Category Archives: Management

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

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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.

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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.

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.

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

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

What were we doing there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE POINT:

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

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

THE STORY:

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

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

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

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

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

I think my son’s idea speaks for itself.    

Sit down, Shut up and Do what I say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napoleon Hill and a Guy from Jersey

Napoleon Hill

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

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

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

Available At

For a good Overview of the 17 principles

The guy from Jersey

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

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

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

 

THE POINT:

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

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

 

THE STORY:

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

 

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

 

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

“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.

Always Make the Girl Feel Pretty

I’m not a sexist, I’m just making a point and sometimes it
helps to get your attention. I’m not often accused of being professional; in
the traditional sense. I do however believe in being polite.

This example is purely allegorical:

If you find yourself on a date what good would come from not
making the girl feel pretty? Either end the date or make her feel pretty, no
point in doing anything else.

In other words if you are going to be partnered up with
somebody or some company, make them feel pretty or end the date.

Outages are like going to the prom, it’s been a while but
what I remember about the prom is there’s lots of planning, lots of
coordination, things to buy, things to rent and things to order. All of this before
you even receive your boutonnière from your sweetie. Sounds like an outage to
me.

How easy it to change your date during the prom, or an
outage?….. Not very. (I have actually have done both neither was pretty, I
can assure you)

THE POINT:

Once the outage has started you have only two choices:
make the contractor successful or shoot them. There is no option to harass,
complain, or moan about the contractor.

So whatever needs to be done to make “your date” feel pretty
should be your only focus. Anything else is a waste of time, energy and effort.
Remember, every minute of none production costs you BIG!

I’m not saying that you should accept poor performance but
you should realize that you only have two options: fix’um or change’um, with each
having their own price to pay.

The fix’um process generally costs nothing or at worst some
coffee and doughnuts. It’s a calm demeanor, a good morning handshake or a “How’s
everything today,” again be polite.

The change’um process is fraught with back charges, sabotage,
bad blood and at least a two shift delay. Although I’ve done this before, it
should only be done after much consideration.

Once the decision has been made to “End the date” DO NOT
LOOK BACK!!!! Look what happened to Lot’s wife when she did…no good can come of
it.

THE STORY: 

I was planning an outage, getting everyone ready to come to the dance, when I got to
my sandblaster. I paused. The company I had been using was barley cutting it
(let’s call them company X) and they had just lost their Forman to another company
(let’s call this company, company Y). I had another company (Company Z) calling
me, asking to give them a chance to do our sandblast.

The sandblast was a critical path activity in our outage so
I had to pick right.

I researched Company Y & Z, in the end Company Z seemed
like they could do the job and was significantly cheaper than Company Y. I had
made my decision. Now there was nothing to do now but make my girl feel pretty.

We had pre outage meetings; we got to know the Foreman that
was going to run the job. We laid out their material lay down spots, sparing no
detail including where to park their trucks. We even got a list of the people
that were coming to the job and their sizes for their very own outage tee
shirts. (Always make the girl feel pretty)

When the outage started, everything was going according to
plan, just like the prom. Contractors, like the limos, showed up on time and
delivered their charges. The band began to play, and it was time for the
sandblast solo.

Company Z started the sandblasting on Saturday night at 2am
they were supposed to be done around 2pm Sunday afternoon. They seemed to be
off to a great start, all the guns were going and I was patting myself on the
back for what a great decision I had made.

Someone commented on one of the blogs and credited it to
Reagan “Trust, but verify”. In line with this, nothing makes me more nervous
during an outage then when I feel like I’m a genius. As soon as I feel that I
know I’m generally missing something.

So in mid pat, I went in to see how the blasters were doing.
After a few hours, around 5am, it was not good. There was no way they were
going to finish by 2pm at their current pace. I huddled up with the Forman and
asked what we could do to get back on track. He said they were just getting
into it and would be much faster now that everything was rolling. He asked for
a few more hours to show me it was all good.

This is the point of this whole article right here don’t
miss it

I had planned, they had promised, none of this mattered at
5am on a Sunday. I had no other sandblasters in my pocket to change them out
with….so MAKE THE GIRL FEEL PRETTY.

I told the Forman, knock it out make me proud, I’m sure your
right and I will be very happy in just a few hours. Off he went floating on air,
determined to make me happy.

Well at 8am, I went back in and although it was better, it
still wasn’t good. I called the owner of the company and expressed my dismay, all
the while letting him know how much I appreciated his team’s efforts. He sent
more men to the plant…supposedly better men, bigger, stronger; it was all going
to be OK.

At 11am I started calling company Y and company X. Each one
of them sent a crew into the plant by 6pm. When they arrived, I had the
wonderfully fun job of telling company Z they were out.

There was crying, hand holding, pleading, just like Prom,
but they had to go. I gave them my version of the “It’s not you, it’s me”
speech and off they went

When it was all said and done we finished the sandblast @
2am Sunday night, just 12 hours late which was a miracle. It wound up costing me
about $70,000 to get the sandblasting complete; my original budget was $30,000.
This is the cost of picking the wrong date. When I switched my junior prom date,
halfway through, the drama was much more, but the end was much better and the
only cost was shattering people perceptions.