Improve operational accuracy

By Bernie Price, Polaris Veritas Inc.

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1. Procedures improvement. Although not absolutely essential, consider creating a set of procedures written by average operators (with the oversight of engineers) for inexperienced or below-average operators. These procedures must be simple and pictorial and designed for easy and frequent reference (Figure 1). It’s a good idea to use a professional technical writer to put them into final, polished form. Revising and creating the procedures actually is in itself a very effective form of training.
Separate the procedures by operating phase into normal startup, normal shutdown, emergency shutdown (divided by type) and startup after emergency shutdown, etc. Refer to the OSHA process safety management format.


Add symbols (decals) to highlight critical operating steps, note whether they are critical because of safety, quality or production volume, and indicate consequences with “if/then” statements. Use pictures, diagrams and charts to replace words wherever possible.

Create individually assigned checklists for each operator for every phase. 

2. The improvement management system. Record and investigate each incident, near miss or potential violation of a method or setpoint. Some plants use their existing Quality Defect Record – Nonconforming Material forms rather than add a new piece of paper. Reward the shift or team creating the greatest number of observations; this must be the ultimate “no blame/no shame game.”
Have someone competent in data analysis conduct a monthly systematic review and classification of the results so that corrective actions, such as training or retraining, programming or instrumentation redesign, are directed at the core issues. Look for latent system and human factors. (Group and prioritize issues after three months.)

Feedback should be soon/certain/positive rather than late/uncertain/negative, which usually is the case. Have operators with good coaching skills help other operators and make sure that this strategy is understood. Rotate the role of observer. Be careful to control any feedback  until the team is comfortable with the process.

Post-implementation steps
Look for and remove organizational structures, rules, etc., that encourage blame and punitive actions. Whatever measures are necessary should target the very few habitual and repeat offenders, not the average worker trying to do a good job. Prevention is the best cure for the recrimination problem.
Schedule regular reinforcement meetings or training sessions. Give supervisors regular feedback to help them monitor their progress toward the new way of dealing with issues.

Recognize and celebrate the accomplishment of each of the steps by providing free lunches or by providing small gifts such as tee-shirts, etc. Behavior is the hardest thing to change, so set realistic timelines (multiple quarters or years rather than days or months) for accomplishing the change.
Involve as many employees as possible in working toward a solution. The “group sweat” generated eventually acts like glue. Involvement creates buy-in and will help to solve the problem faster and give the process added support once the problem is solved.

Use leading indicators to provide weekly feedback of individual and team behavior which, if repeated, will lead to sustained improvement. Being able to make the connection is essential for the program to succeed.

Identifying a deficiency or potential defect, finding and removing its cause, and taking some action to prevent recurrence must become a routine part of the job.

Leading indicator dashboards
A monthly point system can play a key role in success by providing immediate feedback.
We suggest awarding points for each shift team, on a basis such as the following (which should be tailored for each unit):

  • one for every record of a deviation, near deviation or potential deviation submitted (the more deviations reported, the better);
  • two for each percent of the plant for which a Simplified, Pictorial Tabloid Procedure (SPTP) was written (it might take two years to complete the task);
  • three for each individually assigned checklist observed in routine use; and
  • 20 for successfully implementing an action in response to a defect or deviation found.

Deduct points for the following:

  • two for every loop observed not in automatic mode;
  • five for each deficiency that resulted in a minor incident;
  • 10 for each deficiency that led to a major incident involving a shutdown; and
  • 10 for any unreported incident.

The payoff
Regardless of how well your plant now runs, mounting a major effort to improve its operational accuracy can provide substantial benefits. Many of the most-efficient plants now operating in a proactive mode, after having removed all of their major deficiencies in maintenance practices, work planning and scheduling, engineering and design, eventually conclude that improved operational accuracy is the remaining obstacle to their achieving world-class operating performance.

Bernie Price is CEO of Polaris Veritas Inc., a Houston-based consulting group. E-mail him at Polarisver@aol.com.

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