Sunday, October 16, 2005

Breaking the Mould - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Willie's Cushions

After the meetings with all four of the crews I took stock of the mass of information I had received and found that I had collected a list of seventyfour suggestions for improvements to the skidding operation.

These were either positive suggestions to improve the operation or simply ideas to stop doing things that wasted their time.

Over the next few days I went to their Charlas. (Literally translated it means a chat).

They gave me fifteen minutes of their time before each shift and I used this time to ask them how they were going to make each
of these suggestions happen.

Gradually the list of actions was completed and on the day of the first skid each of the points had been addressed.

Finding that one action addressed several problems I had a list that totalled thirty two significant changes to the skidding operation.

I spoke to the crew who were going to carry out the operation, with the list of thirty two changes in my pocket.

I asked the crew if they felt ready for the skid, and was there anything else they could think of that would be a benefit to the operation.

"No," they said, they were ready and they were happy.

This skid, with the work they had done, was going to be good.

I agreed with them, I told them to take their time to be safe, and I kept the list in my pocket.

At that moment the crew owned the answers to all of the improvements they wanted to make.

If I told them to use the list I would in effect be telling them how to do their job.

That would remove their ownership.

Good things come to he who waits.

I watched the skid without a notebook or a clipboard or a stopwatch.

I spent my time wandering around talking to the crew about whatever they wanted to talk about.

Someone would have a new idea, "Can we use the Company pickup to pull the power pack?"

Someone else would be curious about Scotland, "Was it an island?"

The crane driver wanted me to bring him some whisky next time I came out.

I had to explain to him that a bottle of Scotch whisky was actually cheaper in Venezuela than Scotland, which was quite difficult to do.

The skid finished and Werner wrote in the log that it had taken five hours.

That represented a significant improvement over the best ever time of six and a half hours but Werner was still puzzled.

He knew what I had been doing.

I had told him that the crew had worked out thirty two different
ideas to improve the skid and he had seen some of those ideas being used.

He was puzzled that the improvement was not more significant, but I asked him to wait and see what the crew said at the debriefing.

I debriefed the crew the following day at their next Charla.
They were withdrawn, not at all the noisy animated group I had seen before, now they were very subdued and it was difficult to get them to speak.

They knew that they had skidded in five hours and they knew that the Gringo was going to shout at them for not doing it quicker because that was what always happened.

I asked them what they thought had gone well.

I shut up and waited.

There was a lot of glancing backwards and forwards through lowered eyes and then the crane driver said that attaching the welding unit to the rig had been a good idea because he did not have to waste time lifting it to keep it up with the rig when it moved.

There was a nervous silence.

Now was he going to get shouted at?

I wrote it down on the board and asked what else.

In no time the room became animated again and the list of what went well began to grow.

It did not take long to fill half the board and then it began to slow down.

Now I asked what did not go so well. I was off again scribbling to keep up with their ideas.

I filled up the other side of the board.

By this time the other crew would have been chafing to get away from the rig so I let the crew go to change for work and promised to continue next time.

In the meantime I would ask the other crews how they would solve the problems.

I made progress with the other crews but the breakthrough came the next time that I spoke to the first crew which had skidded the rig.

By this time half the points on their list had been dealt with and removed, but the driller asked me to put up the original list again.

I did so then gave him the pen and sat down with the crew.

I knew what was coming and wished that Werner had been there to see it too.

When the driller stood up and went to the board, it felt like one of those moments when the world stops.

He stood in front of the board and read the list of things they could do better then started putting ticks against some of them.

I could see which they were and could see where he was going with it.

He then turned around and asked the crew if they could see why he had ticked the points he had.

Nobody even guessed, and after allowing a pause I put my hand up.

"Are they all the same ideas which you had the first time I wrote out the list?" I said.

The penny dropped and suddenly everybody was blaming each other for forgetting to do what they had said they would do last time.

I put my hand up again and the driller motioned for quiet.

I told them that it didn't really matter who had forgotten, what mattered was how could they make sure that they did not forget again next time, or if another crew did the next skid, how could they make sure that the other crew did not forget.

The crane driver asked if I could make them a checklist to use so that they would not forget again.

I said their checklist (which was still in my pocket) would be ready the next day, and if they thought it was good enough it could be given to the other crews too.

The following day Willie turned up.

Because of the distance he only visited about once a week and despite the daily phone call he and Werner had a lot to talk about.

I had spoken to Werner about the checklist and why it was still in my pocket during the first skid.

I told Werner that since the first checklist had not been the crew's idea, giving it to them would have made the crew feel as if they were being told what to do even though the ideas were all their own.

Now the checklist was not my list, it belonged to the crews and I was just the person who had the printer and could make
the changes.

This was the crew's checklist of their own improvements, they owned it, and because they owned it, they would use it.

I noticed something else which hadn't happened before.

The crews were now asking what they could do while they were still drilling to prepare in advance for the skid.

Now I was just their clerk.

The crews were running the meetings.

I knew that Werner wanted to give me every chance to help the crews.

I had no idea about the nature of his conversation with Willie that day but when I met Willie after lunch it was clear that progress towards improvement, or apparent lack of it, had been discussed at length.

I felt there was little value in trying to defend the crew's performance so I preempted any criticism by reminding Willie of the promise he had made on the first day, which was that if I asked him to consider an idea, he had said that he would try his best to make it happen.

If he couldn't make it happen then he would tell me "why not" so that he could feed those comments back to the crew.

Raoul the assistant driller had given me a suggestion.

The previous day I had been waiting for the crew's bus to arrive.

That was my excuse to spend a couple of minutes with the guard at the gate chewing the fat.

The real reason was that I only had fifteen minutes with each crew before they went on shift and I didn't want to waste any of that time.

When the bus arrived, it was an eighteen-seater van and every crew change it brought eighteen people, often more.

The trip took three hours and I could only imagine how that must have felt cooped up pressed against each other in the heat in the van.

On their arrival I would watch them emerging and they invariably spent several minutes bending and stretching to iron out the wrinkles caused by the journey.

On this day they piled out as usual and Raoul, after finishing his stretches, came over to talk to me.

He asked if he had heard right at the introduction meeting when I had explained why I was there, that I wanted to know any ideas which would make the operation better.

I said yes, I had deliberately used the word "better" instead of faster or more efficient and was pleased that Raoul had remembered.

I said, "Tell me your idea and I will see what can be done."

Raoul seemed a little embarrassed at first but once he started it poured out.

His concern was about the bus.

Raoul launched into a litany of problems: overcrowding, cramped conditions, omitting to pick people up, some men having to walk for an hour to the pickup points and the length of the journey itself.

There was a whole raft of issues that he just wanted to tell
someone, to get off his chest, but I realised that he was just setting the scene.

None of this was his real point.

Finally he said it.

All that Raoul wanted was cushions on the seats.

The front seats, occupied by the driver and the driller were upholstered and they were fine, but the rest of the crew had to sit for three hours each way, to and from the rig on the jungle roads, on hard wooden benches.

Now I understood the reason for the elaborate stretching exercises that went on whenever the bus arrived.

I wrote down the idea in my notebook and promised to see what could be done.

Now I had Willie's attention, after reminding him of what he had
promised, I told him that the first idea was, "Could we have some cushions in the bus?"

Willie did not explode but he came close to it.

"Cushions on the bus, Cushions! Where do you think you are? This is an oil rig! We are in the middle of the jungle!

Do they think this is a holiday camp?

What will they want next?"

I weathered the storm and after Willie ran out of steam I asked him what sort of ideas had he expected to get from the crews.

He said that he was expecting ideas which would save money running the rig, ideas to speed up the operation, ideas to drill better wells,

Not cushions!

Then I asked Willie, "Suppose that Raoul had an idea tomorrow which cut your costs by ten thousand dollars a week.

Is that the sort of idea you want?"

Willie didn't even think, saying,"Yes of course it is, I'm not running a charity".

I continued, "Do you think that Raoul would give you that ten thousand dollar idea tomorrow if today, when he asked for cushions he did not get them?"

It was a light bulb moment;

Willie opened his mouth then stopped and looked at me through narrowed eyes.

I could see him replaying the conversation and could see understanding flashing across his face.

He started to smile and the next thing he said was, "What colour of cushions should I get?"

I was starting to feel good about Willie. He had made the jump from the theory to the practical application.

I knew that no matter how much I talked and explained about what was happening the only way that Willie would truly understand was when he worked it out for himself.

In the same way that I had allowed the drilling team to figure out their need for a checklist, I had allowed Willie to work out for himself the value of his support for the crew.

Now he understood that when he provided support for the crew they would in turn provide support for him.

Two weeks later, just before I left the rig to go back to Scotland the rig was skidded in fifty-five minutes.

In three weeks the crews had made an eight-hundred percent improvement in the time it took to skid the rig.

I won my bet and Willie bought me the beer.

The crews now planned the skids and held their own debrief meetings to sustain their level of performance.

They owned the operation and in the next four months the skid never again took more than one hour.

The most important thing was that Willie now asked me how I had done it.

Before the dramatic improvement he would not have listened to any explanations or coaching because he could not see how it was going to work.

Now he was asking me how I had made that change because he wanted to understand for himself what he could do to sustain it.

His request was vital for the sustainability of the project. Without Willie understanding and being able to create the same conditions for himself, his behaviour would drive the crews' performance right back to where it had been before I joined.

By responding to his request I was able to coach him and he was able to sustain the improvement after I left.

Peter A Hunter

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