Tag 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.

The Ten Commandments

moses

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

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

Portrayed by Spencer Tracy in “Inherit the Wind”

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

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

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

Sounds impressive doesn’t  it?

Well I’m no Moses

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

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

Please forward me any feedback to make the list better

My list looks like this

1. Outages Are Different

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

Money Ball

You’re not Dorothy and this Aint OZ

Outages 101 Don’t Be Penny Wise and Dollar Foolish

The Magic Finger

       2.      Safety is about focus, not forms.

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

It’s Not A FKing Ice Cream Parlor

Common Sense Safety

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

 

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

YOGI BERRA

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

Questions…How do we do this faster?

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

Planning…Get three impact guns by the next outage

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

Change…Whatever you need to, to get better

Blogs that pertain to this are

Now Row in the Same Direction

Get in the FKing Boat

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

Sit Down Shut Up and Do What I Say

 

             4.      The chain of command is there for a reason

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

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

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

                                Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.

                                Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

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

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

                                wouldn’t do it.

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

Every Ship Needs A Captain

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

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

The Magic Finger

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

 

6.      Get the engineers in and out

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

Engineers, Engineers Everywhere and Not a Scope to Execute

Your Outages iPod

 

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

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

Blogs that pertain to this are

Always Make the Girl Feel Pretty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When You See A Snake, Kill It

Once upon a time, I was a planner during a particularly large outage. Some of the major jobs included an air preheater basket change out, nose tube replacement, burner corner replacement (a CE tangentially fired unit with 64 burners) including brining gas lines to each of the corners, and a re-insulation of the entire boiler after an abatement. During this especially hectic time, management decided to perform a wrench time analysis.

The results of the analysis came back with impressive results. Our job site had almost double the wrench time (68%) vs. the other job sites (in the 30% range). This large percentage differential raised questions and suspicion from the “Suits.”

Naturally, the first thing the Suites focused on was that these numbers were fake. We were soon accused of tricking the auditors. After much conversation and investigation it was determined that our 68% was in fact real. Imagine that.

After it was agreed on by all that my job site had a superior wrench time then the others, we started to delve into the reasons behind it.

As it turned out, the primary reason that we had a much better wrench time than everyone else was because we set the job up differently than everyone else.

Our traditional tool control during an outage was to have one central tool room where all the tools were checked in and out of every day. We changed that. Instead each Forman was given both a set of jobs and the time to lay out a written list of the tools that they needed to perform those jobs. Once the Forman generated their lists, they were given job boxes with the tools they listed. The tools were then signed out to the Forman and he or she was responsible for their own tools from there on end.

When upper management found out what we were doing they were incensed. They felt that there would be a free for all with the tools. They declared that any tool lost would be taken directly out of any bonuses or raises of the project manager (my direct boss) or me.

When it was all over (upwards of 170,000 man hours) my team was well under our tool budget, much to the surprise of upper management.

Not only did the team have a significantly higher wrench time than other jobs, we also had better tool control. More importantly, we came in under budget and under time for the entire outage. This feat had not happened in my division for many, many years.

Moral of the Story

A dear friend of mind once related to me a speech he heard by Bruno Bic (the pen guy) to his company. His opening line was “When you see a snake kill it, don’t write a memo, don’t send an email, don’t make a policy, just kill it”. The way we did tool control, prior to this, was horrible. It took too long and controlled too little. So in the fashion of Bruno Bic, we tried something different and that yielded huge results.

Rule of Thumb

If you have a management process that looks cumbersome and time consuming, guess what? It is. Find a better way and there are huge performance gains in store for you.