing planned preventative maintenance and breakdown assistance and rectification in the domestic and commercial gas and power market.
As you would expect we had some great data for us to analyse and work out what levers and buttons we could pull and press to improve field engineer productivity. Planned and preventative maintenance was considerably more easy to optimise than on-demand breakdown and repair activity and most firms involved in any form of field based engineer activity will have this running pretty efficiently, leaving potentially only marginal gains to be had.
For us, a way to improve field engineer productivity was all about intelligent scheduling and using non-peak times of the year. There are countless tech solutions out there that will enable you to optimise day and week planning for the skilled labour and then frankly it is a matter of management ensuring the schedules are adhered to.
Far, far harder and where the greatest costs and rewards for most field engineering operations occur is in the unscheduled, responsive breakdown and repair activity. It doesn’t really matter what form of commercial arrangement you have with the end customer, because the goal must be optimal engineer efficiency. Certainly intelligent/dynamic in-day scheduling has a role to play, but must not be overestimated in just how much value this will deliver. At the end of the day if the engineer that you perfectly dynamically schedule does not know how to fix the problem when he arrives then all the scheduling benefits are eliminated your chance to improve field engineer productivity is lost!
If we explore how most firms will manage and measure engineers in this activity it will be a combination of
- Jobs per day
- First Time Fix Rate
- Average Parts Cost
Over time in a busy environment there will be a natural smoothing effect probably by Region. Meaning that individual engineers will find their place in a forced ranking and that will be relatively accurate.
We saw plenty of theories that were completely impractical and thus useless. The test we always applied was “is anybody on the team actually achieving this outcome today?’ If the answer was no we moved on to lower hanging fruit.
Obviously assuming all engineers could get to the same number of jobs per day then First Time Fix Rate & Average Parts Cost become critical productivity outputs. Note the use of the word “outputs”. These are not ‘drivers’ of productivity but the outcomes of engineer activity and effort (inputs or drivers), all a part of field service productivity.
What then is the key DRIVER of lowest parts cost and first time fix rate? The answer is obvious but equally elusive. Engineer competence. It is as simple as that and most businesses can point to a handful of their best engineers and confidently predict that they will have the highest FTFR and the lowest average parts cast per job and accordingly the most favourable customer feedback (CSAT).
If you have the data to hand can you plot your field workforce on a force ranked chart, where you can identify using some numerical index the best engineer and the worst. The index you use is irrelevant provided that it is a direct and accurate correlation to FTFR & Average Parts cost. Assume you used an index of 100 and your best engineer (call her engineer A) scored 75 and your worst (Call him engineer Z) 25 and the remainder were evenly spread. What this tells me is that there is huge scope for productivity improvement and that the improvement is possible and not theoretical. In this example the only difference between Engineer A and Z is capability and knowledge.
If you could improve the capability and knowledge of every engineer so it is equal to that of engineer A then productivity will increase dramatically. What would be the financial impact to your business of having every single engineer on your force with the same FTFR and average parts cost as Engineer A. In our past lives it would have been worth millions of pounds a year.
Great theory and we know it passes the practicality test because it is possible but just how do you go about up skilling almost every single one of your engineers whilst continuing to run the business?
The short answer is
- Accurately assessing individual engineer capability and relevant sector/appliance knowledge
- Establishing individual knowledge/competency gaps
- Filling those gaps
- Maintaining the new level of competence
Sounds easy but any form of traditional training is going to take engineers off the rota and that is immediately going to impact productivity in a negative way. You need a mechanism that does this whilst the engineer is doing their day job and that has zero negative impact on engineer productivity. We looked for years and couldn’t find one so we left corporate life on Independence Day 2011 and invented our own solution.
It’s called Clever Nelly and it was initially designed specifically to address the issues faced by mobile engineer forces. In fact the initial take up was far greater with office and sales based clients who had modern mobile Internet connectivity. Now we have thousands of users for UK based and International clients.
If you have an engineer force, either field or office based and you would like them all to be as knowledgeable and capable as your very best engineer, you might want to consider hiring an elephant on your team. Drop either Dan Gray or myself a line if you would like to know how we could use our experiences and Clever Nelly to help you improve field engineer productivity. Adrian@elephantsdontforget.com or firstname.lastname@example.org