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.

2 thoughts on “the Art of War, Six Sigma and a Guy From Jersey

  1. James Norris

    I have had similar experiences in a nuke plant. 2 that I can relate are doing a refueling outage in 10 days versus the standard 18 days since you can take 6 of those days as lost productivity at 1200MW per hour that resolves to 1200*24*6=172,800*Cost per MW. Just using a dummy value of $10 yields $1.73 million per outage since this is now the standard time for a refuel. The other story is doing steam generator replacement in a 4 loop plant in 55 days which at the time was a world record time. All this was done with extensive planning and scheduling and the processes taught is six sigma and as I now find out Sun Tzu.

  2. Gary Olson

    Obviously not really from Jersey, only 3 “F**k’s” in the story. Perhaps it was cleaned up for the wider audience, though. Good story, though, and makes a good point.

    Gary Olson


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