A Chance for Power Plant Men to Show Their Quality

I don’t know if anyone of us knew what to expect  Tuesday morning June 1, 1993 when we were told to go to a meeting in the break room that was going to take all day.  We had just been off the previous day for Memorial Day.  We were supposed to be in some kind of training.  Everyone at the plant was going to have to go through whatever training we were having.  Training like this always seemed funny to me for some reason.  I think it was because the hodgepodge of welders, mechanics, machinists, electricians and Instrument and Controls guys seemed so out of place in their coal-stained worn out old jeans and tee shirts.

I remember walking into the break room and sitting down across the table from Paul Mullon.  He was a new chemist at the time.  He had started about 5 months earlier and we had become friends right away.  Scott Hubbard, Paul and I were carpooling buddies.  He always looked a lot younger than he really was:

Paul Mullon when he was 90 years old

My favorite picture of Paul Mullon when he was 90 years old

See how much younger he looks?  — Oh.  That’s what I would always say about Gene Day because he was always as old as dirt.  Even when he was young.  Paul is only four years older than I am, but he still looks like he’s a lot younger than 70.  Even his great great grand daughter is saluting him in this photo.  Actually.  I love Paul Mullon as if he was my own brother.  He still looks younger than my younger brother who is four years younger than I am.  People used to think that he was his own daughter’s boyfriend.

When our training began, the plant manager at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma, Ron Kilman came in and told us that we were going to learn about the “Quality Process”.  He explained that the Quality Process was a “Process”, not a “Program” like the “We’ve Got The Power Program” we had a few years earlier.  This meant that it wasn’t a one time thing that would be over any time soon.  The Quality Process was something that we will be able to use the rest of our lives.

At this point they handed out a blue binder to each of us.  The title on the front said, “QuickStart – Foundations of Team Development”.  A person from a company called “The Praxis Group” (I think his name was Chris.  — I don’t remember for sure, but just for this post I’ll call him Chris).  Now, whenever I think about this guy, I think that his name was Chris Ogden, though, I know that wasn’t his name.  The reason I think about his last name being Ogden was because he was from Utah and either he was from Ogden, Utah, or someone else with his same name that was a member of CompuServe was from Ogden, Utah and he was from Provo, Utah.  — Strange how that happens.  (Maybe Ron Kilman who often reads these posts can remember his name will leave a comment below).  — At least I remembered Paul’s name…  He was my friend after all.  But you know how it is when you get older…

One of the first things Chris asked us to do was to break up into teams of four or five and we were asked to come up with 3 facts about ourselves.  Two of which were true and one that was false.  Then our team mates were asked to vote on which fact they thought was the false one.  The only one I remember from that game was that Ben Brandt had dinner with the Bill Clinton on one occasion when he was Governor of Arkansas.  — At least, I think that was what it was…  Maybe that was the fact that was false.

The purpose of this game was to get to know each other….  Well….  We had all been working with each other for the past 15 years, so we all knew each other pretty good by that time.  Except for someone new like Paul.  I think my false fact was that I had hitchhiked from Columbia, Missouri to New Orleans when I was in college.  — That was an easy one.  Everyone knew that I had hitchhiked to Holly Springs National Forest in Mississippi, not New Orleans.

Anyway, after we knew each other better, we learned about the different roles that members of our teams would have.  Our “Quality” teams were going to be our own crews.  Each team was going to have a Leader, a Facilitator, a Recorder, and if needed (though we never really needed one), a Logistics person.  The Logistics person was just someone that found a place where the team could meet.  We always just met in the Electric Shop office.  I wanted to be “Facilitator”.

We learned about the importance of creating Ground Rules for our Quality Meetings.  One of the Ground rules we had was to be courteous to each other.  Another was to “Be willing to change” (I didn’t think this really belonged as a “Ground Rule”.  I thought of it more as a “Nice to have” given the present company).  Another Ground Rule was to “Discuss – Don’t Lecture”.  One that I thought was pretty important was about “Confidentiality”.  We had a ground rule that essentially said, “What happens in a team meeting… Stays in the team meeting.”

I think all the Power Plant Quality Teams had the same “Mission Statement”.  It was “To Meet or Exceed our Customer’s Expectations”.  I remember that the person that was teaching all this stuff to us was really good at motivating us to be successful.  As we stepped through the “QuickStart” training manual, the Power Plant He-men were beginning to see the benefit of the tools we were learning.  There were those that would have nothing to do with anything called “Quality”, just because… well…. it was a matter of principle to be against things that was not their own idea.

When we began learning about the different quality tools that we could use to solve problems, I recognized them right away.  I hadn’t learned any “Quality Process” like Six Sigma at that time, but I had just graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans less than a month earlier with a Masters of Religious Education (MRE) where I had focused my courses on Adult Education.  Half of my classes were about Religious topics, and the other half was about how to teach adults.  The same methods  were used that we learned about in this training.

It just happened that I had spent the previous three years learning the same various quality tools that the Power Plant Men were being taught.  We were learning how to identify barriers to helping our customers and breaking them down one step at at time.  We also learned how to prioritize our efforts to break down the barriers by looking at where we had control and who we were trying to serve… such as ourselves or others.  I remember we tried to stay away from things that were “Self Serving.”

We learned how to do something called a “Barrier Walk”.  This was where we would walk around the plant almost as if we were looking at it for the first time to find barriers we hadn’t noticed before.  We also learned how to brainstorm ideas by just saying whatever came to our minds no matter how silly they may sound without anyone putting anyone down for a dumb idea.  Chris called each barrier that your customer encountered a “SPLAT”.  Our goal was to reduce “SPLAT”s.  I think at one point we even discussed having stickers that said “SPLAT” on them that we could put on barriers when we located them.

When we implemented a quality idea, we were taught to do a “Things Gone Right, Things Gone Wrong” exercise so that we could improve future projects.  This had two columns.  On one side you listed all the good things (which was generally fairly long), and on the other, all the things that went wrong (which was a much shorter list).  This was done so that we could consider how to avoid the things that didn’t work well.

We learned how to make proposals and turn them into a team called “The Action Team”.  I was on this team as the Facilitator for the first 6 months.  Sue Schritter started out as our Action Team Leader.

The Power Plant Men learned that there were five S’s that would cause a proposal to fail.

One of those was “Secrecy”.  If you are going to propose something that affects others, then you have to include them in the decision making up front or else even if you think it’s a great idea, others may have legitimate reasons for not implementing it, and you would have wasted your time.

The second was “Simplicity”.  It follows along with Secrecy in that if you just threw the idea together without considering all the others that will be affected by the change, then the proposal would be sent back to you for further study.

The third was “Subjectivity”.  This happens when something just sounds like a good idea.  All the facts aren’t considered.  The solutions you may be proposing may not be the best, or may not even really deal with the root of a problem.  You might even be trying to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist, or is such a small problem that it isn’t worth the effort.

The fourth was “Superficiality”.  This happens when the outcomes from the proposal are not carefully considered.  Things like, what are the long term effects.  Or, What is the best and worst case of this proposal…  Those kind of things are not considered.

The last one is “Self-Serving”.  If you are doing this just because it benefits only your own team and no one else, then you aren’t really doing much to help your customers.  Most likely it may even be causing others an inconvenience for your own benefit.

I know this is becoming boring as I list the different things we learned that week in 1993.  Sorry about that.  I will cut it short by not talking about the “Empowerment Tool” that we learned about, or even the importance of Control Charts and go right to the best tool of them all.  One that Power Plant Men all over can relate to.  It is called the “Fishbone Diagram”.

Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone Diagram

There are few things that Power Plant Men like better than Fishing, so when we began to learn about the Fishbone diagram I could see that even some of the most stubborn skeptics couldn’t bring themselves to say something bad about the Fishbone diagram.  Some were even so enthusiastic that they were over-inflating the importance (and size) of their Fishbone diagrams!  — This along with the Cause and Effect chart were very useful tools in finding the root cause of a problem (or “barrier” as we referred to them).

All in all, this was terrific training.  A lot of good things were done as a result to make things more efficient at the plant because of it.  For the next year, the culture at the plant was being molded into a quality oriented team.  This worked well at our particular plant because the Power Plant Men employed there already took great pride in their work.  So, the majority of the crews fell behind the effort.  I know of only one team at the coal yard where the entire team decided to have nothing to do with it.

When training was done, I told Chris (or was it Craig Brown…), that I thought that his company would really benefit by having a presence on the Internet.  As I mentioned in last week’s post “Turning the Tables on a Power Plant Interloper”  During this time the World Wide Web did not have browsers and modems did not have the bandwidth at this point, so CompuServe was the only service available for accessing the Internet for the regular population.

I asked Chris if he had heard about CompuServe.  He said he had not heard of it.  I told him that I thought the Internet was going to be the place where training would be available for everyone eventually and he would really benefit by starting a “Quality” Forum on CompuServe, because there wasn’t anything like that on the Internet at the time.  I remember the puzzled look he gave me as he was leaving.  I realized he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.  Few people knew about the Internet in those days….

I have a number of stories about how the Quality Process thrived at the Power Plant over the next year that I will share.  I promise those stories will not be as boring as this one.

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3 responses

  1. I am truly flattered that the man with the golden memory asked me for the name of a man I interacted with (shortly) 21 years ago. Well, I’m trying to remember his name. But my processor is getting quite old, my operating system is no longer supported, there are several bad sectors of heavily fragmented memory, and the file “Names” is corrupted. If I ever do find his name, I’ll let you know 🙂

    In the mean time, I’ll just thoroughly enjoy reading your weekly stories.

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  2. I was sitting in one of those action meetings, when Brandt was asked about qualifications for some job of which several people were not interviewed and others were who were far less qualified and you said – does a masters in adult education meet the qualifications- the look on his face was priceless a deer caught in the headlights – I also remember from those get this one of the problems on startup at the time was Silica and because the technicians had come up with a great idea of these new analyzers that would help us to even reduce startup time significantly well this clown that was threw on us in 87 would not approve the things all because I guess it was not his idea- guy was pretty smart man- I never understood why he could not grasp or understand the concept of what these analyzers would do for the plant politics of the plant most of these folks I think went to church but when they came to work all that went out the window no golden rule I know that recently our favorite company has a director of culture possibly seriously has america slipped so far and lost sight of its founding principals and storied history that these type of people can lobby their way into jobs and programs and waste the rate payers money- you talk about fleecing.

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  3. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    MEN, MEN, MEN, MEN!!!!!!!

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