The Configuration Management
Benchmarking Group (CMBG) began as a grass roots initiative to provide a forum for
peer-level information sharing for CM professionals from the nuclear power industry. The
group gathers for a conference annually. For more information on conferences,
The following paper presents the details of the CMBG development:
Engineer CM Engineering
Note: This is a Spring, 2003 update of a paper originally presented at the American Power Conference (Chicago) in early 1997.
As is often the case, a need for information was the driving force behind the establishment of a framework for cooperation and communication among a group of people with a common interest. In this case, the common interest was the practice of facility configuration management. The results were an annual conference and an informal network for information sharing. The impact of that information sharing has been a general industry increase in awareness and performance in the area of configuration management.
In 1993, the author was asked by the senior management of the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company (PP&L) to bring together a cross-functional team of design, operations and maintenance personnel and develop a consensus configuration management (CM) program description for the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station; a two unit boiling water reactor nuclear station in northeastern Pennsylvania. As the resulting group of people with disparate views of nuclear plant operation worked towards a common understanding, the senior managers were kept informed of current issues and assigned actions for resolution, and came to value this communication and the group forum for raising and resolving configuration management issues. Therefore, after the desired program description was completed, the forum was continued for that purpose, and one of the senior managers asked for additional information as well:
The members of the forum were asked to provide (in addition to periodic updates on internal CM issues and actions), periodic information on industry trends and regulatory concerns in this area.
Since the forum members were uncertain how to obtain this information, a query to the industry was initiated via the Institute of Nuclear Plant Operation (INPO) Nuclear Network. The first task was to determine if there was an existing industry forum that shared this kind of information, and if not, if there was a significant level of interest in starting one.
The response to the initial query was startling in the volume of responses generated. Most responses indicated no knowledge of an existing forum and a great deal of interest in following up. Telephone calls and discussions with the responders established some qualifiers on this interest:
They wanted to get together with other people who actually did the same work they did (nuclear plant configuration management), and share information about the work, their problems and their successes.
The first conference
This feedback prompted an investigation of the costs and feasibility of sponsoring some sort of gathering where this information exchange could occur. Since PP&L was involved in a developing employee involvement and performance improvement initiative at the time, it seemed appropriate to look for volunteers to help with this effort, rather than treating it as a work assignment. A number of people, exempt and non-exempt, volunteered to participate, and the planning for what became the first Nuclear Industry Configuration Management Benchmarking Conference began. The conference planning committee was composed of people who had never done anything like this before, but were fascinated by what appeared to be new workplace direction. They assigned responsibilities for facilities arrangement, agenda preparation, cost management, spouse programs, mailing list development, and marketing, and quickly convinced PP&L management that it was possible to provide a valuable service to their industry at a very modest cost. The result was a two-day conference in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains in October 1994, hosted by PP&L.
This first conference was attended by representatives from 17 utilities and the Nuclear Information and Records Management Association (NIRMA). Attendees paid no conference fee, but the daily charges at the conference facility included room, meals and a proportional share of conference expenses. PP&L paid for a small welcome party the evening before the conference began and provided the usual ‘take home’ items (pens, pads, letter case with conference logo, etc.).
Rules for attendance were established in advance: “no vice-presidents, no vendors”(meaning no motivational speeches and no sales pitches) and “every participating utility must make a presentation” (that is, must actually participate). Attendees were informed in advance that each presentation
would be strictly time limited to 25 minutes, and must adhere to the general format:
The agenda included a 15-minute break after every presentation, and attendees were encouraged to move about during these breaks to discuss the presentation with the presenter and each other. A time monitor enforced the time standards ruthlessly to ensure that everyone would get their chance to present, and all presentations were videotaped for later review. An informal social hour each evening provided time for everyone to review the days learning, and a group photograph was taken one afternoon.
At the end of the first conference, the attendees were asked for feedback regarding the format, and opinions about whether the benefits of the conference were sufficient to warrant another. Several attendees had ideas about format changes, but all unanimously agreed that they had learned much from each other and wanted further opportunity to do so. Some suggested conferences twice a year.
As host, I made a proposal for continuation of the conference as follows:
1. Following the conference, the host will
2. The host will then select the host organization for
the next conference based on whatever criteria he wishes, and notify all
previous attendees at the time of distribution of conference summary
information, copies of the group photo, etc.
3. The host selected is then responsible to canvass the
industry for attendance at the next conference and notify all previous attendees
well in advance regarding location, time and format.
4. Future hosts should consider softening the rules on attendance, but the conference intent of excluding sales pitches and motivational speeches should continue. Format changes should also be considered.
This proposal was accepted by all in attendance.
Following evaluation of several proposals (much to my surprise), I chose Ontario Hydro Nuclear (OHN) to host the 1995 conference. OHN (lead by Al McEachern) completed all notifications and arrangements in a stellar fashion and hosted the conference at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario in the spring of 1995. OHN then selected a proposal from Sam Melton of Houston Lighting and Power (South Texas Project), and they hosted the conference in Galveston, Texas in the spring of 1996. Following this, the annual conference became both accepted and expected by industry practitioners. Subsequent conferences have been:
1997 Chicago, IL -Commonwealth Edison (Bob Renuart)
1998 Boston, MA –NAESCO (Bob Cox)
1999 Charlotte, NC – Duke Power (Rick Harris)
2000 Tarrytown, NY –Consolidated Edison (Gerry Ryff)
2001 Raleigh, NC – CP&L (Abdy Khanpour)
2002 Atlantic City, NJ - PSEG Nuclear (Vic Fregonese)The 2003 conference will go back to it’s roots: the 10th conference will be held in Hershey, PA, sponsored by PPL Susquehanna, LLC and hosted again by the author.
Evolution of conference format and goals
The conference format has evolved slowly, with each host trying to implement improvements suggested at previous conferences. The OHN conference began the practice of 'break-out sessions' with reports back to the full conference, and that practice has continued. OHN also tried to develop action item assignments and follow-up reporting, but by the start of the Galveston conference, it was clear that there were mixed results. Some people who had accepted action items had completed them, but others had moved to different jobs or been unable to find the time to complete their assigned investigations and reports. Also, again to further continuation, at Niagara-on-the-Lake I invited several of the more active utility lead managers to dinner and suggested a collaborative effort (this group has become known as the 'steering committee').
The 1995 conference achieved the goals of increasing participation (27 organizations-- up from 17 in 1994), and first time participation from outside North America (Spain and WANO (Tokyo)). Participation also increased in 1996, with more than 60 non- HL&P people in attendance, including more representatives of non-North American utilities (Mexico, Japan). In addition, HL&P accomplished the new objective of broadening participation outside the utility business through the attendance of several people from DOE sites, and presentations by two contractor/vendors sponsored by utility managers as speakers. The Galveston conference also continued the practice of having selected speakers make presentations requested by canvas of attendees and then lead breakout sessions for discussion and report back to the entire conference.
My draft mission statement for the group (an action item assigned at Niagara) was reviewed and accepted in Galveston, and the steering committee began to discuss the desired relationship with other nuclear industry groups.
The steering committee concluded that we were not yet a real organization of any sort, but a group of individuals who had agreed to pursue a common interest. We agreed that:
By 1998, the Steering Committee had taken on a continuing effort to ensure continuation of the conferences, and had established a written charter addressing its role, membership and several ‘rules’ regarding the conferences. One of the ‘rules’ is that the Steering Committee will meet to review the charter at each conference.
Following lengthy discussion of a proposal by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), in 2002 the Steering Committee agreed that CMBG would take on the role of “Community of Practice” for the Configuration Management process, in the context of NEI’s Standard Nuclear Performance Model. This new role requires a significant revision to the CMBG mission and charter, and this revision will be completed in 2003.
The major impact of the CM Benchmark Group has been the development of an informal communications network. As the groups understanding of it’s mission developed, it became clear that communications were a critical aspect of both continuation of the conferences and success in solving common industry problems. Again without a plan, a communications infrastructure has evolved.
The mailing list developed by PP&L as a result of the initial INPO Nuclear Network inquiries, follow-up telephone calls and personal references has been passed from host to host and added to and updated at each conference. It has become the source of an informal CM practitioner’s network, and now includes telephone numbers, fax numbers and most Internet e-mail addresses. It is used by the steering committee members to refer questions to the most knowledgeable source, and by attendees to set up individual benchmarking visits or follow up with each other between conferences.
Commonwealth Edison started the idea of an Internet website to support CMBG activities in 1997, and this concept has evolved into www.cmbg.org. This website is maintained by the current year’s conference host and contains information about past, current and future conferences, as well as the network names and addresses.
The ‘CM Times’ published and distributed by Lloyd Hancock of LRH Consulting has been a source of information about CM activities in the industry for several years, and is a part of this informal network. Lloyd’s articles on activities of the CM Benchmark Group and other interfacing industry groups have contributed to a broad communication of information and to increased participation in the conference.
Several of the steering committee members became involved in the work and direction of the NIRMA CM committee. Since this committee had working meetings twice a year, along with a summer NIRMA symposium, additional opportunities for face to face networking were available. These people contributed to the development of a NIRMA Technical Guideline on CM, which has since been re-formatted and issued as ANSI/NIRMA CM 1.0-2000. This important document is, to date, the only industry standard on this subject that is broadly accepted.
Presentations at the 1996 conference, including scheduled speakers and reports from breakout sessions began to include references to information gained in earlier conferences and from peers via the ‘network’ which led to process change improvements and identification of previously unrecognized problems needing to be addressed.
The network functioned effectively in late 1996 when all nuclear utilities received a 10CFR50.54f letter from the NRC requiring the response to a number of challenging CM questions in a relatively short time frame. This generated much attention, since 50.54f provides that company officers that sign a response under this provision that is false or misleading may be subject to imprisonment. A number of utility CM managers tasked with coordinating a response for their company used the telephone/fax/internet network to share concerns and different ideas about how to proceed, and then agreed to use part of the scheduled November NIRMA CM committee meeting as a forum for face to face discussion to decide on direction. Subsequent to that meeting, the telephone/fax network was used to compare draft responses and continue to share ideas and lessons learned as responses were developed.
In the period from 1997-2000, CMBG conference attendees and Steering Committee members were used first as a sounding board, and then as official reviewers, for the development of ANSI/NIRMA CM 1.0-2000. In addition, attendance and presentations by NRC, NEI and INPO became a standard expectation.
In 2000, NEI began to press for CMBG to accept a broader industry role as the ‘Community of Practice’ for the CM process in the Standard Nuclear Performance Model, and this role was accepted in 2002.Also in 2002, we saw changes in the INPO organization and terminology that appear to reflect understanding gained through interactions at CMBG conferences.
CMBG has been in existence for almost a decade, and stands poised on the brink of major changes that will affect its future direction to a great extent.
The new role as industry Community of Practice for CM will increase interactions between the group (via the Steering Committee) and INPO and NEI, as well as other industry groups. It is important that this new role not completely divert CMBG from its main mission of providing a forum for information sharing.
The new INPO Operational Excellence Outcomes approach to plant evaluations has a strong CM focus, supported by a new INPO CM department. This focus on external evaluation of CM attributes will put increasing pressure on CM practitioners to be able to quickly share benchmark information.
Many of the Steering Committee members are approaching retirement in the next 4-5 years, and they must make a concerted effort to engage younger leaders as hosts of future conferences if they are to ensure continuation of the conference.Based on evolution to date and the needs of the industry, I predict the continuation of the Nuclear Industry CM Benchmarking Group through at least the year 2010. There are several large utilities that participate but have not yet hosted, and can easily afford the minor cost. Also, the Steering Committee has shown the ability to plan several years ahead to engage future hosts, and the broader industry focus on CM that appears to be developing will encourage industry leaders to step forward in this important area.
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