Monthly Archives: September 2011

Every Ship Needs a Captain

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, when men were men, and…

Every good story has a great opening line. In the past weeks I’ve recanted some of my stories. This week, however, will be different.

For those of you who are now crying in anguish because you will not have a charming vignette this week, let me assure you that there will be many more humorous and far reaching to come.
Let’s talk about the SS Neversail a mythical oil tanker a drift on the high seas.

Oil tankers are generally a large vessel that costs a great deal of money when empty. And even more money when full. An average oil tanker is crewed with approximately forty people. They have very limited tasks. Some people drive the ship. Some people make the ship go. Some people load and unload the ship. Some people feed the people on the ship. Some people clean the ship. Doesn’t sound too complicated, does it? With today’s satellite navigation and computers, it doesn’t seem like the jobs are too terrible or too hard.

40 people, all with defined duties, all that technology, why would you need a captain?
You ask “Who would be responsible” I answer “ the group would be responsible, it is only 40 people. Surely they can get together and govern themselves well without any supreme authority, after all they are all adults. They’ll all get along and have one focus that is shared between all of them. Certainly there is no need for a captain here….Right!!”

The mere suggestion of having a ship without a captain seems like lunacy. Who would think of such a thing? Why would you do this? Think of the lives at danger. Think of the recent environmental calamities. When considering this, I think we can all agree whole heartedly that this ship needs a captain.

So If we can agree that this ship needs a captain let me ask you about a different ship and lets see if that ship needs a captain….Hmmm let’s call this ship the SS Outage.

The SS Outage costs anywhere from $20,000 to $250,000 every day its late coming into port.

The SS Outage has about 100 different people who don’t live there running around its decks playing with its engines and controls.

The SS Outage has many rocky shoals to navigate around.

The SS Outage has at least 50 different disciplines that all have to work and play well with each other.

The SS Outage is constantly beset with mean, nasty and terrible pirates who board our precious ship and try to take our gold for their booty.

Assuredly if the SS Neversail needs a captain then the SS Outage needs one at least.

In a power plant, the biggest, most expensive “ship” is an outage. How often do your outages have a captain or captains, whom are there day and night? How many outages do you have that go over schedule and over budget? How many of those outages have a dedicated outage manager, days and nights, that is truly the captain of that ship?

Moral of the story:

Every endeavor that’s has a significant value needs a “Captain” after all what would the Enterprise be without Captain Kirk

Rule of thumb:

Is something critical to your plants success? Then put someone in charge of it. Also print the following and post it everywhere so you never forget.

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

Engineers, Engineers Everywhere and Not a Scope to Execute

Once upon a time in a land far far away, I was transitioning from an engineering manager to a maintenance manager. It was a tradition in our company for an outage; all the engineers would come from all the other plants and perform inspections. I came into the company as an engineer and it always seemed strange to me that the engineers would run around while the plant maintenance would run the outage. This was my first outage as a newly made maintenance manager, so I figured let’s just roll with it.

To depict the scope, I made up inspection plans and graphics for myself and my engineering team. I distributed these out to the other engineers and assigned them areas that they were responsible for. While it’s true that I have an engineering degree and I had designed a thing or two, and have even run my fair share of calculations, I do not think of myself as an “engineer”. I’m always impressed when I work with true engineers; the process and the deliberation that most engineers go through is laudable. l however, do not have those bones. I much prefer to gather all the information, look at “it” (whatever “it” maybe,) make a decision and move on. But, I digress. So there we all are, at the beginning of our first major outage as a new and improved plant, gung-ho and ready to make changes and show the company how we were going to be moving forward.

The outage started: Blasting. – Complete. Dance Floor-In. Scaffold-Up. Sandblasting-Done. Inspections Started. –

The engineers started inspecting the superheaters on Sunday day shift. By Monday morning we had zero scope, we had held off the contractors working in the area and gave the engineers a well scaffolded and lit area to inspect. Yet, still after 16 hours we had no scope, not good, So off I went to find out what the deal was.

For those of you who don’t know me, you should hold the following image of me in your mind. Although wickedly handsome, and wise in the face with a peter pan-esk twinkle in the eyes, the body is somewhere between Shrek and an averaged size grizzly bear. Just a few more details to add to the picture, a full face respirator, hood and size 4X Tyvek (soon to be shreaded).

So there I was, squeezing in the boiler door (I would later change them out for larger ones in a later outages) while literally buffing all of the superheat panels with my body as I made my way through the pass of the boiler. I found the engineers with their slag picks, UT meters and paint in hand. When I started talking to them, they showed me all the things they found on the panel that we were next to. To my horror they were only about 20% through the pass. This outage could not be held up for another 64 hours while they picked and tested each tube in the pass.

I was conflicted, as an engineer, I understood the need to dissect everything and be absolutely sure that the unit was sound before it came up from an outage as it was too often that the units came down for something missed during a main outage. But I had to get things going for the outage to have any hope of coming in on time and on budget.

Wedged as I was in between the panels, I stared to look at all the markings on the panels. I realized that on the particular panel that I was pressed up against there had to be at least a hundred different marks made by the engineers in the span of maybe 5 feet. Suddenly, it dawned on me the engineers where playing the game like they had to prove their recommendations beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Feeling pressure in the pocket, I channeled my inner Johnny Unitas and huddled the engineers together. I explained to them that the panels are 15’ long, so if they felt a panel was bad just mark the top and the bottom of the corrosion. With these new marching orders the engineers finished the pass in about 4 hours. They then brought their recommendations to me and we reviewed them. There were some panels that were no brainers and some that were marginal. We went back in and checked the marginal panels and made a game-time decision then. Long story short, by the end of the day Monday we finally had a work scope and started the demo.

Moral of the Story:

An outage is a group effort. It takes many disciplines and many more opinions and viewpoints to execute a great outage. If any member or group of the team is working in a vacuum the entire outage suffers. This is a difficult dance. Power plant people are well….Hardheaded! You need to be! None of this is easy! A great outage finds a way for everyone to contribute without a lot of talking and a bunch of “Cover Your Ass” bull.

Rule of Thumb:

An outage is like a big PIT stop in NASCAR. The fueler, jack man and tire changer needs to know when to come in and most importantly when to leave. Everyone in the plant plays a role like this during an outage. Success is derived from that understanding of roles.

When You See A Snake, Kill It

Once upon a time, I was a planner during a particularly large outage. Some of the major jobs included an air preheater basket change out, nose tube replacement, burner corner replacement (a CE tangentially fired unit with 64 burners) including brining gas lines to each of the corners, and a re-insulation of the entire boiler after an abatement. During this especially hectic time, management decided to perform a wrench time analysis.

The results of the analysis came back with impressive results. Our job site had almost double the wrench time (68%) vs. the other job sites (in the 30% range). This large percentage differential raised questions and suspicion from the “Suits.”

Naturally, the first thing the Suites focused on was that these numbers were fake. We were soon accused of tricking the auditors. After much conversation and investigation it was determined that our 68% was in fact real. Imagine that.

After it was agreed on by all that my job site had a superior wrench time then the others, we started to delve into the reasons behind it.

As it turned out, the primary reason that we had a much better wrench time than everyone else was because we set the job up differently than everyone else.

Our traditional tool control during an outage was to have one central tool room where all the tools were checked in and out of every day. We changed that. Instead each Forman was given both a set of jobs and the time to lay out a written list of the tools that they needed to perform those jobs. Once the Forman generated their lists, they were given job boxes with the tools they listed. The tools were then signed out to the Forman and he or she was responsible for their own tools from there on end.

When upper management found out what we were doing they were incensed. They felt that there would be a free for all with the tools. They declared that any tool lost would be taken directly out of any bonuses or raises of the project manager (my direct boss) or me.

When it was all over (upwards of 170,000 man hours) my team was well under our tool budget, much to the surprise of upper management.

Not only did the team have a significantly higher wrench time than other jobs, we also had better tool control. More importantly, we came in under budget and under time for the entire outage. This feat had not happened in my division for many, many years.

Moral of the Story

A dear friend of mind once related to me a speech he heard by Bruno Bic (the pen guy) to his company. His opening line was “When you see a snake kill it, don’t write a memo, don’t send an email, don’t make a policy, just kill it”. The way we did tool control, prior to this, was horrible. It took too long and controlled too little. So in the fashion of Bruno Bic, we tried something different and that yielded huge results.

Rule of Thumb

If you have a management process that looks cumbersome and time consuming, guess what? It is. Find a better way and there are huge performance gains in store for you.

a Tisket a Tasket a Air Heater Basket

In 1990, way before deregulation, I was part of an “elite” force in a major utility. It was elite because each job title got paid one grade higher than anyone else in the company with the same title. For example a Forman in our group was pay level #9 while any other Forman were pay level #8. In addition to the higher wages our group had the most amount of overtime, one year a mechanic made more money than the senior vice president. For some strange reason, they hired me, a degreed engineer with operating experience, to be a Forman in this select group. Since I was half the age of the next youngest Foreman, I was met with a great deal of resistance

The first major job I was given included changing out the baskets of 4 pre heaters and redoing the seals. I had never done anything like this before so I decided to start from scratch. I set up my space; scaffolds and trolley beams galore. I was told just to follow the marks of where things go from previous years, however, it seemed awkward to me.

Instead of pulling the baskets, from one central beam, which had always been the procedure, I moved the one trolley beam closer to the walk way and I put a beam over each preheater in line with the baskets. By matching the angles, the picks would be straight this way required one beam to pull the baskets, and another to move the baskets in the drop hole.

We were moving an average of 45 baskets a shift. When the project manager and general Forman saw these production numbers in the log book, they were met with suspicion. We then took a tour thru the preheater when they saw how I had set up the preheater they insisted I was “padding” the numbers and they demanded that I change my set up. I asked them how many baskets a shift should I be getting they responded that I should average 27 baskets a shift. I walked them down to where all the old baskets were and we counted them and it matched with my log book entries     

Because I had proven that my log book was not padded I was able to stay with my set up. It was, however, made quite clear that I would be fired for insubordination if I went over budget.

I ended up finishing that job with an average of 42 baskets a shift with 11 people, the next pre heater I did we averaged 63 baskets a shift with 9 people, and the last was our best, 76 baskets a shift with 5 people.

Moral of the Story

How you set things up matters. Job set up is the place where the biggest “bang for the buck” can happen. While there can only be one boss, every job set up should be reviewed by different people with varying viewpoints.

Rule of Thumb

No matter the size of the project, walk it down with the responsible party. This will open up a discussion on the best options and procedures to move forward. Once the job is completed hold a lessons learned discussion and note all the things you would do differently and why so that you may improve on your last performance

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) Thirty-fourth President of the USA.