(What if engineering companies thought about training this way?)
By James O. Pennock
The following article is a work of fiction. It portrays a hypothetical conversation that has not happened yet. The setting is a private executive box at a major sports stadium before the start of the final championship game. The venue was selected by these two gentlemen not only for the entertainment value but also for the privacy. There are only two people present in the private "Sky Box" suite. The first person (we will call Adam) is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of one of the world's largest EPCM companies. The second person ((we will call Bill) is the President of Project Operations (PPO) for one of the world's largest energy conglomerates who is currently finalizing a bidder list for the FEED phase for their next "World Class" mega project worth upwards of 5 Billion US dollars.
To set the scene, the game has not started yet and the two men have spent the past two hours getting to know each other and watching the pre-game activities on the field.
Down below both teams have been on the field, one team at one end of the field and the second team at the other end. They have been going through various warm-up exercises and mock plays.
Now let's pick up the conversation.
Bill: Adam, I really appreciate that you were able to get tickets to this game. We have had the privacy we need and yet we will both be able to enjoy our favorite sport.
Adam: Oh! It was no problem getting tickets, I own stock in the home team and this is the company's Sky Box.
Bill: That's great! Say, I have just been thinking. Look at those players down there.
Adam: Yah, lots of talent worth a lot of money. What were you thinking?
Bill: Well, Think back a few years. Every one of those men started playing this game in the street in front of their house when they were just kids. They may have played this game for many years in the street and sand lots. Then in Secondary or High School they played three or four years in a more formal organization with real coaches and a play book full of plans for success. Later they attended a University where they played for four more years at an even higher level with more complex problems and adversity. After that the lucky ones are drafted by the professional organizations much like these two teams who will play here today.
Adam: Yep! That's the way it is in the big leagues.
Bill: Adam, don't you think there might be more to the picture than just that.
Adam: What do you mean?
Bill: Well here is the way I see it. The players learned to play this game as that kid in the street. Then went on to the next level and the next level and the next level each with three months of pre-season training, two-a-day workouts, club-house meetings going over the playbook. All week between games they have more two-a-day work-outs and meetings to review post-game films to discuss what they did well and more importantly what they did wrong. They also review game films of their next opponent to learn the strength and weaknesses they will see. On game day, just like what we have seen down there they warm up, run patterns, practice kicks and do special drills to sharpen their timing and focus. They knew how to play this game when they got out of High School. They knew how to play this game HARD when they got out of the University. Don't you think that all this training now is a big waste of money and time?
Adam: GEE! Bill you can't be serious! That training for those guys is absolutely not a waste of time and money. I don't know how you could even think such a thing. That training is what makes a winner. That training in what got these two teams here today. And as a stockholder of I want a return on my investment. I take an active interest in my teams training schedule. If our coach did not have pre-season training or weekly training or pre-game warm-ups he would soon find himself out of a job. And you can take that to the bank! Yes sir! Training is what makes a winner.
Bill: I'm glad to hear that's the way you feel. So tell me what kind of training do you give your new employees?
Adam: Training, new employees? We don't need to train new employees. We hire only the best. We bring them in, give them the HR manual, set them at a desk, provide them with a computer and they are expected to go to work.
Bill: So for any new employee you believe what they say on their resume, right? So you expect each of them to read your mind and know exactly what you expect and when you expect I, is that right?
Adam: Of course! What else can you do?
Bill: What do you do about current employees? As you well know technology is always moving up and there are new thing to learn. Do you have any kind of a training program to raise or improve the level of expertise of your current technical and management personnel?
Adam: No, no we feel that in-house training is just a waste of time and money.
Bill: If your company was to make it on to our bidders list and your bid was chosen, what kind of Pre-Project training would you conduct to insure the team, and I mean all of the team is all using the same play book?
Adam: We hold the Project Manager responsible for those things.
Bill: Well then let me ask you this. After the project has been completed, what kind of Post-Project meeting do you hold? Do you have any kind of a review with ALL of the project members to review what you did well and what you need to do better the next time?
Adam: Really, Bill I think that is just a waste of time and money.
At this point the game started and the two men turned their attention to the contest. Both teams played hard as the lead switched first from one team then to the other. At halftime the visiting team had just a three point lead as the two teams went to the locker rooms for their mid game rest and pep talk.
We pick up the conversation again.
Bill: So what you are saying is that you think that the game down there on that field today is more important than my five billion dollar project. Is that right?
Adam: What are you saying?
Bill: Well just before the game started we were talking about training and you said that training is a waste of money except for people who play games. With that attitude I must assume that you think that the game down there on that field today is more important than my five billion dollar project. Is that right?
Adam: Whoa! Now I see what you mean but Bill, I have never seen any kind of training in this business that replicates what a sports team does and I doubt that you have either.
Bill: Not true Adam.
Adam: Do you mean to tell me that someone in this industry, one of my competitors has "spring training" for new hires?
Bill: Yes Adam that is just what I am telling you, "spring training" and more. Here read this.
Adam takes the paper Bill offers and reads:
"As a new employee you can expect 80 hours of formalized discipline specific training including current company computer programs and another 80 hours of informal training to familiarize yourself with our clients, processes and nuances of the jobsite environment. You'll also be assigned a mentor to help you acclimate. For employees who show initiative, you will be rewarded with promotion opportunities and the vast array of career paths existing within our Company framework."
Adam: Wow! That must be very expensive.
Bill: In my discussions with them they shared that this program is not the only thing they do. Before every project starts they pull the assigned management and supervision team together and spend as much as a week putting together a Project Execution Plan. They review past projects done for this Client. They review past projects of the same type for pitfalls and lessons learned. They also review past projects that were installed in the same geographic region and climate conditions. The management and supervision is held responsible for passing on all the key project issues as new people are assigned to the project. And that is passed right down to the lowest level of each member of the team.
At three strategic points during the project: the end of the FEED stage; at the 50% point of detailed design and at the start of construction there are meetings held on the project for management and supervision to insure that every one is "on the same page."
After the project is completed the management and supervision again come together to go over the lessons learned from the project. The outfall of this project closeout meeting is used by the next project and by discipline departments to update and refine their training program.
Adam: Again I say that must be very expensive.
Bill: I would bet that they don't spend as much on that program as your company spends every year on this "Sky Box" and the other support you are giving to that team down there on the field. That is why I said that you think that the game down there on that field today is more important than my five billion dollar project.
The bottom line of this fictional conversation is about the relationship of spring training in professional sports vs. technical, administrative and management training in the process plant EPCM profession. What do you, the readers think? Could this conversation take place? What importance should an EPCM company place on training? Will Adam's company make the bidders list? Makes you stop and think doesn't it?
The author is a part-time consultant inTampa, Florida. He has more than 45 years of process plant piping engineering and design experience. His experience includes assignments in the design office, the training room, various job sites and pipe fabrication shops.
He is the author of the book "Piping Engineering Leadership for Process Plant Projects" Gulf Professional Publishing, April, 2001, ISBN 0-88415-347-9 and the article "Process Design Team: Thinking outside the box" Hydrocarbon Processing, December 2003.
He is semi-retired and lives in Florida where he plays tennis and responds to piping questions when asked