Oil and Gas Industrial zone,The equipment of oil refining,Close-up of industrial pipelines of an oil-refinery plant,Detail of oil pipeline with valves in large oil refinery.

The EXPAT

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46. Rivers

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Many manufacturers from the west have tried sourcing products in the former Soviet Union to address one or more of these pressing requirements. In a country as vast as Russia, with a history of suffering for a greater cause, who now in many ways are treated as a third-world country, this course was different.

We used the most important river in the country, the Volga, and built a metaphor they could embrace. This river has for centuries been the life-blood of the Russian economy.

Our task was to view a Palace of Prosperity on the other side of the river and ask how to get across. That is the manufacturing quality problem: the palace is high-quality products in great demand in the global market place.

In all of our endeavors, we found differences between where we are and where we need to be in four important ways:
1) between actual and desired quality
2) between actual and desired cost
3) between how fast we get an order to the dock or a    new product  to the market and the speed of our competition
4) between a happy, optimistic, excited, motivated,
innovative work-force and a crew of be-draggled, whipped, burnt-out, TGIF hired-hands.

We defined these differences as the problem, calling it the river; one that must be crossed to bridge the difference, to get from where we are to where we need to be. The question: what is needed to cross the river?

Rivers have four relevant dimensions;
1) Width; how large is the problem, how far are we from where we need to be?
2) Depth; how much trouble if our boat sinks before reaching the other side? What are the risks?
3) Speed; will we be too far down stream by the time we get to the other side to reduce the difference?
4) The nature of flow; are there hidden whirlpools to thwart our efforts, or white water around the bend to create havoc and chaos? Some rivers have rock bottoms that are treacherous but predictable. Others have sand bottoms where channels shift constantly.

Each dimension must be considered before selecting the method to cross any river. Since no two rivers have the same characteristics, there is no “best-skill” for all problems. We need a set of skills (tools) to deal with each problem. The failure to understand variability is one of the major problems facing industry today. The skills needed to understand and to control variability were introduced during our sessions. The participants were already quite statistically literate, but they came away with some simple but effective technical tools.

Most problems we deal with, however, have a personal dimension. That is, there is usually something about persons or personalities that affect a problem and its solution. Computers can do a great deal to simplify operational tasks, however a computer cannot give praise, recognize personal grief, or act to bring to adversaries to a win-win position in a heated debate.

People rarely fail at a task because they don’t have sufficient technical skills. Failure usually comes from the inability to work with others, to take as well as to give.

We found this dimension particularly relevant with our Russian audience. We addressed this important problem area with team skills covered during the sessions.

For instance, to change something, especially to remove a problem, we often have to ask someone to do something differently. People may see this as being asked to admit they have done something wrong. This was true in the Russian environment but for different reasons than we find in the west. The Russian psyche prides itself on its ability to suffer in the pursuit of its dream. That dream is quite individual, dependent upon a scheme of personal (soft) networks as the only way to achieve the dream, to get something done. An informal personal agreement is more binding than a contract. This makes everything negotiable. The source of reluctance to admit to wrong-doing lies in how will it affect posturing for advantage within the network.

The big picture, Big-Q vs. Little-Q if you will, had to be the focus. With only the short view people often resist change even though it might make their lives easier. Team mentality is critical here to promote group working together for a higher purpose. When accepted, change becomes welcome, with each team member seeking changes to continually improve their job, their process, their system. A team paradigm is counter to the Russian mentality in this manner,

How did we do? Did the participants find success in these endeavors? We learn there are few absolutes in our world. The answer is, some did, some didn’t. There were many diligent participants who labored through all the classes and came away with greater understandings in both technical and team skills. Others, who were caught in the “urgency of production,” were unable to spend all the time they would have liked to and came away with less that what was possible. As well, do we feel there are ways we could do it better another time?

One of the principles we stressed during the sessions was that of continual improvement. Of course we can do it better next time. It is the spirit of this fact we hope all participants went away with. We can all do our jobs better and should continually seek ways to improve what we do. We hope they continue this process that has only just begun, both in the realm of training and education.

 

Fun-ditty #46
“The best edge we all have is freedom to find and develop our own skills. It gives us the freedom to take risks, to try, to fail, to learn, and to try again. Mistakes are the mother of all learning and our daily experience reminds us of that. The joys, the aha’s and tears that follow allows our continued growth.”

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson is a retired professional quality engineer and educator with extensive experience in manufacturing environments throughout the world, including Singapore, Indonesia, Russia, and various locations throughout the United States. Besides all that, he Leslie Householder's admired and revered father, and she is pleased to spotlight his "Expat" stories here on her Rare Faith blog.