Good day, gentlemen.
Several thoughts and ideas have been bouncing around in my head this past month, and I finally have the time to write about them.
We’ve been in our annual outage at work, which as I’ve mentioned before is when we stop operations and try to fix every little problem that cannot be fixed on the run. To get this done, we bring in thousands of contractors and work around the clock. This place buzzed with all the activity of a kicked anthill.
As I stood at a very high vantage point and watched this flurry of activity, I couldn’t help but think of how this chaos could possibly be productive. Put simply….there’s so fucking much that needs to happen, in a very short period of time, and most of these contractors have never even been here before. It’s amazing anything is getting accomplished.
The trick to making something like this work is having people who see the big picture and people who see the small picture. You have project managers who know of everything that needs to get done, and they direct the foremen of the work crews, show them the job, and explain it. The foremen then assign specific, small tasks to each of their men.
“You, take the bolts out of that valve. You, bring a forklift over here and pull this valve out. You, get the new valve and gaskets, and you put the bolts in. Everyone clean up when you’re done.”
When dealing with the average American worker, this is the only approach that works. If the foreman were simply to say to his men “Y’all change that valve” and walked away, he might have come back hours later and discovered virtually no work done.
Why? Because he gave the entire task to the entire group equally. This means they can all point fingers at each other and share out the blame equally for sitting on their asses. “Well, Joe went to get the forklift and he hasn’t come back yet, so we couldn’t do anything…..and Bill couldn’t find the gaskets….” etc. By assigning specific tasks to each person, the work will get done because each person is accountable for part of the job. It’s sad that things have to be done this way, but such is life. These are things I’ve never really given much thought to until I stood there watching the controlled chaos.
I’ve never been a small picture person. That’s what had me thinking about these things in the first place. As I looked around, I kept thinking things like
I wonder if they remembered to put anti-seize on those bolts?
Did that flowtube get put in with the correct orientation?
Did those guys make sure not to damage the canon connectors on those strain gauges?
Were all the air lines hooked back up and valved back in so I won’t be running around fixing it when we start up? Who is making sure this shit gets done?
So I took a step back and thought about the chain of command…the pyramid, as you will. Everyone is accountable to someone, and as long as each task they are given is small enough for them to grasp easily, the work will be done well and efficiently. I, being an essentially autonomous entity, just wandered around and checked in on anyone working around my delicate equipment. I can’t help but be paranoid when I have Mexican scaffold builders working next to my $10,000 analyzers.
Seeing all this reminded me of Fight Club (the book). At the house on Paper Street, every person had a simple task. One guy just cooked rice all day. One guy kept the gravel paths smoothed with a rake. A few guys picked the bugs off the plants. By breaking everything down to that small of a level, everything got taken care of.
I just cannot imagine how lacking in stimulation the jobs of such people are.
That’s it for now, but I have a few other things still bouncing around in my head. Look for me to return to a semi-normal posting schedule. It’s good to be back.