Monday, August 26, 2013

A Little Black Line... With Big Impacts

How can a little black line that is 4 inches long by a 1/4 inch wide cause 3 hours of extra work? I learned it the hard way... 
Thanks to my wife at Erin's Creative Energy

A couple of weeks ago I was working with a customer to load a barge with three racks, a smaller steel structure, and 10 large items that look vaguely like 80 ft wide football goal posts that stand 2 stories tall. The process takes most of a day, with large cranes moving all the items. The load-out went smoothly (mostly) with all the racks welded down to the barge and all ten goal posts located in the racks by 2:00 PM. Looked like a good Saturday.

That was until Ralph (name changed to protect the innocent) from the paint crew walked over to the lift supervisor, pointed at one of the goal posts, and said:

"That one there isn't done."

Lift Supervisor: "What do you mean 'isn't done?' "

Ralph: "The index mark isn't painted on the post."

Now, the index mark is 4 inches long and about 1/4 inch wide. It is placed at the very top of the goal post and absolutely necessary because the index mark is used to align a signal generator (transponder) on the top of the goal post for installation. The posts will be placed thousands of feet under the water, and the best way to ensure proper placement is through the signal generated by the transponder. If it isn't aligned properly with the post, then the signal will be wrong; and the post could be positioned completely wrong.

This index mark is made with a straight-edge and a felt paint marker. Even though it is done as the last thing, it generally takes only about 15 minutes to do both sides of the 80 ft goal post. Two men get into a man-lift, paint one side, ride the lift to the other, and paint the other side. No problems.

Except now the goal post is sitting on a barge, in the water. The barge is fully loaded, with a minimum amount of floor space available. A man-lift would not have the space to maneuver on the barge, and for safety reasons, it shouldn't be maneuvering anyway. We also don't have a man basket for the crane. this means that we will need to pull the smaller steel structure off the barge in order to create space, lift the man-lift onto the barge with a crane, lock it down, and then extended in order to paint one side of the goal post. The man-lift will need to be retracted to it's starting position, released, picked-up by the crane, moved to the other side of the goal post, secured, and then extended again. Once the paint is complete, the man-lift would be retracted, released, removed from the barge, and the small steel structure replaced on the barge and re-secured. What was a 15 minute job on solid ground became a three hour job on the barge. 

Now, I am not permanently located at the yard. There are 20 posts total in this fabrication contract. Before the load-out, I called the yard manager and asked if everything was complete, and then specifically asked about the paint marks. I then called the paint manager and asked the same question. I was trying to follow Ronald Regan's advice: "Trust but verify."

Both managers gave me the same answer. The posts and racks were complete, no issues for the load-out. Unless I strapped myself into a man-lift, there was no way I would have known about the missing index marks, and likely the customer wouldn't realize the index marks were missing until the post was already underwater.

We completed the paint operation the next morning, and the barge left on-time. In the meantime, I pulled aside the painter for a discussion. The problem was the added crane, man-lift and personnel time. If we had known about the missing paint mark earlier in the day, the 3 hours wouldn't have been necessary, as the racks needed to be welded down to the barge. The load-out of each rack takes roughly 30 minutes, and an hour to weld out each one. The painters were onsite for another job, basically from the moment the load-out started (at 07:00). If the painter had said anything prior to 10:00 we could have made the 15 minute fix prior to the load-out of the posts.

"Ralph, let's talk about yesterday."

"I know it was a mistake, but at least we caught it before the barge left, Matt."

"True, but let's talk about situational awareness. You were here at 7, working on something else, and you saw us working on this load-out all morning. You didn't mention anything until after the load-out was complete. If you had said something in the morning, we could have avoided 3 hours of work, with cranes and a large number of workers."

"I'm sorry, Matt. I didn't think about it, and I should have."

"Ralph, you're one of the experienced painters, and an occasional supervisor. I need you to start looking at the big picture. You knew the mark was missing, you saw us working, and didn't make the connection until you saw the load-out crew cleaning up. It needs to be faster. You need to think about the impacts of your work."

"I know, Matt. I'll try harder."

Now, Ralph is a good guy, and later that week I was working with him on another project and he started thinking about the impact of his painter's work and showed more thought than I would have expected. He had things planned out and the work was finished.

It's often tough when a potential leader moves from a "grunt" position to a  supervisory position. I am not sure if his managers had a conversation with him about the need to be aware of the work, and the potential impacts of incomplete work (or what happens if the order of work is incorrect). He was still acting like a grunt that Saturday, and it cost us time and resources. Now, I think he is paying more attention to the work. Hopefully, he won't have to re-learn the lesson.

Now, what about your team? Do you have solid "grunts" who may be ready for the shift to leadership? Part of COMMAND is building your team, and the people on it. If so, are you teaching them to pay attention to more than just the work in front of them? Are you teaching them to think about the impacts of their work? If you aren't opening their eyes, then you are doing them a disservice. Not only that, but you are hurting yourself and your team as well. You are creating extra work, and hurting moral.

For that matter, are you looking at the big picture? Are you looking at the impacts? I recently started teaching my son how to play checkers. He's getting better, but he gets wrapped up in his own moves and forgets to pay attention to what is happening on the rest of the board. I constantly tell him "Look at the whole board." Are you looking at the whole board?" Do you know what the other pieces are doing, and how you impact them, or they you? If you don't, then the disservice continues.

Train your people to look at the whole board, to be aware of the impacts. Work with the other pieces and leaders. Develop your people to look at impacts as well. If everyone starts to develop awareness, then your team will work better together, as well as across the organization; you'll create less pain points and slow downs along the way.

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