The Magic Finger – Directors Cut

When I was a planner I had the good fortune to work for an extraordinary man… let’s call him Socrates. Much of what I say first came out of his mouth. I miss his teaching and fellowship every day.

socrotes

Socrates had many lessons about how to run outages, to tell many of them I have to first describe what the Magic Finger is.

To the casual observer the “Magic Finger” looks like the pointer finger on your hand and in truth it is. The magic of the “Magic Finger” is much more complicated to explain but like all things of genius, it is eventually elegantly simple.

My first job with Socrates started in a strange way.

Back in the day we traveled from job to job in 40 cargo containers made into field offices. We were setting up my very first “big” job as a planner, more than a hundred thousand man-hours. We had material to stage, scaffolding to build, rigging to hang, tools to load in. Lot of stuff to do and I was chomping at the bit to get it going

Socrates, however, would not let anything start until he had 10 drum door gaskets on a nail over his desk in our trailer. Being young, brass and ambitious I wanted to start, I had things to do and here was this funny old guy sternly saying NO!

I tried to convince him, tried to go around him, tried to get other Forman to convince him, he would not be moved. Finally after a few days, I overnighted the gaskets. The next day I hammered in nails over his desk and hung the gaskets. Socrates was finally happy, he took his finger and touched the gaskets and said “Kid, do you know what this is?” holding his finger towards me “It’s a Magic Finger

washers-gaskets-wall-9343689

I burst out “are you ****in kidding me, I have over 50 trucks of stuff waiting to get here and you give me this magic finger BS, your nuts”. Luckily, Socrates was a very patient man, he laughed at my juvenile outburst. He then said come with me. We walked outside and touched all the nose tubes, the burner corner parts, the superheat pendants, I could barely contain myself, I had work to do! And this guy was making me touch each part that was lying around the plant. After each thing he would make me touch it with my “Magic Finger” and hold it up to him. This went on all day, after a while I just relented I figured today was shot tomorrow is another day.

The next day I had a veritable army of manpower, equipment and stuff to do. I told one Forman to get the nose tubes and get them in the north well, another Forman I told to get the burner parts laid out etc. etc. all day long people asked me where things were and miraculously I knew (or I should say my “Magic Finger” knew) the day went very well as did the entire outage.

During a different outage years later, I did not use my magic finger. I was too busy and too important I had people for that now. We were installing a system on a high pressure 1.4 million pound per hour boiler that would pressure drop and desuperheat the steam to 400 psi with 10 degrees of superheat.

I was told that one of the three main stop valves were being delivered, these were big valves but we were in the “big” business nothing scared me. I got the call from receiving that the valve was here. I got the forklift guy on the radio and told him to pick it off the truck.

Sometime later he came up to the trailer and said he couldn’t get the valve off the truck. I belittled him “awe did the big bad valve kick your ass”, He just looked back at me and said “it’s a big valve and it ain’t coming off the truck, it’s your problem now smart guy” and then he stomped out of the trailer.

reduced

I found one of my Forman “can you go down and get the valve off the truck, the forklift driver is having a bad hair day”. Off went the Forman and he soon came back “That’s the biggest valve I ever saw, It’s not coming off the truck”.

I was incredulous, I was the “great and powerful…well me” now I had to stop what I was doing and walk the three blocks to the elevator and down to the street, and back another two blocks to get to the truck, cursing loudly and liberally as I went. When I got to the back of the truck and turned to see the valve I nearly fell over just from the sight of it. It was absolutely the biggest valve I have ever seen and I knew instantly I was an ******* (you know the word). We had to send the truck to our crane yard and lift the valve off with a 50 ton crane.

The magic of the “Magic Finger” is contained in the phrase “if you didn’t see it, or touch it, shut the “F” up”. Try this test, Ask a question and listen to the answers you get more times than not you get something that is resembles an answer but not the answer.

For example:

Q. “Do we have a spare shaft”

A. “There should be one in the warehouse” …you see this does not answer the question does it!

Q. “Can someone check the shaft is in the warehouse”

A. “That’s the ware house guy/girl’s job they should know

Q. “Can we call them right now and see if the shaft is in the warehouse”

A. “I’m on the phone with them they say that there is a shaft on the shelf”

Q. “Is it the right shaft”

A. “It should be”

This can go on and on, I’m sure I’m being over dramatic and this never happens in your plant.

tumblr_ltny25o6Zs1qen75u

Lets take the “Magic Finger” out for a spin and see what that conversation looks like

Q. “Do we have a spare shaft”

A1. “I don’t know, my “Magic Finger” did not see it or touch it so I’m shutting the “F” up”

A2. “Yes”

A3. “No”

This seems much simpler to me, but then again I’m a simple guy.

Moral of the Story:

Being able to communicate clearly and succinctly doesn’t happen overnight. It takes work and work takes tools. The “Magic Finger” is a tool; it is a tool that gets used over and over again and again. It has never failed me although I have failed it many times

Rule of Thumb:

Listen to the answers you get, If they are not to your liking, teach them about their “Magic Finger”

 

Directors Cut Notes

Socrates would be in the middle of a conversation about the job and suddenly hold up his crooked pointer finger and if someone had not touched whatever we were speaking about (usually me in the beginning) all conversation would stop and you had to go out right then and there and come back with a dirty fingertip or he would not speak to you.

After I was fully indoctrinated in the “Magic Finger” society when these instances would happen (He holding is finger up) I would respond with my own one finger salute (the pointer finger, not everything is R rated!)

Once this ground rule was established (as well as many others) it was truly amazing to do great things with Socrates and never have to really say anything.

The highest expression of this seamless team work was that we were able to design and install a class “A” project in a nuclear plant with non-nuclear trained mechanics. In 6 months we demo’d 41 tons of stainless by hand, ran hundreds of feet of pipe, converted 3 fifty foot high tanks all while the engineers designed it in the field with us. We did all this while maintaining all of the nuclear class A package standards. Team work doesn’t even begin to describe it.

It’s Been Lovely Having You…Now Get The F**k Out

The fat lady singing

Other luminaries have expressed the same sentiment as

“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”               

Ben Franklin

“Making a long stay short is a great aid to popularity.”         

Kin Hubbard

“My evening visitors, if they cannot see the clock should find the time in my face.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Alas, I’m from Jersey, I said it was lovely having you…that’s nice right?  For the last part, well I was trying to make a point and get everyone’s attention all at the same time…perhaps I over shot.

The Point

In every outage there comes a time when the “work style” has to shift dramatically.

What do I mean by that?  Well I’m glad you asked.

The beginning of the outage is all about motion and moving material, whether it is demo going out or new material coming in, it’s all about motion.

When I was I @ Con Ed,  my division’s management (which included me) went to Rutgers to have our business studied (We were a 1000 man outage gang made up of Con Ed workers represented by the utility workers union. We did all the work in the stations, there was nary a contractor seen on sight. Times are different now but I digress). The Rutgers people came up with a matrix for evaluating our work during an outage and the matrix was called “Moving the Metal”. We (the Forman) were literally measured and ranked on how much metal we moved on average.

“Moving the Metal” is a must for a great outage, but it is not the only thing

So, what do I mean “work style”? Well “Moving the Metal” is one work style and the other is what I will call “Close Out”

During the “Moving the Metal” phase you see sparks from torches, hot rods, gouging rigs and grinders. The “pretty blue light” illuminates the space with almost a magical aura. Huge slabs of tired, used and abused metal leave only to be replaced by shiny new. People are moving, rigging, burning, welding, building scaffold. This action is so heady, when it works; it’s like a bizarre ballet with each tutu adorned ballerina hitting their marks to the sounds of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (for your listening pleasure )

Although… it probably looks more like this:

(The Hippos from Fantasia).

During the “Close Out” phase our valorous Valkyries turn into the most austere pedantic DMV clerks you can possibly imagine. “But why?” you cry out “I like the Valkyries, they are so much more sexy then a DMV clerk!” Aha, this is exactly the point of the speech:  it is very hard to see the DMV clerk as sexy as riding horseback through the air and filling Valhalla with the valiant, but trust me they are and more.

“Moving the Metal” and “Close Out” phases are equally essential to have a great outage. A missing gasket, shield, bolt, piece of membrane etc. etc. although small can and will bring the unit down and often the lost revenue cost’s more than a day or two of the outage.

What’s a girl to do?

People don’t instantly change from a screaming Valkyries to a pencil pushing DMV clerk…

Again I say aha, you’re right!

You need to get their attention pretty startlingly as if to throw a bucket of ice water into each any every face. You can’t throw water at people (creates a slip hazard, Safety First!), but you can give them a little shock and awe hence the phraseology. When someone of my gentle demeanor says “Get the F**K Out!” generally people notice that something has changed.

The close out is second only to the planning, in regards to importance of a great outage. It is however a different way of being. Instead of running around and lots of motion as in “Moving the Metal” there is just slow deliberate choreographed steps marching every closer to completion.

It is the Outage Manager’s decision of when to call the switch in work styles. Too early is better than too late always, but like Goldilocks “just right” takes some practice.

The Story     

There I was, just a poor simple little (well not so little) Gorilla, minding my own business and …

Wait a minute, that doesn’t make any sense.

Well glad you caught that… let me explain. You see I used to refer to myself as a Gorilla in a cage and when there was a problem they would let the Gorilla out and Gorilla would go make fix (not proper English, I know, but we are talking about a gorilla)

Back to the story, I was (as a Gorilla) a turnaround expert for power plants at the time of this story (still am now just less the Gorilla) I joined a plant in need of a turnaround just 30 days before their major outages.

We planned and planned, the plant was not welcoming to say the least, but luckily I was quite a big and scary Gorilla let’s not forget.

The outage went very well except towards the end, it seemed that no one knew how to close out an outage.  It was like Dawn of the Dead. People were walking around with vacant stares and seemingly no direction. I kept going from job to job, Forman to Forman, Lead man to Lead man…nothing!!!! The zombies were winning.

tumblr_mu7u8oMwzg1rknybpo1_500

I was getting madder and madder, we had done everything so well but nobody could close out and moreover it seemed that no one had a clue of how to do it. Well this Gorilla, although at times, in certain conditions and zodiac alignments, has the patience of job, was steaming out of the ears.

At the night meeting I lost it

I thanked everybody for all the hard work…Zombies

I said we really need to finish….Zombie groans

You need to follow the entire close out processes we had created….Zombie stares.

The Gorilla had had enough “YOU NEED TO GET THE F**K OUT NOW!!!”  in full Pavarotti.

tumblr_ml9mcx1yO11qknodqo1_500

 (to really get a good visual of what this looked like;

from http://theoutageexperts.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/outages-101-dont-be-penny-wise-and-dollar-foolish/   “Here I need to take a minute again to describe me for those of you who have yet the pleasure of meeting me. Body: Shrek meets Luca Brasi meets and average sized bear, Face: wise, warm, insightful, angelic some have said. However when mad ….well you know the cartoons when steam comes pouring out of the guys ears, That plus my eyes bulging out of my head like Roger Rabbit and to top it off a loud booming voice that can put Pavarotti to shame”)

All of the sudden the spell was broken, the vacant stares of the Zombies started to slip away, color came back to their faces, the light shown in their eyes once again. Everyone started, slowly at first, about what they needed to do to close out each of their areas. We talked about how the close out was different than the last week had been, It’s all about the details it’s not about speed. Completion matters, closing doors matter, getting everything signed off matters, not how much metal did you move today.

 The reason everyone became a “Zombie” was because they were stuck in “Move the Metal mode” and there was not metal to move.

The speech became known as the “Get the F**k out” speech”. As years went by many contractor owners and management would travel just to be in the room to hear its delivery for themselves. I still get calls from people who know the speech and want to come by and hear it, if they are in the neighborhood at the right time.

These days I’m less Gorilla more Orangutan (you know older, wiser) and because I know there is a switch needed I prepare for it and communicate it much much better so the speech doesn’t have quite the same punch, but it shakes the Zombies up and out (there’s always a few Zombies) even to this day.

The Ten Commandments

moses

Like Moses coming down from the mountain top I have been gone for 40 day and 40 nights.

My measurement of 40 days and 40 nights is more in line with Clarence Darrow’s

Portrayed by Spencer Tracy in “Inherit the Wind”

In reality, just a fancy way of saying a long time. Now back to my allegory

I have descended from the mount with the ten commandments of a great outage.

  1. Honor thy Outage, it’s different treat it as such
  2. Thou shall be safe
  3. Thou shall realize nothing is easy, you must make everything as easy as possible
  4. There shall be only one Boss, pick one
  5. Thou shall not talk about what thee has not seen
  6. Thou shall inspect once, completely, quickly and mark everything consistently 
  7. Thou shall not complain,  either shoot em’ or make the girl feel pretty
  8. Thou shall track the money every day
  9. Thou shall order on Thursday what thee needs over the weekend
  10. Honor the close out,  is different than the rest of the outage

Sounds impressive doesn’t  it?

Well I’m no Moses

In reality I was just trying to create a clear concise list of what to do and not to do. When I started to make the list I thought of the Ten Commandments and I got all Charlton Heston on myself.  I had visions of people printing it up like posters and hanging these pithy rules all over the place.

But I’m just a guy from Jersey with a bunch of stories (some funny, some horrible) that people call experience. Below is my list, I reserve to right to update it and change it from time to time. I didn’t come up with all this stuff in a vacuum. It’s the result of interactions that have taken place over the 250 outages that I’ve had the honor to be a part of.

Please forward me any feedback to make the list better

My list looks like this

1. Outages Are Different

An analogy that I often use is a plant is like a NASCAR race and most of the time the car is on the track going round and round. This is the plant running when the car comes in for a PIT stop this is the plant in the outage. How odd would it be if the car pulled in the PIT and then the driver goes out to change the tires? In the end for a car to win, somebody drives the car and somebody else runs the PIT stop.

Blogs that pertain to this are

Money Ball

You’re not Dorothy and this Aint OZ

Outages 101 Don’t Be Penny Wise and Dollar Foolish

The Magic Finger

       2.      Safety is about focus, not forms.

Look somebody in the eyes and if you see crazy don’t put that guy on the crane. Sounds simple right? That’s because it is, in today’s world we have all sorts of certifications, training and licenses. That’s all well and good but it’s been my horrific experience that the fatal accidents all happen when someone has a problem of a personal nature that has their attention elsewhere while they are on the job. It’s all of our jobs to realize that in each other and say something.

Blogs that pertain to this are

It’s Not A FKing Ice Cream Parlor

Common Sense Safety

The Things That Don’t Work Don’t Get Used

 

       3.      The easier you make something, the easier it is

YOGI BERRA

                Straight from the Yogi Berra archives. Outages affect the plants bottom line in three ways, downtime, material costs and contractor costs. All of these items can be significantly affected with just some

Questions…How do we do this faster?

Thought…Well if we bought three impact guns it would go faster

Planning…Get three impact guns by the next outage

Observation…Well that worked better next time we should stage the plates before the outage

Change…Whatever you need to, to get better

Blogs that pertain to this are

Now Row in the Same Direction

Get in the FKing Boat

The Art of War, Six Sigma and a Guy from Jersey

Sit Down Shut Up and Do What I Say

 

             4.      The chain of command is there for a reason

                Be clear on who reports to who and who’s the boss. Contractors get told what to do by everybody…not good. Engineers generally feel that they report to nobody…not good.

The story about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

                                There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.

                                Everybody was sure 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 actually Nobody asked Anybody”

Blogs that pertain to this are

Every Ship Needs A Captain

5.      If you didn’t see it or touch it shut the fuck up!!!!

That’s right 4 exclamation points (I still think I need more but let’s move on). Let’s go back to the PIT stop shall we. Imagine the guy changing the tire on the right front stops in mid PIT stop and walks over to the PIT boss and says “I heard the gas guy say that the gas can is too heavy”(just writing this makes me get my “angry eyes” out). A great outage has very little talking during it. Prior to the outage you should be exhausted with how much you talk but once the bell rings it’s time to shut up.

Blogs that pertain to this are

The Magic Finger

The Only Way to Find a Leak, Stick the Magic Finger in the Hole

 

6.      Get the engineers in and out

It takes a lot of conversation and planning to get all you can during the inspection of the unit. To get the inspection done completely you need to sit down and identify all the things you need to see during the outage including how you are going to measure and mark what you see. You need to develop tracking systems to record the as found conditions. You need to agree on what color paint means what. As found work is the major variable of any outage. The faster you inspect everything the more time you have to react and manage the emerging work scopes.

Blogs that pertain to this are

Engineers, Engineers Everywhere and Not a Scope to Execute

Your Outages iPod

 

7.      Never complain about under-performance…do something!!!!

Yes more exclamation points. If someone or some company is under performing you only have two choices, change them out or live with it. If you can change them out, do it. If you can’t, live with it and please just shut up about it. Constantly berating someone is never, I repeat never, a good idea. It makes the beratee feel like shit (do you do your best when you feel like shit?) and it implies that the boss (the berator) has no balls (My jersey coming out) which weakens the boss’s authority over the entire project. Not to mention that everyone is watching and you are training everyone in your plant how to act. The last contractor that fell down on the job, I got them tea (to keep them healthy) food brought in (to keep them feed and on the job) and thanked them for all their efforts everyday…because we had no other choice.

Blogs that pertain to this are

Always Make the Girl Feel Pretty

8. You have to know where the money is every day, cost to date and cost to complete

If your daily planning meeting reviews a schedule that’s 24 to 36 hours old and you go over costs as a percent complete of each project…let me save you some time, it’s never going to work. You need to close the books every shift from a dollar stand point and to do that the schedule has to be accurate as well. If it takes a department to get management these numbers   then stop, It’s never going to be correct or worth it. You system should be simple and accurate. We have developed a system that will tell you cost to date and cost to finish with 5% 4 hours after the end of each shift. It’s not a sale plug it’s just to let you know it’s possible and to set the mark to be beat.

9.      Stock the air and gas rack on Friday like you aren’t getting a delivery for a week

A bottle of Argon cost $65 (In 1996 dollars, That’s when I first gave this speech)

That same bottle of Argon can cost $16,200 on a Sunday

  • 10 contractors @ $120/hr             $1,200
  • Delay scaffold coming down           $5,000
  • Loss of revenue                                    $5,000
  • Employee OT                                         $5,000

The same bottle of Argon after the outage is $65. Argon doesn’t go bad.

10.  Every outage starts out asses and elbows but somewhere near the end it changes

At some point during the outage you have to get everyone’s focus to shift from production to close out. During production everything is about “how much got done?” . During close out everything is about “Is everything complete and signed off? ”. These are two vastly different ways of operation and the outage manager has to signal that team needs to change focuses. Back in the day I used to do this during one of the daily outage meetings I a speech I titled “It’s been lovely having you all here, now get the fuck out!”

11.  You need to have two meetings a day during outages

Wait there’s more than ten? What’s going on? Rule #1 outages are different. Outages are a team sport. What team do you see in any sport that doesn’t huddle up in some fashion? The meetings should not be long; however every contractor Forman should be there. Cover safety first, then production and then schedule. Here’s a secret – no one likes to finish last. The contractors will compete with each other to not to be last.

Viking Laws

Viking Laws

viking4

Be Brave and Aggressive

Be direct
Grab all opportunities. Use varying methods of attack
Be versatile and agile
Attack one target at a time
Don’t plan everything in detail
Use top quality weapons

Be Prepared

Keep weapons in good condition
Keep in shape
Find good battle comrades
Agree on important points
Choose one chief

Be a Good Merchant

Find out what the market needs
Don’t make promises that you can’t keep
Don’tdemand overpayment
Arrange things so that you can return

Keep the Camp in Order

Keep things tidy and organized
Arrange enjoyable activities which strengthen the group
Make sure everyone does useful work
Consult all members of the group for advice

 

Now, Row in the Same Direction

No outage is done by one heroic being.  It’s a collection of people and efforts make an outage successful. Hence the problem — the more people you have, the more you need to communicate, and (let’s face it) ours is not a wonderfully communicative tribe. A miscommunication during an outage costs and costs big.  Each miscommunication, on average, costs $5,000 (a conservative estimate). On top of all this, an outage requires decisions to be made and communicated constantly just to keep the ball rolling.

So, what’s a girl to do?

This is a two-sided problem: people on one side and things to do on the other.

In my experience, people do well, doing what they like to do. I’m not a psychologist. It’s just a principle that I have picked up along the way, and, after over two hundred outages, a principle that I wholeheartedly agree with.

So, when planning an outage, I generally make a list of all the things to do (my “Zone” concept), and then, I match the people to each “Zone” based on what they like to do.

Notice how I didn’t say, “I match people to the work according to their job title.” I bet you, being my most astute colleagues, noticed.

Personalities and egos often get in the way. Wishing people were different as in “You’re not Dorothy and this Ain’t Oz” doesn’t do you any good and can be a huge issue as illustrated by the “Head Flying Monkey” part in this blog.

Again, what’s a girl to do? (The “Girl” part of this is much funnier to those of you who know me.)

Once you lay out your grid of what needs to be done (“Zones”) and your grid of who’s doing it, then the fun begins. Some matches need no, let’s say “massaging” for lack of a better word. The ones that do, you need to start a rubbin’. If you have no other choice, then you have to “Always Make the Girl Feel Pretty,” and do what you have to do.

First, you need everyone to “Get in the F**king boat.” That’s a feat in itself, but you’re not done. Now everyone has to row. If it’s not in the same direction, you are going nowhere fast!

THE POINT: Once the breaker opens (the start of the outage), you want to manage as little as possible. That way when the “What are we going to do about this?” moment shows up, you have all you faculties at your disposal. Outages Managers should not look busy and frazzled. Watch these videos about a PIT stop. The crew chief (the guy who runs the PIT stop) isn’t even mentioned.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQQbEfr9irE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=rHnrtNAWx6g&feature=endscreen

Let’s put this into perspective.  Take an outage that costs ten million dollars, has a duration of three weeks and a down day loss of revenue cost of $600,000. (This works out to a 500 MW plant @ $50 per MW)

Each day costs                                 $1,076,190 ($600,000 loss revenue plus $476,190 cost of the outage)

Each hour costs                               $44,841

Each Minute costs                            $747

Each second costs                           $12

If you saved one day on this outage, you would affect the bottom line of your plant by $596,190 (assuming 20% of the $600,000 of revenue and the $476,190 of the daily cost). What would you do with $600,000 for just one day? That’s a pretty good payday to me.

THE STORY:  The outage I describe in “The Magic Finger” is the same outage in “When You See A Snake Kill It.” Here is another lesson from that outage. You see, before this outage, the management structure was this: Foreman who reported to a General Foreman who reported to a Project Manager. A Planner reported to the Project Manager but usually worked for the General Foreman.

Well, we had just gone through a companywide push called “Empowerment.” (This is circa 1992-1993.) Management had decided that the “General Foreman” title was unnecessary, so they made each General Foreman a “Foreman.”  On this particular job, we wound up with a bunch of General Foremen (now just Foremen). I was promoted to Planner at the same time they were demoted to Foremen. Not good!!!!

But, we had a job to do, and, with the ever patient Socrates at the helm, we absorbed all of these lemons and made lemonade.

We had a Tool Room General manage our tools and the tool room staff. Our tool control was never better.

We had a Turbine General unload and stage twenty-three tractor-trailer loads of insulation. He had a blast, and everything was right where you needed it!

We had a Boiler General running the UT inspection of the boiler. We flapper-wheeled the entire boiler (a 1000 MW boiler) in four days.

The stories go on and on.  The result? For the first time in a very long time, our division finished a 117,000 man hour job on time and under budget.

That’s the effect when everyone rows in the same direction.

Get in the F**king Boat

When I took over a project, outage or plant, I had a certain je ne sais quoi best illustrated by the phrase “Sit down, shut up and do what I say.”

Needless to say, not everybody was happy with working for me, but hey that’s life in the big city. When people aren’t happy they act out in all kinds of manners of passive aggressive behavior. I had the “Oh, I didn’t understand you” the “Oh ….ahh I know that what you said but, I thought this would be better” and my favorite “I didn’t want to bother you” or it’s redheaded cousin “I couldn’t get in touch with you”.

In all of my experience I have NEVER had any of my direct reports ever directly disobey me so when It happened, I was…..confused. I didn’t know that move was even an available option. The scene I describe in “Why don’t you make them listen to your tapes” is an absolute true story. I had no idea what to do with the staff of this plant, Fire them all? A bit extreme, but like I said, not doing as I command was so foreign to me that I had no idea what to do

Would I really fire all the management of the plant?  No. Would I create a situation that they would all leave? Absolutely. If not for my son’s idea it would have gotten ugly.

When I showed up with the first tape and told everyone that would have to listen to it, it was clearly a statement of “get in the f**king boat or else!” Although it probably did not look like that at all.

What happened when we started to listen to the tapes was that everyone did get in the boat. It gave the team a common language and let them hear what I was trying to tell them without their need to resist me because I said it.

When it was all said and done we listened to four tapes and at the end of those 4 weeks we all got along swimmingly. The plant, that just a year before was the worst plant in the company, broke every production & safety record at the same time, with the same team.

Here are the tapes that we listened to with a brief description of what I think the best points of each tape is

By Tom Peters

For me this tape should be the start of any new initiative. It has a great line “change happens in an instant” and it’s a true. So many people talk about how difficult change is and how long it takes, but in reality you can change anything instantly. It’s maintaining the change that takes effort. I have used so many of the lessons of this book that 10 plus years later I still use gems like “dougnuting”, “spring cleaning” and “the bump into principle” on a daily bases. I personally resonate with Tom Peters and love all his works. I highly recommend him to any and all management in our industry. Please visit his website , or click on the picture to find him on Amazon.

By Dr. Wess Roberts

The tape is recorded like Attila is sitting around a camp fire just instructing his Huns. Every vignette of Attila speaking to his Huns is a gem. An example, directly from one page of the book:

On Tolerance

  • Every Hun has a value- even if to serve as a bad example
  • The error in appointing an incompetent chieftain is in leaving him in a position of authority over other Huns
  • To experience the strength of chieftains we tolerate some of their weaknesses
  • Suffer long for the mediocre but loyal Huns. Suffer not for competent but disloyal Huns.

The magic of this tape is that it establishes a code of conduct that everyone in the plant starts to follow. So as things happen in the plant we would discuss what Attila would say about this or that and then the group, not me, would decide the fate of a particular decision.

The tape is great; I fell in love with it all over again preparing for this. The biggest point behind all of this is a plant is a collection of people and their habits. If a plant is not doing well it is always because of the habits of the personnel of the plant. Here is where 99% of managers go wrong, they try and get the personnel to stop their bad habits. You can’t stop doing something; you can only start doing something else. Attila’s entire lesson’s for his Huns are the habits of a successful plant. Just start doing them.

By Dr. David Schwartz

There is a basic principle I live my life by - if you can dream it you can achieve it. I may have gotten that little gem from this or any of the hundred other self-improvement tapes. The point is you have to imagine what you want before you can go out and create it. From Mathew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” To do this you have to ask for something and that’s where the imagination comes in.

The Magic of Thinking Big got everyone on the team to imagine something new. We lamped up the plant for holidays like the Empire State Building. We designed a new safety program called “Common Sense Safety” that had toys in meetings, which received acknowledgement from OSHA. None of these things could have been done without first “Thinking Big.”

By Marcus Buckingham & Dr. Donald Clifton

I suck at spelling, grammar and punctuation. I spell so bad, I stump spell check. Spelling and writing are not strengths of mine, however, communication is. Supposedly 85% of communication is nonverbal and I agree. So what’s a girl to do? Do I burn the midnight oil and practice my spelling in hopes to be mediocre at some point (Here’s a hint….HELL NO!) I do what I’m great at, and get somebody who is great at spelling and grammar to go through what I write. (So when you read a blog and there are misspelling and grammar issues all over the place you should know that I was most likely pressed for time and posted it myself, my secret is now out) Thank you to all that help me.

The point is, do what your great at. Find someone else to do what you’re not great at. In so many plants I have seen so many people plotting along doing stuff because it’s their job. While it’s true that stuff needs to get done, it is also true if you let people do what they are naturally good at, you will get better performance with less management. So listen to the book, take that test, and get your personnel doing what they are great at. Your job will be easier and your performance will go up.

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.