Key to Lean Six Sigma in Oil and Gas: Respect

As a long time karate man who teaches dojo kun, one of the precepts being: “Reigi o uyamon zuru koto” or translated means: “Respect others” I see this philosophy extended to the workforce.

Years ago, when I first learned how to fight in a dojo, my sensei then asked me to bow first before exchanging hard punches and kicks to my opponent. After several minutes, I'd end up with a black eye, bruised ribs or a sore jaw; Sensei would then ask us to bow again before leaving the floor. In the past, when I threw hands or rolled on the dirt scratching, biting and clawing my opponent, the furthest thing on my mind was "respect." I was in college not accustomed to this strange etiquette, but I was open to learning and wanted to understand why this and other teachings were so important to personal development. Sensei went on to explain that kumite or fighting should never be done in anger. Instead replace your anger with respect. When I asked why? He said because he was the instructor and he told me to. Didn't take me long to realize that it was best just shut up and do what he said. Being a hard head, asked to do something I wasn't accustomed to, it took me some time, but learned how to control my emotions and use this concept in the later years to better myself as a fighter, karate instructor and person.

Basically in dojo training, a true martial artist regardless of his feelings must show and make all efforts to respect everyone and everything around him. It is something that a person must feel not think, a sign of humility necessary for an open mind, which it turn helps the process of growth. This opportunity of learning is in abundance, information that can be used for advancement, as well as in battle to launch an attack or defend. In all cases, respect for others open the path for seeing things for what they are in an environment that encourages two-way communication. Perhaps this is why the Japanese in its Toyota Production Services asks all of its employees to “make every effort to understand each other, take responsibility and … best … build mutual trust.”

At the start of each work day, I find myself shaking hands with as many people I make eye contact with, rank and file members who brave the elements and perform tasks that challenge the limits of  their physical and mental abilities.  As a process facilitator, I ask these employees what could they have done better to improve their process: faster, better, easier and less expensive without sacrificing safety.  Ideas: good, bad and indifferent appear, tribal intelligence are revealed.  Had I not made the effort to approach them, these ideas would remain in obscrutity.  Therefore, no matter how slight, I log the ideas offer genuine thanks, and tell him or her that the ideas will be processed.  When they experience this recognition, I see an immediate empowerment. 

“Continuous improvement” I remind everyone and receive a resounding thumbs up.

Not many have the ability to sit down and document ideas that end up being policy or company practice.  As I have these conversations, the opportunity to be heard trumps incentives: The best source of information comes from those that swing a sledge hammer, turn wrenches, operate equipment, weld pieces of metals together, operate vacuum, roper, guzzler and hydro-excavator trucks, climb in and out of confined spaces and abandon wells. 

Even if you’re not in a karate dojo, you should make every effort if not habit to treat all individuals with respect. You'll be surprised with the results.

5S in Oil and Gas

After working in manufacturing and supply chain management for nearly 15 years, I entered the realm of Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement process management.  Living and experiencing first hand this methodology as a subset of my job, I encountered multi-million dollar projects that saved tremendous amount of money.  On one example, I was able to lead a 10 well drilling project that saved my then company over five million dollars.  It was destined to fail; had every imaginable obstacle in front of us.  At the time, I learned and practiced several management methods, namely: Management by Objectives, eMyth, and Theory of Constraints.  A close associate of mine who consulted for Nissan Motors sent me several books, one titled:  Toyota Production Services and another white binder book with a symbol that looked like an inclined six.  After burying myself in reading for about a month, I picked up the basic concepts of Six Sigma and Lean used the combination philosophies to create a plan that systematically tackle the impossible and win a big victory for the team.

On my first day on the job, I met with Ezequiel “JR” Rodriguez, one of the foremen who was responsible for the vacuum trucks.  These trucks run on pressure and were used to vacuum or “suck” material from storage tanks, vessels, free water knock outs and so forth.  Prior to my meeting with him, JR attended a class on Lean and 5S and had this great idea of rearranging the tool box that contained cam locks.  Cam locks were used to hook the various sized hoses to other valves, extensions and so forth. 

The following picture represented an example of one of these tool boxes.

As you can see the various tools were in disarray.

Now see below improvement:

What JR did was bolt steel stems in a slight angle onto the tool wall. As you can see tools were organized, easy to locate and stored in a way that prevented unnecessary wear and tear.

Lean Six Sigma methods were well received by both management and rank and file, especially by those that were hands on.  Small incentives were offered and recognitions announced at regular meetings.  Telltale signs came from the worker with a genuine interest in improvement.  As a Lean Six Sigma facilitator, I met with these people and saw in their eyes, appreciation.  Their self worth elevated as their words were heard, documented and acted upon.  Granted ideas range from the ridiculous to the impossible.  In this hat of ideas, simple and powerful suggestions were implemented (such as J.R.’s).

As I met with more employees, I encouraged ideas through casual conversation.  When I recognized the potential, no matter how slight, I logged it, thanked the employee and told him that I would personally send it through the process.  This small effort showed the employee that they were indeed more valuable than mere workers.