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



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.



 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 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.

An Outage Carol

“I don’t care it’s no excuse, the outage was over budget by 28% and it took three weeks longer than expected. That’s millions of dollars and that’s why you’re not getting your Christmas bonuses this year” said the new Senior Corporate Regional Operations Oversight General Executive (The SCROOGE for short) to the plant manager and his team. “we have obligations to our shareholders to bring a profit to them. After all they deserve a return of their investment. It was their investment that created the jobs that pay you. You should be thankful for your jobs and if you want a bonus next year learn how to control your outages everything else you do is fine”. With that the new SCROOGE packed up his briefcase “I’ll be late for my plane, I’ve got to go, I don’t want to miss my Christmas”

The car waiting for him in the plants parking lot scurried him off to the airport. At the airport security he breezes through the frequent flyer line. He checks his pre printed boarding pass as he walks up to the gate and he is in luck they begin boarding first class just as he walks up. He settles into his seat puts his things away and breathes a sigh of relief, traveling during the holidays is always such a crap shoot one minute your good and then you’re not and there’s nothing you can do about it.

As the plane lifts off the runway he thinks to himself “Now I can relax I’m off for a week and we are in the air nothing stopping us now” and with that he breaths an audible sigh of relief. “That’s a big load off your shoulders eh brother” came for the man sitting next to our SCROOGE. “I love flying first class don’t you” again from the adjacent seat. SCROOGE turned to look at the man sitting next to him he hadn’t noticed him getting on the plane, as he did a meaty hand greeted him “I’m TOE” he said with a chuckle “I fix things, what do you do?” Our SCROOGE, still connected to the meaty hand started to bounce from the handshaking, TOE Looked like a mix of St. Nick, a bear and a strange resemblance to Shrek. “I’m the Senior Corporate Regional Operations Oversight General Executive for a power company” answered our SCROOGE “Well that’s a mouthful” roared TOE “How about I just call you OG for the rest of trip, that OK with you?” it was our SCROOGE didn’t really like his title anyway. “Well OG what do you do?”

Our SCROOGE spent the flight telling TOE everything. He felt strange, he never disclosed this much to anyone at work, how could he?  Everything was so political in his world, you couldn’t just talk freely, you had to be worried about every little thing. It felt good talking to TOE he was understanding of all the different perspectives that had to be handled by our SCROOGE every day. “you know TOE if we could just get our outages under control we would be able to really do well by both the shareholders and the plant personnel. But when you blow an outage its millions of dollars, both in cost and in lost revenue. Nowadays the outages have to be shorter and shorter I just don’t know how we’re going to do it”. TOE laughed, it took our SCROOGE back, “why are you laughing?”

“Let me guess, you keep trying harder and harder and the outages seem to get worse and worse, is that right?” asked TOE. “Well I wouldn’t say worst but defiantly not better “answered our SCROOGE.

“You know a pretty smart fella said doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, why don’t you try something different?”.

“What would we try?  Power plants and outages have been around for a 100 years what could be different?” asked our SCROOGE.

“Well I don’t know about 100 years ago but I’m 45 and when I was young we had one black and white TV with only 7 channels and one rotary dialed phone so things have changed just a bit in my 45 years” This struck a chord with our SCROOGE. “Here try this website, when you get home I bet they have something different for you” TOE handed our SCROOGE a card and with that the plane touched down. As they came to the gate and our SCROOGE got up and got his bags together he turned to thank TOE for the sympathetic ear, he felt much better, but as he turned to shake TOE’s meaty fist, he was gone.  “Strange” he thought, but maybe he had to get somewhere.

Our SCROOGE got home Christmas eve and had a great holiday with his wife and kids. The day after Christmas he settled into his home office to catch up on his work. Most people in the plant don’t realize that time off for our SCROOGE just meant that he wasn’t in the office it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t working. There was research to do, conference calls to be on, contracts to review, financials to figure out, reports to read and emails to answer. Each thing he had to think about from all the different perspectives that had to be considered, employee safety, earnings, future earnings, environmental performance and concerns, regulations etc. etc. the list goes on and on. At the end of his day he cleaned out his brief case and in his hand he found the card that TOE had given him with nothing but the website on it, he typed it in his browser and clicked on the Enter key. On the screen appeared “Thank you for your interest, later on this evening you be visited by three ghost’s do not be scared they are here to help”. Our SCROOGE sat back “figures just another crackpot, what kind of name is TOE anyway”. He shut the computer down and went on with his night.

His wife and children had gone to bed, Our SCROOGE was up watching a movie, he could sleep in the morning, a rarity. He got up to get a midnight snack and as he opened the frig a great white light burst forth and sucked him into the frig. He was immediately transported to a 40’ cargo container flying through time and space, inside stood a man, smoking a cigarette, drinking coffee and yelling the most vulgar and protracted set of explicative’s into the phone with an Irish brogue that was close to undecipherable. He pointed at our SCROOGE and motioned for him to come closer. Our SCROOGE did so, the smoky  mad Irishmen stuck his hand out and our SCROOGE did the same. Soon our SCROOGE was on his knees caught in the iron grip of the filthy mouth oversized leprechaun. With an evil look in his eye and a mischievous grin on his lips the yellow fingered apparition released our SCROOGE while shouting “Have a nice day buddy”. As our SCROOGE got up off the floor, the ghost spoke “I’m the f**king Ghost of f**king outages past, let’s take a f**king walk”. Off they went, the ghost was hard to understand, there was a lot of swearing, almost every other word it seemed like, and the brogue make nothing easy either. Our SCROOGE none the less absorbed a great many images of the way outages were. They took 4 to 6 months, they were major jobs, planned years in advanced. Outages consisted of wall replacements, pendant change outs, basket bottoms, turbine overhauls, generator rewinding. It took 100’s of men working 12 hour and 16 hour shifts for months straight without a day off. Each unit had a major outage every 5 years and the utility held this as gospel. Certainly not what went on in today’s day and age. Something stuck though, these crews did nothing but outages and the way they moved and executed work was very different than the day to day operations of a plant. They knew everything about each piece of equipment. There was a tremendous amount of field supervision with a clear line on command  That was interesting, as soon as these thoughts gelled up in our SCROOGE’s head he found himself standing in front of his frig holding a carton of milk reeking of cigarette smoke. “What the heck was that” he shook his head and poured himself a glass of milk and went back to the TV.

Still absorbing what had or had not happened he began flipping through the channels, he paused on a motor home commercial.  As he listened to the commercial he suddenly realized that he was in a motor home driving down the interstate and the commercial announcer was the driver. Where are we going asked our SCROOGE, “to the next outage, we’re the tube guys we show up take the old tubes out and put new tubes in” The driver was a tall lanky dark hair well spoken man “I’m the ghost of outages present if you haven’t figured that out yet but you can call me Chris it’s easier” he stuck his hand out and after the last experience our SCROOGE was hesitant, Chris laughed, ”I’m not like the past its safe” our SCROOGE shook his hand just as they were pulling into a plant. Chris was a far cry from the last ghost, he was well spoken, he had been an English teacher, he was well tempered and patent. Chris showed our SCROOGE everything he and his crew were doing, they were very knowledgeable. When our SCROOGE asked Chris about the NDE, Chris shrugged his shoulders and said it’s not our job. It was the same for the scaffolding, sandblasting, mechanical work it seemed that Chris was an expert in what he was doing but had no knowledge or care about anything else. Chris explained that the overall knowledge of everything was supposed to be the responsibility of the plant. He went on the explain that the plant never did any of this type of work during its operation so finding someone in the plant who knew everything was not something that happened very often. Our SCROOGE said “well where does a plant guy get this experience?” Chris shook his head “just bouncing around I guess”. Our SCROOGE said “that won’t work” and he suddenly found himself sitting in his chair in front of the TV once again.

From behind him he heard a chuckle, it was the same chuckle he had heard on the plane he turned to find TOE. “I’m far less dramatic then my fellow shades” said TOE “come over here I made some coffee you’re going to need it”. As the two of them made their coffee they walked into the dining room and in the center of the table was a huge crystal ball. “Like I said, I’m much less flashy, just look into the crystal at the outages of the future and watch; when you’re finished we’ll have a talk”. Our SCROOGE watched and what he saw amazed him. Outage after outage on time and on budget all executed by the plant personnel and all the contractors came and went with proper supervision and quality. The plant budgets came under control and the skills that the plant personnel gained during the outages grew new and better supervision and more well rounded management. After what seemed like hours our SCROOGE looked away and the crystal vanished. “Well, did you like what you saw?”. “Yes, how do we get from where we are now to there” our SCROOGE pointed to the spot where the crystal had been. “By doing something different than what you are currently doing” said TOE. “Wait let me get a pad” said our SCROOGE. “Don’t bother, I know a guy who can help, a real guy not one of us shades. He will train your people and get them running great outages, here is his card”

Twas the Night before the Outage

 Twas the night before the outage, when all through the plant
Not a creature was stirring, not even a Gantt.
The tubes were hung by the stack with care,
In hopes that all the contractors soon would be there.

The accountants were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of lower cost’s danced in their heads.
And Operations in their permits, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long nights nap.

When out in the lot there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the office to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the blinds and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Winnebago, and eight trailers being towed in the rear.

With a little old driver, so lively and curt,
I knew in a moment it must be The Outage Expert.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the dancefloor! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the boiler house the coursers they flew,
With the trailers full of Tubes, and The Outage Expert too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the boiler
The clanging and banging of each little toiler.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the stack The Outage Expert came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Tubes he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the holes, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the stack he rose!

He sprang to his Winnebago, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

From all of us at The Outage Expert

Just a bit of fun

Happy Holidays everyone

The things that don’t work don’t get used

Why are Safety programs tolerated not embraced. Shouldn’t it be the other way around shouldn’t our employees be so happy to participate in safety training and programs because they know that it will keep the well, whole and intact in a very dangerous occupation. Why does any facility have to enforce a safety policy?

How many deep sea divers don’t check the tanks before they go in the water, or skydivers who don’t check their parachute before going up in the plane? I’m sure there are but I’m just as sure they don’t last long

Would any of us use a car that didn’t work to commute to work? I think not

The things that don’t work don’t get used

What does this mean for us? Simple if you have to enforce any part of your safety policy then that part doesn’t work. It’s not rocket science it’s common sense, to be specific it’s Common Sense Safety™

THE POINT: Safety programs at their best cost money time and effort at their worst lives. Beyond this what about a safety program the increase’s your plants profits and safety performance at the same time. I can hear you now “Oh yeah and while you’re at it throw in a few Unicorns, an Abominable Snowman, three pixies and just to wrap it up a dozen genies in the bottle, have Santa drop it off”  but I assure you it can be done, I’ve done it.  

THE STORY: I was working for a company that had a very extensive safety program. We had meetings and meetings and meetings, we forms to fill out, books to audit, surprise compliance inspections, OSHA VVP status, safety; committees, work orders and incentives. We had near miss forms, tail gate talks, Job hazard forms and root cause analysis. It was all very impressive and we (well not me, I was always so confused) spent all sorts of time, effort and I’m sure a whole bunch of other stuff I didn’t even know about on safety.

We had to have management safety meetings with all the managers. Then the managers where supposed to have meetings with their supervisors and then the supervisors were to meet with their direct reports. We were supposed to do this every month…eeeegads.

One managers meeting someone had left a blow up beach ball in the boardroom. I immediately started playing with it bouncing it on the table, wall, chairs and other people in the room. The guy running the meeting, let’s call him Mr. Uptight was getting more and more frustrated with me and my ball. He asked me to stop it, deflate the ball and pay attention, being the mature manager that I was I said “NO!” and continued to play.

While playing with my ball, I wasn’t falling asleep, doodling or trying to mentally transport myself to anywhere else, really anywhere … I was actively listening. As I started playing a game of conference table volleyball with the manager on the other side of the table, I actually started to comment about what we were talking about (Strange I never commented).I actually starting to get engaged, as I started to talk again (still batting the ball around) Mr. Uptight turned and saw that I was passing the ball around and got so pissed he stabbed the ball with his pen….meeting over.

The next month we all shuffled into the boardroom ready to endure yet another dull, tiresome, tedious safety meeting, I missed my beach ball, silently I shouted WILSON!!! Front and center stood Mr. Uptight, with a strange gleam in his eye. I sat, girded my loins (at least I like to think I did) and started to identify with Jack Nicholson in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest and Mr. Uptight was my own personnel Nurse Ratched.

When we were all seated Mr. Uptight, with a flourish, pulled from behind him a large shopping bag and began to walk around the room. Our instructions were to close our eyes and reach it the bag grab something. The first of us reached into the bag, a hush fell over the room, would he have his hand? It was very tense in the room. His hand came out of the bag clutching a can of……Playdough. We were all stunned, what kind of new torture was this? Surely Mr. Uptight was just retaliating from last month, there must be a piranha or something equally harmful in the bag the first guy must have just gotten lucky. The next hand came out of the bag with a fist full of balloons.

Mr. Uptight had lost it, time to call the Happy Farm and tell them they would be receiving another gleeful participant. He didn’t say a word until he got back to the front of the room. We all sat dumbfounded and confused. A room full of managers all with a toy in our hands, a Yo-Yo, Silly Putty, Playdough, A Pinky,  a Paper Airplane, etc. etc. 

Mr. Uptight laughed at all of our expressions, he then explained and apologized. He went on to explain that he couldn’t stand the way the meetings were either and the most productive he had ever felt during one of these meetings was when we were playing with the beach ball. He researched the phenomenon and decided to give it a try.

The theory was that, if you were at play then you were more creative.

It worked; we wound up playing with toys during our safety meetings and at the same time designing a safety program called “Common Sense Safety™”. This program did the following

  • Was OSHA’s VVP program, benchmark for employee accountability for years
  • Helped a waste to energy facility go for 14 months without a recordable injury, best in company history
  • Through VVP we trained other plants and facilities on this program
  • The year we developed the “Common Sense Program™” the plant also broke all the production records of the plant, there are no accidents
  • Was one of the building blocks of the plants “worst to first” run in just one year

Safety…It’s not a form you fill out

 “It’s not a F**king Ice cream parlor” had such a great response that I am departing from just speaking about outages for these next two weeks to speak directly about safety.

 Safety is after all the most important component of our industry; I have been “around” 20 industrial deaths. Every single one a tragedy. When I say “around” I mean they happened on Job sites that I was on at the time or Job sites where I was part of the recovery efforts after this most horrible of all events, Thank God, knock on wood, none were my direct reports or under my command at the time of each incident.

 I’m trying not to sensationalize this point, but I have endured nothing more soul scaring than each one of these events. When something happens in real life I’m cool calm and collected…even been described as icy (just for those who haven’t realized yet, that’s because I’m in charge and losing it is not an option). However, I can’t see blood or gore in make believe, I cover my eyes in movies and while watching TV and if it doesn’t end quickly I have to get up and leave the room or theater.

 Throughout all of these events, I have found a remarkable similarity. None of the Individuals were “The new Guy” who just didn’t know any better. They were all people with years of experience and considered well seasoned veterans who had a significant event happen in their personal life outside of work. Their heads were not in the game for that day, for if they were, they would still be here

 If a direct report tells you “I keep my personal life at the door when I come to work” they are absolutely full of it.

 If a Supervisor tells you “keep your personal life out of the work place” run because that individual has no idea how to help you stay safe and they are supposedly in charge.

 If a manager doesn’t understand that people have bad days (and when they do they should be sat on the bench and given a box of crayons for that day) then apply somewhere else it’s not good and won’t be.

 What am I really saying with these examples is this. The thought that any individual can separate work and home is BULLS**T!!!!!!!!!!!. I cannot stress this enough, I cannot stress this enough, I cannot stress this enough etc. etc.

 I hesitate in saying the following for two reasons, first and foremost I do not want to curse the gods with my hubris and secondly at the heart of things I’m just a guy who tries not to do stupid stuff and if I do, I try not to do it again. So I do not think that I am an expert on safety, however my experience would prove me to be. I’ve had thousands, probability tens of thousands, of direct and indirect reports throughout my career and the worst accident was a few stitches and one broken bone (both happened at remote sites where there was no supervision), bear in mind I’ve done over 250 outages and have been in this industry as a supervisor, manager, executive for 20 plus years

The above is simply to establish my bona fides so that the following can be taken as seriously as possible it is my formula for safety on the job. It’s not right, it is simply what I do, It works and if this helps one person it’s worth it

 Points to consider

Most safety policies and procedures are written to isolate the company from liability and they are often written by people who do not actually perform the tasks that the procedure is controlling. The company must be isolated from stupid employees because lord knows they are out there. In my experience you can achieve both company liability isolation and a procedure that actually keeps someone safer than they would be without one. To do this the various safety and compliance experts need to watch the individual performing the task at hand and make that job easier not more complex. When you do this you will be amazed at how well your people adhere to the safety policy

 Most Hourly personnel (for lack of a better way of saying it and the desire to be clear the people who actually do the work) in our industry are what are known as Kinesthetic Learners which is about 15% of the population. Most of the population is either are Visual or Auditory learners and most standardized education is based on this. That’s why most of your technicians are very intelligent but did not do well in school. Kinesthetic people learn by doing, not by talking or looking. All the safety programs I have ever seen sit a kinesthetic person down and try to teach them orally or with visual presentations. If you want to maximize your training efforts test your audience and tailor the delivery of information to fit the crowd

 The eyes are the window to the soul; sounds trite but truer words have never been spoken. Recently I was in a plant assisting them with their outage and the midnight shift’s Forman went on vacation and the leadman quit. This left the shift with no established leader, a dangerous situation normally, even more so during and outage. Someone in the crew stepped up, which always happens, and we started to have a quick talk with the entire crew before they started each shift. I have found that I can look people in the eyes and tell if they are “In the Game or not”, I don’t think I have any superpowers I know everyone can see it they just have to look. The crew would come to where I was camped out we would go over my expectations for the evening, during that time I would look each one in the eye and see where their head was at. About three nights into this routine the new leadman looked horrible, vastly different than he had looked the previous evenings. I told him to go home, he refused, he didn’t want to let the team down, I settled for him not to do anything that night my direct order was “sit on a bucket and point all night”. He didn’t listen, He’s a power plant guy and I’m talking to him about what I feel, what a sissy. He got taken out in an ambulance later that night with an internal sickness that if he had waited just a few hours more he would not have survived. He, at last I checked, is feeling better and on the road to recovery. The point of this is that the eyes have it, I live that and know it deep down and because of it I have a much better than average safety record than anyone I know. Teach your supervisors to look into their direct reports eyes before every shift and it will significantly improve your safety performance.

OSHA is online read it!

. Like I said in “It’s not a F**king Ice Parlor” I have a big problem with what I call the “OSHA Thumpers”. I find that they are generally more concerned with asserting their authority (usually the lack there of) then protecting their fellow worker. Don’t get me wrong we are in the business of getting things done, things most people outside our industry can’t even imagine, and it isn’t easy. In general Power Plants have to adhere to the following CFR’s 1910 and 1926, the more you know the less power the “Thumpers” have


In 1910 these are the top ten areas, right off the OSHA website:

 Bloodborne Pathogens – 1910.1030

 Hazard Communication – 1910.1200

 Respiratory Protection – 1910.134

 Occupational Noise Exposure – 1910.95

 Powered Industrial Trucks – 1910.178

 Permit-required Confined Spaces – 1910.146

 Lockout/Tagout – 1910.147

 Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response – 1910.120

 Guarding Floor and Wall Openings and Holes – 1910.23

Personal Protective Equipment – 1910.132


 Next week I’ll tell you about “The Common Sense Safety Program™” and how it came into being. “The Common Sense Safety Program™” was held as a benchmark for employee accountability by OSHA’s VPP program for many years

Your Not Dorothy and This Ain’t OZ

So why are you clicking your shoes together, saying “There no place like home, There no place like home”?

Although you are not in Kansas anymore once the outage starts that doesn’t mean you’re somewhere over the rainbow either.

Dorothy, kills two witches ,tames an unreasonable wizard, deals with flying monkeys and gets her friends a brain, heart and courage and after all that she misses the balloon ride home. Sounds like an outage to me.

Like Dorothy we all have the ability to get what we want, in this case better Outages, we just have to believe it before we click our heals together.

Outages are to power plants like OZ is to Kansas (and you thought the SAT’s were over). They are similar, but one has witches and flying monkeys trying to kill you, the other is trying to take away your dog. Like I said, similar but definitely different.

THE POINT: Outages cost money and they operate differently than day to day operations. In the above example Dorothy needs the help of Glenda The Good Witch. Glenda laughs at the Wicked Witch of the West and floats into Dorothy’s life just when she needs her.

I’m your Glenda The Good Witch (to get the full humor of this please see the most recent description of myself in Outages 101). I have been up and down the yellow brick road a whole bunch of times and have dealt with more than my share of witches, flying monkeys and disagreeable wizards. I have also handed out many Diplomas’, Testimonials and Medals to more than my fair share of Scarecrows, Tin men and Cowardly Lions.

Although I’d like to think of myself as the “The Great and Powerful Oz”, I’m really just a man behind a curtain who knows what levers to pull and wheels to turn and when to do either or both.

Outages can come in on time and budget, but just like Dorothy, to make that happen you first have to believe.

THE STORY: Once in a land far, far away, perhaps somewhere over the rainbow, a Tim Burton rainbow, I was an Engineering Manager. My Company was with was just completing an acquisition of a plant from Westinghouse and I was the Engineering Due Diligence Manager.

Westinghouse’s Plant Manager, let’s call him the Wicked Witch of the East, and I got into it more than a few times. One of the last tiffs we got into was when he wouldn’t let me in his office, so I told him when we took over his office was going to be mine…..and it was. Not really dropping a house on him, but close enough.

Buying a plant (I’ve been through several) is difficult even when everything goes just right and it never goes just right.  He was just doing his job protecting his company and I was doing mine protecting my company.

After we took over Operations I, like Dorothy, wanted nothing more than to go home. We had a victory dinner with everyone involved and at that dinner the President of the company, let’s call him, The Great and Powerful Oz, told me that my new assignment was to increase the plants availability from the 8 year average of 80% to 92%, I had a budget of 15 million and 18 months to do it in, talk about getting a broom from a witch, yeesh!

So off I went through the Haunted Forest, the plant, on my way to the witch’s castle, the outage.

As a power plant engineer I had a basic logic tree, in my head, when fixing something in a plant that is broken. It worked once; we either, wore something out, changed its use or fixed it wrong. This simple thought process worked for me.  I had fixed a great deal of broken things in many a plant with this little gem.  However I was not in Kansas anymore. To put a point on it, almost every component I looked at was not designed to work in this application. The boiler flue gas velocity was too high because the tubes spacing was too tight, the conveyors were never going to work at the angles they were built to, each ash conveyor shook the control room every time they cycled. Like I said I was not in Kansas anymore.

From April till about August we modeled a whole bunch of changes on every piece of equipment that we could safely test our ideas on.  By the end of August we had a list of modification we would accomplish during the outage in October.

The outage in October (the witch’s castle) would take each of the plants six boilers down with staggered starts so we would never have more than two boilers down at one time.  The entire outage window would be 4 weeks and we would burn up more than 117,000 man-hours in a month.  To say this would be difficult would be an understatement of gigantic proportions.

“The Tin Man”, “The Scarecrow” and I planned an entire outage: contractors, design equipment, order products pieces and parts. We planned an 117,000 man-hour outage in just 4 weeks. My boss at the time “Mr. Red Pencil” from your outages iPod, would definitely be The Cowardly Lion although shaky at the start he would eventually become “KING OF THE FOREST”.

Two week before the outage, the plant was picketed for and virtually shut down for two days, more flying monkeys.

Until the night before the outage I didn’t know if the Union contractors we had selected were going to show more flying monkeys.

The night before the first boiler was coming down the unions let us know that they would be showing up to the outage….phew that’s good now the scaffolds can get built and even some of the boiler work can go on, as well…peachy.

Saturday the first boiler came down, it was a little rocky but it was down and we were started, nothing to do now but make the girls feel pretty or shoot-em.

We planned for the bulk of the manpower to start on Monday morning so that we would minimize overtime.  Monday morning we had better than 150 contractors starting, a big day and this would really be the start of the outage, setting the tone for the rest of the work….I didn’t see the sign “WATCH OUT FOR FLYING MONKEYS….THEY ARE BAD!!!”

Monday morning from about 6 to 10, I welcomed all the different contractors to the site, walked each through their jobs, just to confirm we were all on the same page.  Just before lunch, I went by the first contractor to start to make sure they were set up and going.  Their stuff was there and their guys were just standing there.  OH NO! HELL NO!  This is not going to be the way we start.  My eyes bugged out my safeties started to lift when they said they are still waiting on a permit.

“OH YEAH!!! WELL I’LL FIX THAT RIGHT NOW!!!!” off I went with their Forman to the permit room.  I was thinking all the way to the permit room this is the last time I’m using these guys, I was so pissed that these guys were starting these shenanigans on the first day.  Steam was coming out of my ears and I’m sure I was denting the grating as I walked.

When the permit room came into view, I saw about 10 contractor Forman standing in front of the doors of the permit room. I was confused was everybody slacking off was it some organized thing…no, we had union and non union guys working the same job…maybe they are pissed at each other..hmm maybe. When I got up to them I asked the first one “What’s going on” he replied with the same thing the other Forman had told me. “They’re not giving us any permits”. “Did you ask?” “Why are you out here?” The questions just flew out of my mouth as I walked through them into the permit room.

When I got into the permit room I was greeted by the supervisor in charge of writing permits, he was to be the head flying monkey.  I said “the contractors say that we are not issuing permits” he said “they are right”.  I then asked “why?” He then said “the contractors are not going to be issued permits until their areas were deemed safe”.  I said “how are their areas not safe?” The head flying monkey then started to spout, chapter and verse about safety this, safety that, about mid diatribe I left and went right to the plant manager. I burst in his office and started screaming, in retrospect not the right move, I must have looked like a flying monkey myself. When I had let out all my steam, his response, when he could get a word in was “Safety First”. I had nowhere to turn can’t shoot-em, time to make the girl feel pretty.

I went up and addressed the head flying monkey, “what’s it going to take to get these permits issued?” He said “you simply have to comply with our standards and policies”.  I said “what are we not complying with right now that precludes us from getting a permit?”  He turned around and pointed to the SOPs that were behind him and said “maybe you should read these and then you would know”. I implored, cajoled, persuaded him to the best of my abilities.

That Monday we managed to get one contractor a permit.  The following day, after the right atmosphere was set and the proper coffee and doughnuts were applied, it took us four hours to get all the contractors permits. Eventually, like all flying monkeys, he went away.

This outage in particular has many MANY stories to tell.  The story that’s germane to this conversation is when all was said and done we spent a little north of 13 million dollars on all of our modifications and outages.  And after 18 months the plant had an availability of 91.67%, not 92% I grant you, the President never let me forget it was not 92% either. Finally like Dorothy I was able to go home.

“It’s not a F**k’in Ice Cream Parlor”….

What he meant to say was… “Safety First”

These where the words of one of my earliest mentors in the power plant outage realm; His nickname was “Whacky Mac” and he was the premier boiler expert in an elite division of a prominent utility. He had a grip that would bring a large man to their knees, a finger stained yellow from cigarettes, a brogue that was barely understandable and a management style, not meant for the faint of heart.

It was January 1991 and there were no:

  • Scaffold green tags
  • Five point safety harness
  • Guards on grinders
  • Permit required confined spaces
  • Rigging inspection program
  • Women in the workplace (well, there were 4 out of 1100)
  • Forklift operator training

There was:

  • Smoking in the building, trailers and on the job
  • Drinking at lunch just don’t be drunk
  • Use of the most unbelievable strings of explicative’s to simply to start a conversation and then they would be interwoven throughout the dialog as if to equally glue and grease the words in between.

                Note: When my first son was born I decided I would not swear anymore, for the next three weeks I had the worst performance in the field, finally one day I snapped, I screamed at three mechanics ”pick up the F**king wrench, put it on the F**king bolt, and turn the Mother F**ker”. All three in unison said, “Why didn’t you just say that, you’ve been so weird lately”, so much for my not swearing.

 The Point:  Safety is more than following a procedure or complying with OSHA.  It is a way of conducting yourself and those put in your care. In my experience, safety is about paying attention and keeping your head in the game. The CFRs (Code of Federal Regulations) in OSHA are the result of people losing their lives in common circumstances.  OSHA’s regulations heighten the awareness when personnel find themselves in similar circumstances. They are not impedances to getting work done nor are they road blocks thrown up by someone asserting their authority.

My favorite question to ask any of the many “OSHA Thumpers” that I have had the pleasure of dealing with is “Show me where it says that” amazingly about 75% of the “Thumpers” become immediately indignant and usually expound on a version of “Safety First”.  This often confuses me, do they really expect me to run away once they wheel that talk out?  Most of these confrontations do not end well. If you use the cry of “OSHA says so” without doing the homework then you are doing a disservice to the people you are trying to protect.

The other 25% generally lead to a mutual understanding and discussion of how to perform the task at hand as safe as possible. It creates a heightened awareness around a set of circumstances that has resulted in death in the past; you know the way it should.

Our industry is dangerous, deadly and should not be taken lightly; even the simplest things can seriously change one’s life.

I don’t know where he got this but I was always told by Socrates (see The magic finger) the following is a list of the most dangerous days of the year to work, If you have to work on these days make sure you have a heightened awareness:

  • Day after Thanksgiving
  • New Years Eve day
  • Super Bowl Sunday
  • Mothers Day
  • 4th of July

The Story:  It was New Year Eve Day 1990 and because I was the newest and youngest Forman in the gang I was working.  It was a small crew we were behind on schedule so we were working and there was one other major outage in the system also with a small crew.

Both job sites were performing a major boiler outage. Our site was removing and replacing the side walls of a CE tangentially fired unit both, superheat and reheat furnaces, which powered a GE 465 Mega Watt steam turbine. The other job site was performing a similar project.

Both jobs had scaffolded the entire furnace (for those of you who are unfamiliar with a main production boiler imagine an upside milk carton about 140’ high, 40’ deep and 60’ wide).  Just before lunch the scaffold at the other job site collapsed.

There were people trapped underneath the tangled mass of scaffold tubes and planks, hanging from tubes and chains in the boiler. The fire department was mobilized to the site and fistfights broke out between our crew and the firemen all in an effort to get to those trapped inside. No one died, thankfully, a few people sustained serious injuries; it was terribly traumatic for all involved.

Immediately afterward, while the other jobsite dealt with all of the issues arising from the incident, we stopped all work off of our furnace scaffolds and essentially rebuilt them. You cannot imagine the amount of scrutiny that was exercised on every detail of our scaffolds for a solid week we did nothing but add steel to the base of the scaffold.  Each different “suit” had a different idea of what should be done and we, like monkeys in a cage, just kept putting stuff in and taking stuff out.  Finally after about a week, tempers nerves and patience all met, in one fell swoop.  With a booming “It’s not a F**king Ice Cream Parlor” the fixes where apparently over. We demobilized out from underneath the dance floor and continued the outage without incident

In the aftermath, OSHA investigated for months, there was, and still is I’m sure, much litigation.  None of the finger pointing or fault finding can erase what happened.  OSHA in 1996 revised its scaffolding standards and although I do not have any direct confirmation, I’m sure that this incident played a major part in that revision.

I have participated in more than my fair share of OSHA investigations. I would describe none of them as fun and would not wish them on anyone because that means you are already too late and something has already happened.

The only way to be safe, in my book, is to pay attention, keep your head in the game and challenge each other. By discussing everything in detail prior to the job keeps the work moving and everyone safe.

It Is What It Is, Failure However is Not an Option

Henry Ford worked as a chief engineer for the Edison illuminating company.

Did you know that Henry Ford’s first company went bankrupt? He resigned from the second company which would become Cadillac; His third company couldn’t pay their bills to the Dodge Brothers so they had to start a forth company, The Ford Motor Company which is the company that exists today.

We all know the story of Edison’s 10,000 failures before he invented the light bulb. Where would we all be if he had given up!


Once the outage starts there is no giving up. It is what it is, forget what you wanted it to be. Keep your eye on the goal and remember that a plane is off course 90% of the time and yet it seems to make it.

If the contractor is falling behind either “make them feel pretty” or shoot um. Always Make the Girl Feel Pretty

If you don’t have the material, then go get it. Outages 101, Don’t be penny wise and dollar foolish

If the engineers are taking too long, figure it out. Engineers, Engineers Everywhere and Not a Scope to Execute

If your information is scattered and it will take a lot of time to get it all together, then take the time. Your Outages iPod

If you have to take your “magic finger” out for walk, then take that walk. The Magic Finger

If you have to hang from a cable and get soaking wet to stick your finger, magic that it is, in the hole, then get wet. the Only Way to Find a Leak, Stick the Magic Finger in the Hole

Always remember you are the captain of this ship. Every Ship Needs a Captain

I know this all sounds like a self-improvement speech but the point is the meter is running and your plants economic livelihood is on the line. The plant profits provide jobs and security for many people and their families. Look at what a job and security did for Henry Ford.


The story last week was the start of what would become one of the most challenging outages that I ever ran.

The sandblasters were my fault; we got through that problem we only lost 12 hours so we started the demo on Monday night instead of Monday day… OK we will try and make it up

Tuesday Morning. Everything was looking good, everybody was in the groove and I thought that it looked like we had a chance to make the 12 hours over the next 4 or 5 days. I would be very, very wrong.

About 11 am the lights went out. I’m not being metaphorical, they really went out. The whole plant was black no lights with 150 people in all sorts of places in and around the boiler. First order of business gets everyone safe and find out what happened.

We evacuated the plant, we had to get flashlights and climb through the boiler to get everyone out. Mission accomplished. Everyone got out and nobody was hurt.

When I got to the control room we had determined that the whole grid was down. To make matters worse, the Island mode on our switchyard didn’t work,so we were down as well.

There we sat, black plant with 150 contractors burning money with no idea what to do. We could not get an answer from the grid, so we didn’t know if we were going to be down for two hours or two days. Around two in the afternoon I sent the day shift home and told the contractors that I would make a decision about the night shift by 5pm.

With still no answer from the grid, I got everyone in the plant together and asked what can we do about this. From the back of the group Joe  piped up “why don’t we go after all the valves on the black plant list”. We had by this time successfully implemented Zone Maintenance™ and we had a running list of Black plant items. The planner (a different one than Outages 101) said he would be right back. In a few hours we had a plan

Purchasing got every gas or diesel welding machine they could get their hands on, we bought every portable light that Home Depot had and set up all the jobs in a completely black plant. We got valve packing rushed in and went after everything we could.

By Wednesday,around noon, I felt pretty good we had turned lemons into lemon aide. However, we were still down and it was about 10⁰F outside and now we have been down for 24 hours and we had an air cooled condenser that we were freezing up.

We went after the ACC with torches opened up all the drains and drained each cell as best we could.

Then we realized all sorts of lines were freezing though out the plant. We ran around with welders & torches and whatever we could to drain lines. It was like shoveling sand against the tide, but what else were we going to do?

The grid came back up around midday on Thursday. We started to get the plant back up as best as we could depending on what lines were frozen and what we could get running. By Friday end of day shift we had the boilers up and we were starting to get one of the turbines going. We were starting the outage back up with full crews that started since Thursday night shift.

As I was walking to the 6pm meeting, I passed by the Ops manager who was playing with the steam dump valve from the steam header to the condenser. When I asked him what was going on, He said, He was trying to calibrate the dump valve. He didn’t think that is was working correctly. I said just leave it until we get the turbine up and all the cells of the ACC hot and running and then we take a look at it. I turned and walked away figuring that he would listen….He did not.

During the 6pm meeting (about 15 minutes after my conversation with the Ops manager) we blew the rupture disc on the turbine. Steam shot straight up out of the turbine. We evacuated the plant again (this time with lights) and got the steam to stop shooting out of the top of the turbine. After a few shifts we changed the ruptured disc and there were no more major problems. We eventually finished the outage.

Gee, Jay how did it all turn out? Well I’m glad you asked.

We finished the outage only 30 hours over the planned schedule. We overcame a 12 hour delay from the sandblast, a 54 hour delay from the grid going down and a 8 hour delay for the rupture disc. The total was a 74 hour delay that we made up 44 hours of, in the middle of all the mess.

We didn’t even go over budget, we spent more than we should, but we were able to manage just a $60,000 overage from traditional spending.

The best of all is, the grid got dropped because of a sudden ice storm. We had insurance, so eventually we got a check from the insurance company the made the outage a profitable event.