Magazine article Personnel Journal

Worker Think Tanks Provide Fast Solutions

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Worker Think Tanks Provide Fast Solutions

Article excerpt

Action Forums at Pacific Gas & Electric brainstorm better business--and have saved $270 million.

Who doesn't love the adrenaline rush that comes from setting a course of action? You take a problem, chart your plan and head out, ready to tackle whatever life gives you. Unfortunately, adrenaline slows to a trickle nine months down the road, and you're not in the mood to tackle much of anything.

San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. keeps the heat on with its Action Forum process, which bites off problems in three-month portions. These mini think tanks began evolving in 1993 after the company initiated a downsizing that would eventually cost it 7,000 employees.

In the new fiscally restrained culture, the message was: Do more with less--and do it quickly. Managers, still reeling from headcount and budget cuts, needed some extra support if they were to meet the challenge. Then Action Forums hit the scene, and have remained an integral part of doing business ever since. As long as the issue in question can be resolved in three months, it can be the focus of an Action Forum--organized to solve the problem or improve the process.

The company's Diablo Canyon nuclear facility enjoyed big success using the process. Leaders wanted to decrease the refueling outage time from 57 to 41 days (every day the plant is down costs approximately $1 million). After Action Forum teams addressed the problem, Diablo reduced its outage time to 34 days--saving 22,000 work hours and $35 million.

Action Forums work through three phases. The first, the framework phase, lasts two to eight weeks, during which managers and the leadership team frame the business issue that will be addressed and identify the best people to participate. …

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