From Good to Great Working Group Leadership

by Mandana White on December 17, 2020
asphalt road in Tuscany Italy

When it comes to making clean energy a practical reality, it’s safe to say we still have a fair way to go. Mandana White, CEO at Smart Grid Forums, highlights why a combination of collaboration and robust leadership could be the key to driving pace and progress in this crucial area.

For almost two decades, power grid engineers have been working hard to integrate new digital technologies into old electrical infrastructures to deliver the smart grid. Often working to excruciatingly tight deadlines, with severely limited budgets, and the constant pressure to deliver ‘transformation without disruption’, these teams have had their work cut out deploying the future grid at the speed of light whilst simultaneously ‘keeping the lights on’.

Supporting their efforts is the work of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Bringing together 15,000 expert volunteers from industry, government and end-user groups across 166 countries, there is an IEC working group defining and refining a new standard for just about every section of the grid. These standards address the many needs of the energy transition; ageing infrastructure, intermittent energy sources, lowering energy prices, ensuring security of supply, meeting decarbonisation targets, and much more.

Whilst all working groups are focused on the common goal of delivering the future grid, there is clear disparity between the pace and progress being achieved between them. Why is this? The simple answer boils down to the nature of the group’s leadership.

There are working groups that prioritise leadership and those that prioritise collaboration. However, leadership and collaboration need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, great leadership is dependent upon and must facilitate great collaboration. But without the single-minded vision of an all-in leader, someone who pulls out all the stops to ensure the pace and progress of the group, those ambitious deadlines cannot be met, significant year-on-year progress cannot be achieved, and full decarbonisation objectives cannot be actualised.

So, what are the ingredients of great leadership and how can IEC working groups ensure that they are reinforcing their great collaboration efforts with robust leadership to drive pace and progress and help grid operators all over the world make clean energy a practical reality?

Here are some of the most essential ingredients that we have identified, through our experience of working with standardisation groups across our smart grid technical conferences:

Clarity of vision

A good leader will communicate the objectives of the working group and allow volunteer members to contribute at their level of convenience. A great leader will crystallise the objectives of the working group, ensuring that all members are on the same page about its goals and outcomes, reinforcing the message consistently and continually, and ensuring that there is no time lost to diversions in support of individual member’s’ commercial interests over global ecosystem objectives.

Membership demographics

A good working group leader will attract participants of all backgrounds but allow these volunteers to dip in and out of meetings as required.
A great working group leader is a magnet to the brightest and most committed engineering minds in the industry. They assemble a group that is representative of the commercial ecosystem, ensuring the right balance of utilities and suppliers from day one. They gain the respect and commitment of their members. They compel members to be all-in for the long haul, to see projects through to completion, and to be open to supporting the wider ecosystem on a 1:1 basis.

End-user voice

A good leader will encourage more utilities to join their working group.
A great leader will personally headhunt the right engineers from the right utilities to ensure their standardisation activity is conducted with the buyer’s needs in mind and placed on the path to commercial success from day one. They ensure that every utility voice is heard, understood, appreciated, kept front of mind, as they move from one activity area to another.

Prioritisation of activity

A good leader allows the members to prioritise the activity that is of greatest engineering interest. A great leader takes the bull by the horns and ensures that they prioritise the activity that is of greatest market benefit. They will set an ambitious timeline with clear milestones. They will clearly articulate the reason for the prioritisation. They will gain the group’s buy-in and ensure their pace and progress. They will take charge and make things happen. They are single-minded, altruistic, results oriented.

Market focus

A good leader will ensure the standard is technically robust. A great leader will ensure that the standard is market proof. They will ensure that the group don’t just build a great concept, but that they thoroughly stress-test, critique, improve and refine the standard on an ongoing basis. They create an effective feedback loop with the market and ensure that they are available to problem solve as implementation activity takes off. There is no protectionism of the standard in its own right, there is only protectionism of what the standard will do for the grid, the ecosystem, the environment, consumers, and society as a whole.

At Smart Grid Forums, we have been working with TC57 WG10 to drive engagement with the IEC 61850 standard for substation communication for over seven years. Our IEC 61850 global conference, exhibition and networking forum has played a key role in facilitating constructive critique of the standard, in order to identify its gaps, and hold space for crucial conversations that will lead to its improvement. In this time, we have witnessed the IEC 61850 community go from implementation frustration to ecosystem collaboration followed by rapid increase in utility investment and global deployment.

This year we launched our first Common Information Model conference, exhibition and networking forum, focused on data integration within TSO, DSO and energy markets. Feedback from this first meeting has been outstanding and we are now planning the second edition for January 2021, where we will be facilitating crucial conversations around: working group leadership, applying CIM across the wider smart utility and extending CIM to all market players.


Topics: CEO Blog