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How North Anna power plant improved its maintenance performance

Lisa Hilbert, Plant Manager at Dominion Energy’s North Anna Power Station, was a speaker at WANO’s recent online Site Vice Presidents’ & Plant Managers’ Conference. Here she explains how her plant has delivered on its vision to improve its maintenance performance. 
I’m going to explain about how promoting a clear vision and a clear path to excellence improved maintenance performance for North Anna. 

The vision for the North Anna station comes from its corporate business model, which says, ‘we work together to safely power the future of our communities’. The strategy to reach that vision is set at the start of every year with a station self-evaluation process. 

In January 2017, I was new to my role as plant manager when our leadership team looked at our 2016 performance. Our data, observations and industry operating experience showed work delays and extensions caused by inadequate work preparation, and supervisors spending too much time on administrative tasks, and not enough time in the field engaging their personnel, to provide coaching and correcting.

As nuclear leaders, we know these issues can lead to bigger issues including increased rework, scheduling challenges, and potential equipment failures that challenge our operators. 

So, what did we do? 
Reflecting back, a really important decision was made at the start to get the right leader in charge of maintenance. We had a manager at our station who had already transformed a maintenance department at another fleet site. 

As a consequence, we put him in the manager position, and he proposed a simple but clear excellence plan that focused on five specific areas: 

•    increase supervisor engagement and accountability
•    improve department accountability and engagement
•    improve worker knowledge of maintenance fundamentals
•    reduce rework by focusing on quality work the first time engagement 
•    ownership of job preparation to improve schedule adherence.

To deliver these goals, we focused on both leaders and individual contributors working in maintenance. 
We started by removing administrative burden from supervisors, so they could spend more time in the field. That meant educating maintenance workers to make log entries to indicate the status and completion of their own work. 

We helped our supervisors improve their engagement by increasing the paired observations of them and scheduling weekly performance improvement meetings to monitor how critical their observations were and to give them feedback. 

Our accountability model, which is who, what, when and follow through, helped ensure everyone understood their roles and allowed the senior leadership team to monitor and correct. It made me proud of our maintenance team when individual contributors took this new responsibility and started asking for more. Supervisors and superintendents made observations that were more effective and timelier and began to act as leaders of a power station, and not just a department.

One strategy we used to eliminate rework was to implement a proficiency card, which we found when we benchmarked a station outside our fleet. Every employee was given the card so they could assess their own proficiency for the jobs they were assigned. We began having supervisors review upcoming work against the proficiency card, so they could identify gaps prior to the start of work. 

Sometimes it meant assigning a more experienced worker with a less experienced worker. Sometimes it meant we needed Just in Time training. It also helped identify jobs that would benefit from increased oversight in the field. So, the proficiency card made us more efficient.

Effective communication and reinforcing standards were very important to our success. I took the opportunity to have personal, crucial conversations with leaders in other departments about how important they were to maintenance improvement and how that would lead to overall station improvement. We had conversations to show that maintenance performance excellence did not exist in a silo. It was part of an integrated station-wide effort to continuously improve, to become even more safe and reliable. 

By early 2018, our efforts enabled us to close an Area for Improvement in maintenance fundamentals, decrease the amount of rework we had been experiencing and raise the overall proficiency of the department, including leadership. 

So we made sure we celebrated those successes. My favourite day was in September 2018, when the maintenance leadership team and I got to celebrate with all of maintenance achieving high performance in the industry with a steak lunch!

In early 2019, we again looked back at the previous year’s performance. Our data and our observations confirmed that our strategy worked. Our maintenance leaders had become leaders of the station and our maintenance workers were owning more of the process. 

For instance, the entire station is proud of the fact that a few members of the maintenance team took responsibility for improving our Beyond Design Basis programme and have turned it into a model of safety and reliability. Our Maintenance Excellence Plan is now a Living Plan - driving continuous improvement. We also used the same principles and strategies for other departments at North Anna that showed declining trends – and we are starting to see results.  

Maintenance Performance Excellence was a result of North Anna’s pursuit of continuous improvement.  We put the right leaders in place, formed a solid strategy, set clear goals and took specific actions. We communicated broadly and personally and had conversations with different departments to ensure alignment. 

Those are the steps we took to set direction and at North Anna; we’re all proud to be a part of an organisation that is willing to learn and grow in this way.