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Lessons

When management gurus talk about vision, mission, and objectives, we may find our eyes glazing over. However, this experience taught me that the gurus are quite right. A systematic approach allows us to objectively evaluate what needs to be done and why.

As engineers, we do not always think in commercial terms; technical excellence is what most of us find appealing. Without an effort to do a cost-benefit analysis, I suspect these projects would have been shot down. When the benefit is 250% of cost (in some cases it was over 1000% of cost), it is easy to convince management. Funds suddenly become available to maintainers and engineers, instead of the much-favored Production and IT departments.

We found that shop floor workers can be quite realistic in their expectations. When it comes to recognizing infrastructure weaknesses, their inputs are often quite useful. Visible feedback that they can see through our actions helps build trust and confidence. Shop-floor staff helped identify the main weaknesses during the two-week review period, not outside consultants. The items they highlighted proved valuable, as all of them had excellent economic or HSE benefits.

That the boss is an important customer is not in question; not recognizing this can be career limiting! However, we should pay heed to the other customers as well, and include their ideas in our plans.

Expectations should be vetted to ensure that they add value and are manageable within existing cost constraints. Only those projects that pass the hurdles should be used to formulate the plan.

Principles

  • 1. Deciding a line of action pro-actively is distinctly superior to playing catch-up. The vision and the current status give us the means to do a gap analysis and set our objectives.
  • 2. Knowing the customer's expectations is important, whether these are from management or the shop floor. Asking them directly is better than making assumptions.
 
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