Adopting best practice in DSM program design: Avoiding the lemming effect

Mar 25, 2014

There is a lot of focus in the utility demand side management world on identifying best practice, and with good reason. Why reinvent the wheel when you can emulate the practices that have brought success to others? Seems like good common sense, right? In my experience, the answer to this question is a resounding … “it depends”.

It depends on whether the effort is made to do both of the following:

  1. Identify the best practice
  2. Review its applicability within the context of the local environment, tailoring it as needed

 
Ignore the second item, and you run the risk that a path that led to success for another utility in another part of the country, becomes a path to failure when applied in your neck of the woods. I call this the lemming effect.  (In case you don’t know, lemmings are small arctic rodents that are thought to blindly follow a leader off a cliff to their own demise. It’s a popular misconception, but an effective analogy nonetheless.)

So how do hard-working utility executives and program managers, faced with implementing new programs quickly, avoid the lemming effect? The answer is -- never ignore step 2. Take the time, before charging into implementation based on ‘best practice’, to do the upfront research and planning needed to ensure that the practices that have worked well elsewhere will, in fact, work when applied in your territory  to your customer base.

In some cases this means undertaking formal research efforts such as market potential or saturation studies; in other cases -- for example when preparing to conduct a small pilot program -- just taking the time to ask and answer the right questions may be enough.  Questions like:

  • How does the local regulatory environment compare to the regions where the best practice has proven successful, and how will it impact the programs or practices I choose to pursue?
  • How does the geography, in the regions where the best practice has proven successful, compare to the geography in my territory, and will that impact success?
    • For example, a best practice that is successful in a large, densely-populated urban area may prove costly or ineffective when applied in a rural, geographically disbursed territory.
  • How does the economy in the regions where the best practice has proven successful compare to the economy in my territory, and will that impact success?
    • For example, incentive levels that proved successful in a territory with a booming economy may not have the same impact in an area with a depressed economy.
  • How does the trade ally landscape, in the regions where the best practice has proven successful, compare to the trade ally landscape in my territory, and will that impact success?
    • For example, a new construction program that relies heavily on getting the word out to design/build trade allies may not have the same impact in an area that is lacking in design/build firms.
    • Similarly, a program that relies heavily on new technologies may have limited success if distributors and trade allies have yet to stock and offer it in the local market.

 
Lack of time is often cited as an excuse for pursing step 2 (which is really upfront homework, and who likes homework after all?). But reality is that doing the proper upfront homework, and taking the time to ask the right questions, often reduces time to market and allows you to anticipate problems before they become expensive, hard to fix, and result in poor program uptake and customer frustration.

We live in an age in which the volume of information available at our fingertips grows daily, and information related to DSM program best practice is no exception. Take advantage of the wealth of best practice information that is out there -- but don’t forget to take that second step. Doing so may determine whether your program takes the path to success or the path of the lemming.