Thursday, May 12, 2016

Procedures Are Like Roads... Morey's Law #24

Procedures can make or break a team, project, or even company. In the military we created Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), designed to define how jobs were to be done. Basically, best practices. Every industry has best practices. In Oil and Gas, most companies have a set of procedures designed to make the jobs move faster and safer. Most of these standards should be aligned with American Petroleum Institute (API) Standards or from the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), as two of many examples (ISO, ITIL, DNV, etc.). By maintaining this alignment it helps the industry to have a common level of understanding and comfort with partner companies; knowing they all work toward the same standards.

The catch, however is keeping up with the Procedures (and standards). API, ABS and every other organization responsible for maintaining standards releases periodic updates to their standards. The individual companies are responsible for maintaining their own procedures, so that means they must keep an eye out for these updates and react accordingly. In addition, lessons learned by the company as it progresses through work should be identified and incorporated into the procedures; so that they are always reflecting the most current standard, best practices, and lessons learned. That is where Morey's Law #24 comes in:

Procedures Are Like Roads, Properly Maintained Ensures Smooth Travel, Unkept And Ignored Guarantee Potholes. 

Several years ago, I came across a situation with a company I was brought in to help with their Project Management (PM) Practices, among other things. As I started to develop the PM practices, I also started looking at other company procedures, in order to better understand the company and help use the same "voice" when writing these new standards. As I explored the procedures, I learned that although the company claimed to live up to API and ABS standards, they were 6-8 years behind in updates! Not only that, but their own best practices were 8-10 years since their last update.

When I approached the VP who hired me, he indicated that it should have been a Quality Department's job to conduct the reviews and ensure up-to-date procedures. When I approached the Quality Department, the Director indicated that he was aware of the deficiency and was making efforts to catch-up.

Well, it did catch-up with the company. One of their larger clients performed an audit of procedures to ensure that they were up to date. Can you guess what they found?

Unfortunately, one member of the audit team mentioned their findings to a friend at another company. I'm sure you can guess what happened next. By the time the circuit was complete, several projects were stopped until the procedures could be updated and approved. Once that was done, more quality inspectors were onsite throughout the life of the project, at the company's expense! It cost hundred of hours in lost productivity and thousands of dollars in profit for each of the projects, because the projects hit significant potholes while traveling to completion.

Do your Procedures cause your projects to navigate roadways like this:

 Alberto Font/The Tico Times
Let's fill in those potholes, and hopefully keep the roads clear:

  1. Maintain a Running List of Procedures: The Quality Department should maintain a formal list of all approved procedures used by the company. This list should include the document name, document number, a primary responsible person (Most knowledgeable person on the procedure topic, probably the author) as well as a last review date, at a minimum. Additionally, it would be wise to list the industry standards reflected within the Procedures by number and date. 
  2. Institute a Quarterly Review of Procedures: Every procedure should be reviewed annually for updates / adjustments. The intention here is for the Quality Department to identify quarterly which procedures are due for review, identify a due date, and then approach the responsible person for the updates. The responsible person is required to review the procedure, research the business for best practices or updated standards, and then revise the document. In many cases there will not need to be updates; however, in some cases dramatic changes will be necessary (i.e. if an event like the Deepwater Horizon happens within an industry). 
  3. Conduct After Action Reviews (AARs): Project and Primary managers should conduct AARs after each phase of a project or job. The AARs should include anything that went well and should be repeated for the future; as well as anything that caused trouble and needs to be avoided. Once the AARs are complete, the report should be submitted to Quality for review, maintenance, and distribution. If an procedure needs to be updated based on an AAR, then the quality department contacts the person responsible for the procedure to review the recommendation from the AAR, and if possible, complete the update. 

By performing these three steps, your procedures will be kept up to date. A little bit of proactive work and preventive maintenance will ensure smooth travels for future jobs and projects. Without these activities, the procedures will fall further and further into disrepair and the jobs will slow down and cost more over time.  Remember Morey's Law #24:

Procedures Are Like Roads, Properly Maintained Ensures Smooth Travel, Unkept And Ignored Guarantee Potholes. 

Did I miss anything? I'm curious to hear if there are other suggestions for steps to improve Procedures. Would you like to know more about anything identified here? Perhaps more details on the AAR process? Let me know in the comments!

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