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Outage Success Standards

Here are our Outage Success Standards. I invite any and all to comment, critique or confirm this list.

OSS-R3 (3)

“The secret to achievement is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then waste no time starting on the first one.”
Mark Twain

Mark Twain

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
Vince Lombardi

Vince Lobardi

“If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.” George S. Patton

George Patton

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed” Napoleon Hill


Unicorns, Pixies and Fairies



Leprechauns, wood nymphs, elves’… shall I go on ?

What am I talking about?  Well friend I’m glad you asked!

These are all mythical creatures of mystery and whimsy just like an unplanned outage that goes well.

Let me be completely clear, if you do not have everything planned out for your outage and then add in the fact that everything goes wrong, nothing is easy and people suck, you my friend are not going to have a great outage.

Thems the facts, it’s that simple, no ifs, ands, or buts

Back in the dark ages when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was just a little Mug (Freshman) in NY Maritime one of the first things we had to do was memorize this:

The “Riesenberg Saying”
“The sea is selective, slow at recognition of effort and aptitude but fast in the sinking of the unfit.”

If you substitute outage for sea you will see what I’m talking about.

Our business, Outages, are not for the faint of heart. We swear, yell and curse each other out and that’s when we are getting along.

To rip into a Boiler or Turbine, lay is guts out all over the place then put it all back together so everything runs right and no one gets hurt, does not happen via “decision by committee”. No one is taking a 360⁰ survey and spot-checking everybody’s feelings around where you should land the cover, it’s got to go where it’s got to go.

We don’t go into the boiler and say make the “final cut”  where you feel it would be best, you know, where it would make you the happiest.

Our business, at its worst, kills people and leaves the survivors racked with guilt, remorse and scars on their souls that they will carry their entire life.

So what is a pink footed, unicorn wearing, covered in glitter, scared little girl to do?


Do what I say!!!

Am I dick?…yes

Am I a control freak? …yes

Yes! Yes! A thousand times Yes! (couldn’t resist a little pride and prejudice)

Now that you think I’m an Ass, ask these questions:

  1.        Do the units get done on time? Yes
  2.        Do the unit’s perform better after the outage? Yes
  3.        Did the outage come in on or under Budget? Yes
  4.        Did anyone get hurt? NO!!!
  5.        How many times have you done this? Over 200

Aren’t these the questions that matter?  Does anything else matter in regards to performing an Outage?

My mentor Socrates didn’t have the Magic Finger because he was trying to pass on some pithy folksy wisdom. His number one rule was “trust no one.” Subsequently  that evolved the Magic Finger, because he would not trust anyone to actual mean what they say or do what they were supposed to do.

Even after we had all worked together for years he would still check behind us. We still had to start every job with the drum door gaskets nailed up over his desk (“beginning with the end in mind” for a little Stephen Covey vibe)

The Point

“The Outage Expert saying”

“The Outage is selective, slow at recognition of effort and aptitude but fast in the sinking the unfit.”

You can’t let up, it’s not fun, you have to be the designated adult. You have to think of everything. (your team does at least) The minute you think you’re invincible, that’s when the Outage Gods will rise up and bite you.

As far as the “Do what I say,” what I’m referring to is to follow the general principles that I have laid out in the blogs.

I would like to say that there is a bottomless well of knowledge about outages and that I will take me a lifetime to teach you…But the reality is that the principles can be taught fairly quickly.

However the “Secret Sauce” is not in the knowledge of what to do. It’s in the doing of the thing. To do Outages well there must be a dictator. Plain and simple. (a benevolent one hopefully)


That Dictator cannot waver from the rules (for the rules ) for if they do, like Icarus they will fall to earth and not in a good way.


Running a plant is collaboration; it’s a team sport, where even though there is a chain of command, opinions are considered and taken in, to form the final decision. That’s the way all the smart people do it, you never know what gem you may pick up from a discussion of an issue, even if the gem is to further strengthen your own opinion.

Outages are different; the planning phase needs to be collaborative on all levels you just never know who knows what and I’ve often been surprised about how much I don’t know. Right up to the minute before the outage you can have discussions. (I don’t recommend it but you can)

But the minute you start shutting the unit down there needs to be just one person in charge and that person calls the shots. It is the only way to maintain order and control and maintaining order and control is the way to be consistently safe.

The Story

For the story this week I will direct you to the preface for the blog:

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 switch yard 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 5 pm.

With still no answer from the grid, I got everyone in the plant together and asked what we can 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, whom 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 an 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.

Rules of Thumb

  • Outages are different remember that (first of the ten commandments)
  • Every Outage needs a boss (#4 also see )
  • If you’re the Boss, It’s no fun but if you adhere to all the rules you can make it fun for everyone else and that’s the highest level of the game, getting everything done well and safe while having a good time. It’s easier than you think, it’s just hard to do

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

The fat lady singing

Other luminaries have expressed the same sentiment as

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

Ben Franklin

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

Kin Hubbard

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

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

The Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although… it probably looks more like this:

(The Hippos from Fantasia).

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

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

What’s a girl to do?

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

Again I say aha, you’re right!

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

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

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

The Story     

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

At the night meeting I lost it

I thanked everybody for all the hard work…Zombies

I said we really need to finish….Zombie groans

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ten Commandments


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

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

Portrayed by Spencer Tracy in “Inherit the Wind”

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

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

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

Sounds impressive doesn’t  it?

Well I’m no Moses

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

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

Please forward me any feedback to make the list better

My list looks like this

1. Outages Are Different

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

Money Ball

You’re not Dorothy and this Aint OZ

Outages 101 Don’t Be Penny Wise and Dollar Foolish

The Magic Finger

       2.      Safety is about focus, not forms.

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

It’s Not A FKing Ice Cream Parlor

Common Sense Safety

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


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


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

Questions…How do we do this faster?

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

Planning…Get three impact guns by the next outage

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

Change…Whatever you need to, to get better

Blogs that pertain to this are

Now Row in the Same Direction

Get in the FKing Boat

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

Sit Down Shut Up and Do What I Say


             4.      The chain of command is there for a reason

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

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

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

                                Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.

                                Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

                                Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.

                                Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody

                                wouldn’t do it.

                                It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody”

Blogs that pertain to this are

Every Ship Needs A Captain

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

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

The Magic Finger

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


6.      Get the engineers in and out

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

Engineers, Engineers Everywhere and Not a Scope to Execute

Your Outages iPod


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

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

Always Make the Girl Feel Pretty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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