Sunday, October 16, 2005

Breaking the Mould - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Vente Cuatro

As the project on the rig progressed there began to be signs that something else was happening.

The crews were beginning to enjoy their work.

After three weeks the crew had skidded in under an hour and I had enjoyed collecting my beer.

The crew had enjoyed skidding the rig faster than it had ever been done before, nobody had raised a voice, nobody ran and nobody felt any pressure.

They were learning what it is like to be proud of themselves.

Werner, the Toolpusher, was enjoying the skids too.

When everything was ready he would make a great show of taking his chair from his office out onto the concrete apron.

He would sit with a cup of coffee doing absolutely nothing while in front of him the skid was carried out by a team of inexperienced, semi literate jungle Indians, better than he had ever seen it done in his life.

This was the first solid success and there was now an expectation that the crew would all sit down after the skid and collect the positives and negatives from each operation.

I would simply take the notes and give the crew their amended checklist at the end.

It was time to turn my attention to something else.

I used to go up to the rig floor at odd times every day to talk to the
members of each crew without any agenda.

They would come and chat and I would ask them to explain some aspect of the operation or I would just spend time staring out over the jungle or watching a spectacular sunset.

I had become part of the furniture and whatever operation was
happening just continued around me.

The crews had settled into their stride with the skidding operation and now that Werner was also comfortable it was time to apply the process to other aspects of the drilling operations.

I would spend time watching the crew running the casing.

The casing is run into the well after the drilling is complete to stop the hole from collapsing.

These wells were drilled for about eighteen hundred metres then the casing was run into the hole in nine metre lengths.

These lengths are called joints and would be taken up to the rig floor one at a time then screwed together and run into the hole.

The casing the crew, when they had a minute, would chat or just lean on the rail and watch the jungle while they waited for the next joint to be made ready.

One evening while running casing everything was calm and peaceful and the only raised voice was when the driller was ready to make up the next joint.

He would have to drag the crew's attention back from the jungle to
the job in hand.

I felt that I was setting a bad example by staring out at the jungle myself so I told the driller I was leaving.

I went down to the logging shack where all the times are recorded
automatically and checked the casing running times.

They were nearing the end of a run of casing and the average for the whole run was sixteen joints per hour.

Curiously enough the count for the hour that I had been on the floor was twenty joints.

I was not altogether surprised.

I had long been aware of the value of letting people know how they were doing.

When people know that someone is paying attention to what they are doing their performance will invariably improve, for that reason alone.

Imagine the scenario.

You are starting work on a production line and the supervisor tells you that your daily target is ten widgets per day.

You look at the job and see that it is achievable so off you go.

One day you forget the count and you realise that you have actually made eleven widgets.

Whoops, but not to worry because at least you erred on the right side, and the supervisor can hardly shout at you for exceeding your quota.

But the supervisor doesn't notice, there is no summons to explain what happened so you go back to work.

You say to yourself, "If no one cares then I am sure I will not produce eleven widgets again."

Life carries on until the day that you miscount again.

This time you only produce nine widgets.

Now you are in trouble.

But again, nobody notices.

You wait for the reprimand for a whole week but nothing happens.

Now you know that nobody gives a damn so nine becomes the norm.

Then it slips to eight and again you wait for the inevitable reprimand, which doesn't come,

"If they don't give a damn why should I?"

Before you know it your average production is six, your machine is filthy and when someone finally suggests that you are not meeting your target you fire back with a tirade about the working conditions, the equipment, the stock and the impossibility of achieving a target that has been arbitrarily set by management.

Does that sound familiar?

Imagine the difference if when you accidentally made eleven widgets
somebody had been paying attention and said thank you.

I produced graphs of the crew's performances, running casing, skidding, drilling, cementing, and posted them on the front gate.

Everybody going in or out saw their performance and the crew knew that.

The extra four joints that were run during the hour while I was on the floor were a result of someone paying attention.

It was logical after running the casing to bring the subject up at the next Charla.

I asked the crew the same questions.

What changes could they make to improve the job and what could they stop doing that was hindering them?

I talked to all four crews, asking them and facilitating the discussions to try to figure out what could be done to improve the performance.

By the time I had finished the cycle of discussions with the crews it was only two days away from the next casing run and the list of ideas I had was a big fat zero.

The crews had all the equipment they needed, everything worked
the way it was supposed to, they had the casing and the manpower.

What else could they do?

The rig was prepared and the casing run started.

That afternoon I was in the box I called my office when Cruz, one of the roustabouts, came running and put his head through the door.

By this time there was a light and a door but the door was always propped open with the rock to keep the temperature bearable, the air conditioning was still uncontrollable.

Cruz was out of breath and excited and it was difficult for me to
understand what he was saying at first.

I finally realised that he wanted me to come and watch the casing run.
Cruz was beside himself and almost dragged me outside and across the compound.

The first thing I noticed was that everybody was smiling and giving the thumbs up.

Cruz kept touching my watch and asking for the time.

I realised that Cruz was asking me to time the operation so he could tell the crew how fast they were running the casing.

I pointed at the logging shack and explained that as the time was taken automatically in there, all that Cruz had to do was to ask.

He was off in a second and I headed up to the rig floor.

As I came up the stairs I could see the same smiles all around.

Everybody could sense that they were working well and Cruz had been despatched to get me to find out just how well they were doing.

When I got to the rig floor I was curious to find out for myself what the difference was between this run and the last one that I had observed.

The first thing I noticed was that nobody was looking at the jungle.

Everyone was watching what was going on and was waiting to play his part.

The driller said nothing.

As soon as the casing was in position the crew were ready with the slips and tongs and when a new joint was required it was already at the rig floor waiting for the elevators to swing it into position.

There was no waiting for anything.

The crew still came over to talk to me but now instead of leaning on the rail looking outwards they would talk to me without their eyes leaving the rig floor where the casing was being run.

Before they were needed they were back in position waiting to go.

The smiles and the manic behaviour of Cruz made me think
that they were on a high and perhaps working too fast.

My first thought was that this could be when someone might get hurt.

The more I watched the more I could see that the difference was that now the whole crew was working towards a common goal.

Nobody had to ask or tell anyone what to do because the job was running on automatic, everyone knew what he had to do and was doing it without rushing.

The men were impressed with themselves and they wanted to make sure that someone else was too.

Cruz came out of the logging shack with a huge smile and shouted so that everybody could hear, " Vente Cinco! Vente Cinco!"

There were high fives all round and then the crew settled back into the rhythm of the work.

I left the floor and went back to the office to change the scale on my graph,

I was going to need more room if they were going to continue running casing like this.

A short while later I had a visit from Luis the mud logger.

Luis came from Merida, a beautiful old city in the mountains in the West of Venezuela.

He was the man who ran the recording apparatus in the logging shack.

He told me about Cruz coming in and asking to be shown how to read the charts so that he could tell the crew how fast they were running casing.

I asked him if that had caused a problem.

Cruz said no it hadn't, but it had never happened before and he was not sure if he should have given that information to a roustabout whose job was picking up pipe and delivering it to the rig floor.

Explaining to him why being able to see how they were doing meant
everything to the crew.

I asked him to recall how the crew looked and worked when they were running at sixteen joints per hour and what the difference was now that they were running at twenty five joints per hour.

He looked thoughtful, so I asked him how he thought the crew felt just now, what could he see in their faces.

Luis said, "Now they are proud, they are proud to be running casing so fast.

" He became thoughtful again for a moment then he smiled and said, "SeƱor Peter, how could they be proud if they don't know how they are doing?

I think I understand."

Luis sat with me for another twenty minutes over a cup of coffee and
talked about Merida.

In the evenings it was my custom to take a walk around the compound before I went to bed.

That night the crew were still running casing so I did not go up to the rig floor for fear of spoiling their new concentration.

As I walked past the rig, the door to the logging shack was flung open and the night logger, Luis's relief, put his hand out and stuck a piece of paper to the outside of the shack.

On it was written in large letters the number twenty four.

He gave me a big thumbs up then ducked back in.

I looked up at the rig floor some nine metres above and could hear the number, "Vente Cuatro," being called up the derrick to the derrick-man and the roughnecks.

For that whole run the average was twenty four joints per hour.

There were occasions when the rate went up to twenty five joints per hour but the average never exceeded twenty four.

When I met Duncan, the country manager, later that month I apologised that the rig had not been able to make the magical average of twenty-five joints per hour.

Duncan did not look too worried, as he was still having a hard time believing that the crew had beaten twenty.

Casing was run in eight more wells before I left the rig.

In seven out of the eight the average speed for running casing was twenty four joints per hour.

On the occasion when they did not make twenty four there was a
mechanical breakdown and the average was twenty two joints per hour.

This was still two more than the target set by the country manager in Caracas that the crews had not been expected to achieve.

In most situations, the rig skidding being an example, the performance improvement comes from a combination of changes.

The most obvious and easily measured change comes from the way that the operation is physically carried out, i.e. the use of new tools or changes in the way in which old tools are used.

The less obvious change comes from a difference in the attitude of the people doing the job.

People generally want to do a good job.

If they can see how they are doing they can take pride in their performance.

When they have no way of knowing if they are doing a good job or not they lose interest and their performance becomes ordinary.

On the rig I had allowed the crew to see how they were doing.

During the casing running there were no changes in the equipment and no changes in procedure.

The crew were doing exactly the same job with exactly the same
equipment but their performance went from sixteen joints per hour to
twenty four joints per hour, a sustained fifty percent improvement.

By allowing the crews to see how they were performing they began to care about what they were doing and take pride.

I had created the conditions which allowed the crews to take ownership and the crews had responded.

That was the difference.

Vente Cuatro

Peter A Hunter

and at


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