Monthly Archives: January 2012

Money Ball

I had an entirely different blog planned out for today, but you see I had nothing to do @ 8pm tonight and I wasn’t tired. Trolling the “on demand” selections I came across “Money Ball”. A friend just recently told me to watch it, because in her words, it was a very soulful movie. I responded “I thought it was about money and baseball”, she answered it is that, but so much more.

Watching the movie, I found myself moved and often teary eyed. A truly great story and from what I have read online after the movie, truthful. I’m no baseball expert, but the internet seems to confirm that the 2002 A’s hold the record for consecutive games won in the American league, 20 in total

Why would I cry?, big tough guy like me, you know the description by now part Shrek, Luca Brasi and an average sized grizzly bear.

I’ll let you in on a little secret…I care.

I have been in this industry, Power plants, for half of my life. I have pissed people off, I have angered many and yet I bet you money that you the worst of my detractors would say I cared (perhaps too much)

You see, in general the people in our industry give it their all, those who do not stick out like a sore thumb.

 Just because you work hard does not mean that you will be successful. I makes me crazy when people work hard in the wrong direction.

 So why did the movie effect me? Well naturally I identified with Brad Pitts character (The similarity was at times uncanny). When you’re the only one in the room that thinks the way you do, it’s never easy. The resistance and shear ill will that gets directed at you can be toxic at best, undermining at worst.

 What does this all have to do about outages? Well easy, the movie is about how to win for at least money as possible sounds like an outage to me!

 The basic concept is: if you want something to change then you need to change something

Not rocket science I know, yet nobody wants to change do they?

Let me ask you. Do your outages start when they are supposed to, finish when they are supposed to and come in under budget?

If they do then great, but if they don’t what are you going to do different next outage.

Everybody in a plant can change a tire on a car, How long do you think it takes, let’s see

Pull the car over off the road                      20 seconds

Put the car in park and shut it off              5 seconds

Pull the emergency brake                            5 seconds

Get out pop the trunk                                   10 seconds

Get the Jack and the spare out                  30 seconds

Place the jack and get engaged                 20 seconds

Remove the hub cap                                      10 seconds

Break the lug nuts                                           60 seconds

Jack the car up                                                  120 seconds

Unscrew the lug nuts                                     60 seconds

Pull the old tire                                                 5 seconds

Put on the new tire                                         5 seconds

Start all the lug nuts                                        30 seconds

Tighten all the lug nuts                                  60 seconds

Jack the car down                                            60 seconds

Put the hubcap back                                       10 seconds

Return the jack and flat to the trunk       60 seconds

Get back in the car start it up                      10 seconds

The above list of steps is a total of 580 seconds, some of the steps could be wrong but in general I think this describes a very quick tire change

Like I said everyone can change a tire

Here’s a You Tube video where they change all 4 tires in what looks like to me, 16 seconds

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si2E6SvczjI

That’s a quite a difference but what’s a few minutes right?

Let’s take that thought out for a spin, shall we?

A plant has a down day cost of $50,000 per day that means each second would be worth $0.58. So if we applied that cost to our tire change that would mean that you changing the tire would cost you $327.12 more than it should cost you

Now I can change a tire to, but if it cost me $327.12 more than it should I certainly would start doing something different

I can hear you now, They have special tools!, They are set up for it!, They train to do that!, They have more people!.

Yes that’s the point, but if you would like to continue to change your own tires and spend that extra money that’s your choice. I cannot in good conscience watch you do it and say nothing. Buts that’s me

What would saving 10% cost and schedule mean for your plant?

What plant improvements could you do?, What would the bottom line look like? What kind of training would that fund? Lastly what does that do to your bonus?

Why Don’t You Make Them Listen To Your Tapes?

This from my 8 year old as we stood in front of the audio book racks in Barnes and Noble in early 1999

What were we doing there?

Well, you see I read a set of books when I was around ten. It still shapes how I think to this day and I wanted to get this series of books for my son and read them together.

He was not impressed or interested in these books, but I didn’t let that stop me. Onward I pressed, after all he was 8, what did he know?

We got his books.  We passed by all the fun stuff in the kids section and marched over to the audio book section…he got his now it was time for me to get mine

As I surveyed all of the offerings my son started asking me questions.

“Why did we get these books”, I explained for what felt like the hundredth time, “you see Joe, when I was a little older than you I read these books and they shaped how I think even to this day. So I want to read them with you so you can learn the lessons for yourself straight from the source”

“Why are we looking as these tapes” … Don’t you just love when the questions just KEEP COMING! My son was mad about me dragging him to a store to buy a BOOK!!! Of all things!  AND  he was going to made his displeasure known…”We’ll  like those books we just bought, they teach you things you haven’t learned yet.” I continued to peruse the selection.

“Why are you mad at the people working for you”….You see he was present to a few outstanding rants on the cell phone with members of my current team (Rants= yelling loudly, neck turning purple, veins in my heads growing to inordinate sizes)…”Well ,it must seem like I’m mad at them but really I’m just confused and frustrated. You see, daddy has been a boss for a long time. Longer than you’ve been alive. I have never had anyone working for me disobey me. I don’t know what to do with them; they’re good people they just don’t think like daddy.”

Then from the mouth of babes “Why don’t you make them listen to your tapes”. I’m so thickheaded that I didn’t get it. “Why would I do that Joe?” He told me “Your making me read these books so I can think like you, if they listen to your tapes then they will think like you do right?”

I’ll tell you sometimes I’m amazed at how dumb I can be and how smart my son is when he’s trying to teach me a lesson

THE POINT:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for life. Apparently this is a Chinese proverb, I had thought it was from the bible, again I’m wrong.

Management in a power plant can be like trying to grow grass in granite. It’s like that Chinese finger trap; the harder you pull the more the trap has you. So what do we do most of the time…pull harder, the trap will break eventually. I have had the privilege to manage thousands of people in our industry. A great deal of them moved up the ranks. Some of them become supervisors, department managers and plant managers. I did the meaner than everyone thing. You know the kind. The guy that thinks he knows more than you do, the do what I say thing kind of thing.  Nothing worked so quickly and so well as listening to those tapes as a team. Truly teaching a man to fish is the way to go.

THE STORY:

 As the beginning of this blog talks about, I was frustrated. It was just after a bunch of successful outages (The ones described in Outages 101). I had come to the plant with my usual “sit down, shut up and do what I say” and the magic wand speech (a blog for another time) just before their major outages. I ran the outages with an iron hand as I always did, but I had hoped that once the plant saw the success of the outages they would not fight me as much…I was wrong. After the outages, it seemed they were more determined than ever to see my ideas fail. It was as if they were saying “well you may have been right this time but your wrong now”. Each new thing I introduced to the facility was met with more and more resistance from the supervision and management. As each new program succeeded the next program took more and more effort to get it through (The Chinese finger trap). Me being part Irish, part Italian and part Viking and all hardheaded, fought back. If it wasn’t for my son schooling me I’m sure I would be still fighting today.

After I got what my son was saying to me at Barnes and Noble, we went home and I bought a tape recorder to tape hundreds of blanks. I gave my wife the tapes I wanted copied and made her make 20 some odd tapes of each.

I showed up on a Monday with the first tape we would listen to as a team. I called a meeting and informed everyone that they had till Friday to listen to this tape and we would have a catered lunch in the conference room where we would have a discussion about the tape. People raised many objections, I told them not listing to the tape would be deemed direct disobedience and offenders would be suspended (I told you I was…Bullish from time to time)

Friday came and we had a great discussion and lots of ideas came from it. Next Monday there was another tape but I didn’t have to threaten anyone this time. All in all there were about 6 tapes over 6 weeks.

This plant had its worst performance in 1998 and by the end of 1999 the same crew registered record breaking performance in both production and safety at the same time.

I think my son’s idea speaks for itself.    

Sit down, Shut up and Do what I say

I don’t actually recall ever saying this exactly, but that’s generally what I meant.

You see for many years I was a turnaround specialist. I went were it was broke and fixed it. I started when I was very young and to be quite honest in the beginning, I was often very scared either of what I was doing or losing my job.

I was so concerned with getting the job done and learning everything I could about the work that I was often not very concerned with people’s feelings. In the beginning the meaner I was, the more respect I seemed to get from my fellow foreman.

But after I sent a mechanic to medical for going to the bathroom during the work day I stopped. I realized that I was probably going a bit too far. I wasn’t Ivan the terrible anymore but I was far from warm and fuzzy.

Later in my career, I graduated from project turnarounds to whole plant turnarounds. Where ever a plant was underperforming I went. I generally worked directly for the president, oh I had other bosses in between him and I, but my phone rang directly when performance wasn’t up to par.

So when I showed up to either a project or a plant, things were not going right, hence the shut up, sit down and do what I say. It wasn’t pretty but it worked.

Power plants and power plant people are not soft pliable individuals, you can’t be. To run, operate or maintain a plant takes a mental and physical toughness that few understand. That steeliness of character often does not lend itself to open and free thinking about new things which is the problem.

Looking back on all that now, I could have had more tack, patience and concern for my fellow employees.  Something my father used to say to me “the water as soft as it is eventually wears away the rock”. I’m more like the water now, a flash flood or tidal wave, but more like the water.

THE POINT:  Whether it be Sun Tzu, Napoleon Hill, Six Sigma or others I will write about later, the point is if you want better performance you have to change what you are doing.

Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity according to Einstein.

So the problem is how do we change risk adverse, hard headed people.  Like I stated earlier, I used to do it by sheer force of will and by being the meanest guy in the room however, there is another way.

I have found that by implementing a new process, one can create habits that you desire in a plant. Those habits then become your culture. Plant performance is the direct result of the habits of the plant personnel. By installing new processes that grow new habits, you can change plant performance faster with less angst and with longer lasting results.

THE STORY: I have a great story that illustrates this point very well but it is still too fresh a happening and I’m concerned it would offend too many people at this time.

So for the story this week I’ll just tell you about…well let’s call him Aristotle.  At the time of developing all of these processes (I didn’t know at the time they were going to be processes, I was just doing what I always did to turn a plants performance around) I had a many great assets, Aristotle being one of them.

We turned the plants performance from worst to first in just a year. The operating committee wanted to distill what we did to do this and then export those things to all the other plants in the company. So the operating committee flew up to spend time with me and my team to understand, memorialize and export our ideas, at the time, to the rest of the company.  Our processes became measuring sticks that the other plants were judged against.  It didn’t go well. Immediately, everyone else started to defend their way of doing things. They were right and these processes were wrong and because the processes came from me I was wrong. It became quite a mess and eventually I left the company. A few months later the president got fired and a few month after that the CEO go canned as well. That company doesn’t even exist anymore.

But this is about Aristotle; you see in the midst of this, he was banished to a plant that was off the radar screen. Because he was a acolyte of mine he was not treated well for many years after I left the company. However like the saying goes, you can’t keep a good man down. Aristotle is now a plant manager and he uses the processes we developed. His plant maintains top performance year after year, for years, which is better proof that these processes work, than anything I could write.

Napoleon Hill and a Guy from Jersey

Napoleon Hill

Napoleon is my absolute favorite success guru. For those of you who don’t know him or his work here is the Wikipedia link Heres a short version of who he is

He was born in 1883 in a one room cabin in Appalachia, using his wit and intellect he began writing and eventually enrolled in law school, while in law school he paid the bills by writing articles for various publications. On an assignment he interviewed Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie believed that the process of success could be outlined in a simple formula that anyone would be able to understand and achieve. Carnegie was so impressed with Hill that he asked Hill if he was up to the challenge. Hill accepted and Carnegie, through letters of introduction began Hill on his journey to interview over 500 people about what made them successful. Hills interviews and research became the famous book “Think and grow Rich”

Over the years I have read and listened to many different adaptations of this work but my favorite is

Available At

For a good Overview of the 17 principles

The guy from Jersey

Napoleon Hill’s Science of Personal Achievement has 17 principles. I use all of them in the process of planning and executing an outage. My list of principles is as follows

  • Make the plan (usually by yourself it’s the easiest way)
  • Get everybody to comment on the plan (prepare yourself lots of people need to let you know how smart they are)
  • Finalize the plan (incorporate everyone’s comments)
  • Get everybody to review the plan and agree to it (you will be surprised how many people change what they had said before)
  • Once agreed to (they will always be dissenters so a majority rules) beat the plan into everyone’s head as often as possible
  • Once the outage starts, only follow the plan if it works. During the outage do what works only no matter how silly or off plan it may be.

You have to play the game you are in and “The Plan” was conceived before the outage so it may or may not be correct

 

THE POINT:

Are you happy with the performance you are getting? What happens if the performance gets 10% better? What happens if the performance gets 20% better? You get the idea. Now how to get that improvement

Napoleon Hill interviewed over 500 people each with a great success story. When I ran a plant I would send our personnel out to other outages within the company. You’re already doing everything you know so to get improved performance you have to do something different. I found that the best place to find new things is either in the classic “Improvement Ideologies”, watching a bunch of different ways of doing something or like the saying goes “standing on the shoulders of giants”. In regards the each of the above three ways over the course of this year I will share with you each of the “Improvement Ideologies” I have found useful. I would suggest going and seeing as many different outage as you can, I myself have planned and executed over 250 outages and seen a bunch more. As far as “standing of the shoulders of giants”, that is what this blog is all about, almost everything that comes out of my mouth is some version of something that was taught to me by someone else but those gentlemen are long gone unfortunately.

 

THE STORY:

 Doing something different, although this story is not an outage story it exemplifies this point. It was 1999 and we were on our fourth and final attempt in developing/designing a process that would become Zone Maintenance™. One particular mechanic, let’s call him grumpy, thought the process was just ridiculous. In Zone Maintenance™ mechanics are responsible for certain areas of the plant. Grumpy’s area was the cranes and this plant was a mass burn waste to energy facility, so the cranes worked all day. When grumpy took over the area we were changing cables on the crane about every 4 days, grumpy came to see me and tell me how dumb it was. I responded to him “It’s been that what for years, what are you going to do about it” with a shrug of my shoulders. Grumpy to his credit did not accept my answer he called the cable manufacture and had him come in and look at what we were doing. Grumpy found out that by cutting the cables mechanically instead with a torch would extend the life, so even though it meant each cable change would take longer he did it. Cable changes went from every 4 days to every 8 days; it was a big win on something that nobody though could be improved. Grumpy was not satisfied, he hated cable changes, and he came to me and said the reason for so many cable changes was because of the operators. I responded “What are you going to do” again with a shrug of my shoulders, he stormed off “I’ll show you”. A week or two later the operations manager came to me, complaining that Grumpy was making the crane operators change the cables. I went and saw grumpy “are you making the crane operators change the cables” Grumpy responded “Damn Right, they broke em’ they’re going to fix em’ how else are they going to learn”. Grumpy had been right before so I told the Operations Manager let it ride for a while and let’s see what happens. Well cable changes went from every 8 days till a change about every 2 to 3 weeks again a huge win.

 

Grumpy had improved something nobody thought could improve, we had to do something different but the rewards were great. Cables cost us around $150,000 per year and Grumpy’s ideas brought that down to around $50,000 per year not to mention all the time saved from not doing cable changes

 

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,600 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

the Art of War, Six Sigma and a Guy From Jersey

The Art of War

If you haven’t read, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, I suggest that you do, here’s a link.  It says it should take two hours, time well spent

The Art of War lays out how to be successful in war through detail analysis and assessment before you start anything. With just the change of two words we can see clearly how the lessons from The Art of War relates to us and our focus for better outages

Sun Tzu said: The art of war (Outages) is of vital importance to the State (Plant). It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected

The following is directly from The Art of War and I believe it best serves as an overall guiding thought for the text

Sun Tzu said: What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory. The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success.

 Six Sigma

I first heard of Six Sigma around 1997, I researched what I could and finally bought some program of “How to implement Six Sigma” the only problem was at that time it dealt primarily with manufacturing not power plants

 From Wikipedia:

Six Sigma is a business management strategy originally developed by Motorola, USA in 1986

A six sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of the products manufactured are statistically expected to be free of defects (3.4 defects per million).              

The core of Six Sigma was “born” at Motorola in the 1970s out of senior executive Art Sundry’s criticism of Motorola’s bad quality.  As a result of this criticism, the company discovered a connection between increases in quality and decreases in costs of production. At that time, the prevailing view was that quality costs extra money. In fact, it reduced total costs by driving down the costs for repair or control. Bill Smith subsequently formulated the particulars of the methodology at Motorola in 1986. Six Sigma was heavily inspired by the quality improvement methodologies of the six preceding decades, such as quality control, Total Quality Management (TQM), and Zero Defects, based on the work of pioneers such as Shewhart, Deming, Juran, Crosby, Ishikawa, Taguchi and others.

The guy from Jersey

From Tzu Sun I got the following two thoughts

          The Process

  1. Define where you are
  2. Define where you want to be
  3. Take action
  4. Monitor the Action

The Highest form or “Art” is to execute an outage without any drama

 

From Six Sigma I got the following

  1. Quality makes things cheaper
  2. You get what you measure
  3. When you get things right, your whole world changes

 

From these two I came up with this simple diagram

 

THE POINT: Everything during an outage can be improved. Changing something generally yields some positive results and some negative. Each new change will do one of three things

  1. Move you closer to your goal
  2. Move you further away from you goal
  3. It does not move you either closer or further to your goal

Like the lesson from Sun Tzu…Take action and then monitor the action and continue until you have no pain (that is the Six Sigma part).

               Engendering this process will create habits in your plant that will become your company’s culture and with a culture like this everyone wins and it seems easy because again like Sun Tzu says “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

 

THE STORY: There are so many stories I can tell that illustrate these points (Literally 100’s) but the one that best fits these points and success in outages is the story of the Dancefloor.

                At a particular plant the house maintenance staff installed a Dancefloor in their boiler every outage. When I got to the plant I wanted to pick something that would illustrate the above points in a way that would be real tangible proof that this stuff works.

                The time it took the plant to install the Dancefloor was 16 hours when we started this process. I said to the team “What would it take to install it faster”. They all replied that was as fast as they could go and I’m sure I got some “Safety Firsts” in the mix as well. I said “well they do a PIT stop in like 6 to 8 seconds and nobody gets hurt how do they do that” (In my remembrance I’m cool, calm and wise… I can assure you that’s not the way I was perceived back then) . The actual conversation went something like this

                Jay “How do we build the Dancefloor faster”

                The Minotaur (The names have been changed to protect the innocence… but you know who you are) “ what the F**k do you want to get somebody hurt, it’s  go’ in as fast as it can go”

                Jay” Well how the f**k do they do a PIT stop in eight seconds then”

                The Minotaur” well they have everything laid out and they practice what do f**king you expect”

And right there we both opened our eyes and stopped yelling at each other and got to work

 

                Over the course of the next few outage we tried new stuff and most of it made it better but sometimes we absolutely failed. We trained, staged and bought new equipment. Our total investment was weeks of work for about 5 to 6 guys and about $20,000 dollars in equipment, engineering and tools

                When it was all said and done the dance floor was installed in 4 hours (Instead of the original 16). The team had done this for 10 outages in a row, over two plus years without any safety incidents. It became the new standard.

 

                In conclusion we spent between money and time about $80,000 ($20K in purchase’s $60K in labor) which at the face of it seems like a lot. But if you consider that the plants done day cost was $60,000 and a blended rate for a mechanic on overtime was about $75/ hour the by saving 12 hours per outage the economic effect would be as follows

                12 hours of down time                  $30,000

                12 hours with ten mechanics      $9,000

 

                So each time we build the dancefloor in, in 4 hours it saved $39,000. The plant had three boilers and it took an outage on each of them once a year. So in a year it saved $117,000, well worth the investment. Moreover the personnel got to see what they could do if they put their minds to it, they failed from time to time but in the end it was a big win

If I hadn’t been studying Six Sigma at the time I would have never spent the time and money to address this. To put a point on this idea of process, habits, culture which is the foundation of all the things we do here at The Outage Expert or TOE, we did this in 1998 to 1999 and to date the plant will have saved $1,404,000 for just this alone.