DE Women: You are the Best!

I wanted to let you know how rewarding it has been to observe and help you during my years in Kazakhstan. There has been awakening in society, throughout the World, about how important it is to respect and support all women. There is a long way to go in many places but I am grateful we worked together and I saw up close how capable, resilient and amazing you are!

I have shared with many of you that I was raised by a strong mother, have 2 great sisters, an exceptional spouse, an awesome daughter and fantastic nieces (3) and great-neices (3) – my family is blessed by them all. In my career I have had the good fortune to have an inspiring back-to-back (Sharon), top performing bosses (Barbara Smith and Cheryl Brandt) and an incredible General Director (Eimear Bonner).

These women, by their actions, encouraged me to help as much as possible to make TCO Designs Engineering sensitive, supportive, and challenging to you DE Women. The TCO Women’s Network and our DE informal discussions reinforce the World is better when Women are empowered and supported. The following recent article from the Washington Post demonstrates your leadership potential.

One favorite memory is when Eimear visited the 2018 KTL TA Trailers.  She pulled me aside and said it was good to see all the Women in Designs Engineering.  I replied that we have great Engineers and Designers in DE; it is not chance that many are women – we select the best available.

Thank you all!  Marc


















Getting to the Plant from the Office – What are you complaining about?

In Richmond, there was a lot of complaining when we had to move people from the field offices to the Admin Building, moving people away from the process units they work in.  We had even more complaining when we had to move the Capital Projects and Drafting Department folks to the off-site building at Marina Way.  I tell people it could be worse but they did not hear me – moving to the new locations made it more difficult / more time consuming to do their job.

Well let me tell you how much worse it could be.  In Tengiz it takes ~45 minutes to get from the office to the process units.  The average engineer and supervisor takes the bus to the process units.  It takes little less than 10 minutes to walk to the bus stop from the Designs Enginering offices, and then just over 30 minutes on the bus to the process units.  If you have a meeting scheduled at the top of the hour in the plant, you must leave about 40 minutes before, and then you are a few minutes late for the meeting.  The buses are on a schedule (leave every 30 minutes for one plant, every 60 minutes for the other) so you need to time your site visits, and pay attention to the time.  There is a canteen out at one of the plants so you can grab lunch there if you have several things to do.

You can take a taxi but need to schedule in advance.  This usually works if you have several folks needing to see something in the field or all going to the same meeting.  You sometimes can arrange for the taxi to wait for you but they are so busy that many times you get the taxi out there and then take the bus back.

One thing I have noticed is that most people sleep on the bus or taxi.  I have a natural tendency to want to talk to people that I might not normally see, engage them in some work discussion.  For those that know me, I don’t handle silence well.  But now that I have been here a while I can see for those working 12, 13, 14 hour days, a little down time on the bus is to be expected.  So I bring something to read, or shut my eyes as well.  My problem is I just start to drift off when we arrive at our destination.

Another Schedule-Driven Project

We had an unplanned shutdown of a propane dryer skid earlier this month – several pieces of equipment, piping and instruments damaged – have another “schedule-driven” project that I am involved in, if you know what I mean.  Not the biggest incident I have been involved in but we still need to go through all the steps of incident investigation, assessment, demolition, purchase materials before you know what is damaged, develop design packages before you know what needs to be replaced, and build everything back as quick as possible – just the way some of us like it – all phases all the time.  A couple small pieces of equipment will take 6 weeks to fabricate, and we will cut back some home run cables and install some intermediate I&E junction boxes; should have it all back together in early March.  Makes the time go fast.  What is different is no need to figure out who is working this weekend, who needs a day off – everyone works every day here.  But you do need to pay attention to who is rotating in and who is rotating out, need to make sure the various action items and work move forward.

The other interesting aspect is facilitating a daily rebuild coordination meeting with Reliability, Engineering, Operations, Maintenance and HES – lots of people, various perspectives, and two languages.  My solution is to use a conference room that has two in-focus machines and two tranlators.  I facilitate and scribe the meeting in English, have a translator handle the verbal translation, and then another translator who is following my meeting notes and converting it to Russian during the meeting.  It seems to be going well with this approach; I can see that the Russian speakers are reading the notes in Russian and are bringing up issues for clarification.   It also makes the meeting go faster because people can read the agreements in either language and we do not need to meticulously translate verbally between the two languages.

Meet the Designs Engineering Supervisor (October 2011)

A few days into my second rotation I realized I had to find a way to accelerate learning everyone’s names in my group.  I attended a group gathering (see Oilman’s Day) and I realized looking around the room that it would take me a very long time to know who everyone was if I continued down the path I was on.  My primary problem was that I do not interact daily with the majority of people in my group.  For the most part I interact with the Lead Engineers (first line supervisors), customers and my peers.  The actual work the individuals in my group perform is directed / coordinated by the Lead Engineers who report to me (and my back-to-back).  This assignment is similar to positions I previously held in the Richmond Refinery but since I had worked there so long I had a leg up, already knew many people each time I went to a new position, and just had to concentrate on the few I did not know.  But everyone in my group here at TCO is new to me.

On my first rotation I Interacted with each Lead Engineer several times, learning about thier positions, about the work we do in the group, and something about their career backgrounds.  I typically eat lunch with them several times a week and by doing so learned more about thier careers, about their family and their interests.  Since I interact with each Lead Engineer, usually daily, it is easy to know them – it is not an issue remembering thier names.  But as I sat there during the Oilman’s Day celebration, looking around the room realizing I couldn’t remember if the person sitting a across from me was Sabyrbak or Assylbak,  I concluded I could not just memorize everyone’s name from a picture on an org chart, or from a name on a list. I reflected that the key to remembering someone’s name is to know something about them.   To be able to remember who each person in my group was I needed to learn who they are.

Walking home from work after we had our Oilman’s Day celebration I resolved to do something different.  I decided to invite each person in my group to my office to give me a chance to get to know them.  I also resolved that I would complete this by the end of my third rotation.  So with a 120+ people in the group (including support staff not in our cost center) I needed to come up with a fast and effective way to do this.  I discussed my plan with my Lead Engineers on the first Sunday of my rotation (at our staff meeting) and obtained their input on how to proceed.

First I developed a form that I could use to take notes when I had the “get to know you” discussions.  Topics I decided to cover included where the person is from, something about their family, their technical background, their previous work experience, and what they liked to do when they are away from work (e.g., off rotation). 

I then began to schedule the meetings.  I decided the best way to do this was to block out an hour, and then schedule 4 people in successive 15 minute blocks.   Every position in my group has a back-to-back (b2b) so I first had to figure out who was in Tengiz during any giving week.  Our group maintains a master rotation schedule so I poured over this document numerous times to figure out when people were here.  I first concentrated on folks who were about to go off rotation so I could meet them before they leave.  I also decided not to schedule anyone right when they arrived, giving them a couple days to acclimate before meeting me.  Finally, I tried to make sure I met a similar percentage of people from each group during my second rotation.  Even though we have four Lead Engineer positions we actually have 7 supervisor positions (in addition to the Leads we also have a Lead Mechanical Designer position, a Lead I&E Designer position, and a 2012 SGP/SGI TA Coordinator position).

The first couple days I tried this I blocked out an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon – I found this to be very tiring and chewed up a good part of my day.  To ensure the meetings were successful I had to put some time aside to prepare for the meeting plus after the meeting I needed to take time to review my notes to ensure I captured key items that would help me remember who each person was (meeting people for two hours really took at least three hours due to perparations and note review).  After the first week of meetings I scaled back to a single one-hour meeting block in 5 out of 7 days of each week.

Prior to my meetings I would pre-populate the form I had developed, using the TCO White Pages.  The TCO White Pages are similar to the Corporate White Pages but also includes a picture of the person, how long they have been working at TCO, their shared email address and a link to their b2b’s profile.  The TCO White Pages also indicate if the person is a Chevron employee, TCO employee (e.g., Kazkh national employee), or a contractor.

My other preparation tasks were 1) get a map of Kazakhstan so that each person could show me where they are from / where they live  and 2) arrange for a translator/interpretor for those who did not feel comfortable speaking with me in English.  Immediately prior to the meeting I would review the forms of the people I was to meet in the next hour – I wanted to be able to greet each person who entered my room with a “Hello Saltanat” or “Hello Vladimir.”  I thought it would be bad form to say – and who are your again?

Here is a link to an example email that I sent out – INCLUDE LINK LATER.

So how did it go?  During my second rotation I met 67 people through these 15 minute “Meet the Designs Engineering Manager” sessions.  For the most part I met with people in my office at TCOV but also visited the “North Contractor Compound (NCC)” area where one of our turnaround engineering groups is located.   The group that works here takes the busto the NCC in the morning, and the bus back to SV in the evening.  It would have been inconvienant for them to visit me at my office in TCOV, so I set-up meetings at thier work site, typically making these visits adjacent to their weekly staff meeting so I could sit in on this as well.  The Lead Engineer responsible for this turnaround also attended – it was a good chance for both of us to meet the people of this group (many are new, working less than a year for TCO). 

In addition to the 67 individual meetings I had during the second rotation I had already gotten to know about 20 people from my group during my first rotation.  People I had already met included all the Lead Engineers, several of the Senior Engineers (primarily Expats) and our Admin Assistants and Translators.  As a result I now have met and know the names of about 75% of my group, with plans to meet the remaining 25% on my third rotation.  And I know many of the names of folks I have not yet had a chance to sit down with – It’s easier to figure out who you don’t know once you know most everyone.

What surprised me is how much I enjoyed these sessions.  My objective of learning people’s names was easily achieved (though I may need to refresh my memory from my notes each time I return to Kazakhstan).  I truly enjoyed learning who the people in my group are, where they are from, a little about their family, a little about their interests.

So even before I complee this activity I am convinced that I would do this again if ever faced with a future position when I am working with many new people.  Why?  Becasue I have learned much more about people than just their names.  I have learned that one person has a black cat named Lucky, another person recently had three weddings (one in her hometown, one in her husband’s hometown, and the third wedding in a mosque to please her Mother-in-Law), that another person was the captain of their University rugby team, another person enjoys drawing portraits (but was never trained to do so), and another person won a flat (apartment) in a bank lottery.  I learned that our group has many youngerst sons, that our group has people that come from all over Kazakhstan to work here, and that many in our group live with thier extended families or live close to their extended families. 

Their are additional benefits to this approach that I did not initially realize when I set out to learn everyones name.  One benefit is allowing the people in my group to get to know me; telling them a little about my family, where I am from, some of my career history.   By letting people know me I become more approachable – hopefully this will make people more comfortable around me and therefore more open to share thier thoughts and opinions.  Another benefit was demonstrated by several people commenting during our meeting that they appreciated the manager of the group wanting to get to know them.  I believe that people respond better to managers that they connect with.  I believe that people will take more ownership, more initiative, and more pride in their work when in an environment where their efforts are appreciated.  This is not to say that the existing environment of TCO Designs Engineering is poor; I am only trying to figure out how best to be an effective leader of this group.

To be honest, I was a bit worried that I bit off more than I could chew with this approach.  Meeting this many people in one rotation, especially my second one, delayed me in looking at some of the work processes we have here in TCO and slowed my attention to daily job responsibilities (like staying on top of email messages, tracking down issues related to budget and work scope, and gaining a better understanding of the field installations and the other groups here in TCO) – which I made up for by working 14 hour days.  But at the beginning of the second rotation I reflected on my strategy from my first rotation (see What to Focus On With Any New Assignment) where I wanted to focus on the people first – this is a clear effort of putting people IN MY GROUP first.

Finally, I realize 15 minutes is not much time, I am barely scratching the surface of getting to know people.  But this effort helps me build a foundation that will guide me as I attempt to manage and develop our large engineering group.  For now, I am pleased with getting to know everyones (or almost everyones) name.

Speech by Management

I attended a Behavior Based Safety (BBS) committee meeting today – they hold them every two weeks.  I attended one of these meetings on my first rotation; thought I should sit in on it again.  Not sure if every department in TCO has a member on the BBS committee; I do know that 2 people in my Designs Engineering group are involved (one is the co-chair) so believe it is beneficial to sit in and see how it goes, what is discussed.

For Richmond Refinery folks, BBS is LPS ultra-light.  We enter observations in a database, and track participation.  Each person is expected to perform one observation each month or rotation.  There are three written observations to choose from; site, office and driving.   The observations are very simple – no preparation required and takes about 10 minutes to do an observation and no more than 10 minutes to enter it from your PC.  I bring my BBS book with me when I perform field walks with engineers from my group – I fold it right into normal work.

Of course the BBS committee meeting looks at the numbers; percent participation by group.  The Designs Engineering group has one of the highest participation rates (averages 92%) – very difficult to get to 100% as it is measured by month and people who have a long off-rotation will not be able to perform an observation that month.  TCO as a whole is operating in the mid 85% participation each month.  Most of the committee meeting discussions are about various efforts to encourage the use of BBS observations, encouraging people to use stop work authority, etc.  Each of the committee members takes turns preparing a safety presentation related to their group, presents it at the committee meeting, and then it can be shared by other committee members with thier own groups if it is applicable.  I have sat in on two meetings and can see that the folks put some good effort into the presentations.

But what really tickles me is that the last item on the BBS committee agenda is “Speech by Management.”  When I attended the first time I was the only Expat in the room so when it got to this point in the agenda (about 50 minutes into an hour meeting) everyone turned to me expectantly.  I had noticed this on the agenda so I kinda of saw it coming but did not have much time to prepare.  I started with saying I am new here and therefore was attending the meeting primarily to learn.  I was about to thank everyone for their efforts when the Production Manager walked into the meeting room and I quickly segued into saying that I was sure glad he showed up so he could share some relevant comments.  So he did.  He sat down and thanked people, told them their efforts were important, and that it was difficult to quantify their efforts to influence safety behavior throughout the facility.  He continued on for a few minutes and people politely listened.  You have to put into context that everyone in the room speaks russian, with very few having a good command of english.  And therefore the Production Manager’s “speech” is translated from english to russian – he says a few words, the translators says a few words, back to the Production Manager, back to the translator, and so on.   

So I attend the meeting again today.  Luckily the Production Manager was at the meeting from the beginning, so I knew they would look to him when the “Speech from Management” agenda item comes up.  And this time I am closely watching the room, seeing what the reaction is to his words.  Our Production Manager once again thanks everyone, somewhat repeating his words from the last time I attended this meeting (six weeks ago) and also discussing a recent injury where a person fell off a ladder and broke both wrists.  And as I listen to our Production Manager, who is saying things that make sense and I know he believes, what crosses my mind is that most of the people in the room are processing “blah blah blah blah blah.”  From their body language, from their lack of recognition (no head nodding or smiling) it strikes me as going in one ear and out the other.  And that is the challenge of creating a safety culture where people are concious of their actions, understand how to assess risk, and believe that every incident is preventable – how do you energize people to change their behavior?  Even though the “speech” shared about a co-worker who was injured, the vast majority of people (99.99%?) believe it either does not apply to them or will not happen to them.  And so they tune out.

I do not have a solution to share – just sharing the observation that amuses me – speech by management is the same as blah blah blah blah blah.  I asked the translator to translate blah blah blah blah blah into russian – he said it is the same :).  Another russian phrase for my vocabulary – in additon to da (yes) and nyet (no) I now know blah blah blah blah blah!

What to Focus On With Any New Assignment

This may be obvious, but I put some thought into how I was going to approach my new assignment.  I recently shared these thoughts with Don Kinkela (Don is my successor as Manager of Designs Engineering).  Don shared he was approaching his new position in a similar manner (does two people make it right?).

The learning I would like to share – when in a new assignment you should focus on three things – in order of priority:

  1. People (who work for you, who you work for (customers), and who you work with (peers and peer organizations)
  2. Plant (understand the process and technology that is currently in place)
  3. Work Processes (how does work get done)

Earlier in my career I would have initially focused on the Plant (as most engineers) or the Work Processes (because I am interested in how things are accomplished).  But I realize that it is the People that make any place go so I have been consciously putting meeting people (my group, our customers, and the Facilities Engineering peer groups) at the top of my list each day.  I am working to learn their strengths and styles, as well as listen / learn from them on what they think is important.   I expect I will continue this priority focus over next several rotations as I get up-to-speed.  I still will focus on people once I feel comfortable with the assignment, but it will take less conscious effort.

How is TCO Facilities Engineering Organized?

Not sure if this is how all Upstream Facilities Engineering organizations are organized, but there are six groups within Facilities Engineering here in Tengiz:

  1. Process Engineering (similar to a Refining Process Engineering group, supports both plant operations and capital projects)
  2. Designs Engineering (similar to Plant Support in a refinery)
  3. Capital Projects – Existing Plant Facilities (EPF) (similar to small capital projects in a refinery)
  4. Capital Projects – Existing Field Facilities (EFF) – this is the group that handles projects in the field, specifically pipeline and injection work
  5. Facilities Construction – builds the projects designed by both Capital Projects groups, EPF and EFF, but not for Designs Engineering.  Maintenance handles all the field execution, both turnaround and on-the-run, for Designs Engineering packages.
  6. Reliability (similar to the Reliability organizations that report through Manintenance in a refinery)

What Surprised Me in Tengiz

Rotational work significantly affects the productivity of the organization.  I knew I was going to be coordinating my position with my back-to-back but I did not appreciate the complexity of everyone on rotational assignments.  Everyone in my group rotates – the Lead Engineers, first level Engineers, Translators and Admin Assistants.  All of our peers in Facilities Engineering rotate, all of our Operations customers rotate, all the Maintenance folks rotate.  And the rotations are not synchronized except in a few select cases (Operations Site Manager overlaps with the three Operations Superintendents is the only snych’d rotation I am aware of).  Therefore, there is a huge amount of hand-off between positions and invariably information does not get communicated, and further follow-up is required.  People do not get upset about this – realize it is in the nature of rotational work.  I found that I spent a lot of time documenting what was done / decisions made; at times I thought I would prefer getting more work done and not have to spend so much time documenting it.  And then you need to leave it in a place where your back-to-back can find it.  We use email PST folders – still getting used to it.

When you go home you really do leave the job behind.  After I finished my turnover I realized all the details of my position would be handled.  In the past I would work really hard before I went off for vacation, typically working late the last few nights to ensure nothing fell through a crack while I was gone.  Invariably I was tired when vacation first started.  I also worked late the few days before turnover but once home I truly did not worry about the job – my oldest son observed that I was relaxed while home – more so than previous vacations.

Designs Engineering Opportunities in Tengiz

The opportunities here are very similiar to what we are faced with in Richmond.  Clearly Tengiz Chevroil (TCO) is a different business unit, with people who have a different background from mine.  But due to the large crude oil processing units a significant portion of TCO looks and feels very much like a refinery.

I promised Alan Lowell that I would not attempt to “fix” everything during my first rotation.  I attempted to listen (wasn’t as hard as I expected) and asked a lot of questions, sometime prefaced with “So I’m the new guy, so how does this ……. work here?”

During my first rotation I attended many meetings (what a surprise), met a lot of people, and explored how work gets done in Tengiz, from hiring to field execution.  Towards the end of my first rotation I met with the four Lead Engineers who report to me and reviewed a list of TCO Designs Engineering Improvement Opportunities that I picked up over my first rotation – I just wanted to capture the ideas and start flushing them out a bit before I left for home.

The feedback I received is I had picked up on many of the things the first level supervisors find as roadblocks or time consuming efforts, and they welcomed ideas / energy on how to improve in these areas.

We will develop this list over my next two rotations, and use the simple prioritization approach of “Business Value if Improved?” and “How Much Effort to Fix?”.  Of course we will work first on the High Business Value / Low Effort to Fix items.  I have asked each Lead Engineer to help flush out an area that they see as particularly difficult or frustranting, and then take the lead on improving here.  Of course I need to discuss / gain alignment with my back-to-back.  In any event, I am looking forward to the challenges to make improvements at my new work location.

  1. Expertizing (this is similar to what Building Permit Services does to receive building permits from the City of Richmond but instead it is complying with Republic of Kazakhstan design review requirements)
  2. Engineering Work Requests – work prioritization (~ 70% of work requests are initially prioiritized as P1)
  3. Utilization of Engineering Contractors – Designs Engineering prefers the contract staffing approach, struggles with leverging through engineering contractors
  4. Materials: Ordering, Tracking, Storehouse Availablity – believed that engineering spends too much time on this feel they are accountable to make sure the material arrives
  5. Staffing / HR Work Processes – new hires, experienced hires, staff vs. contractors
  6. Documentation Control
  7. Funding Work Processes / Budget Control
  8. Technical Training
  9. Succession Planning
  10. Safety – Behavior Based Safety (BBS) Observations / Safety Meetings (this is listed as 10 because it is working well, some minor improvement opportunities observed)
  11. Cost Estimating
  12. Approved Vendor (Supplier) List
  13. Flare Diagnostic and Reduction Project (further flare reducion and improved accuracy of monitoring)
  14. 1oo1 Project (improving reliaibility of safety shutdown installations)
  15. Wireless Project (installation of wireless network)

The last three are projects that I plan to be involved in.  I marvel at how similiar this list is to the Richmond Refinery issues that continue to be worked.


My Favorite Sayings While Working in the Richmond Refinery

Acronyms for $500.

Are you asking me or are you telling me?

Bonus meeting?  Do we need a bonus meeting?

Do you Wiki?

Get over it.

If I wanted your opinion I would give it to you.

If I knew we were going to have 5:30 am meetings I would not have chosen engineering as my major.

If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there.

If you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail.  Chinesse Proverb (or crediting it to a Chinnese Proverb makes it sound good) – I used to work with an Operations Manager who represented this saying very well.

It’s all better (CURE).

Let me make my meddling visible.

Play me or trade me.

This isn’t the Post Office.

Vote with your feet.

Wanna see my Wiki?

Working hard is a cluster “2 -“.

Yes, that’s right, you are absolutely correct.

And a few more from home …………

Engineers fix their mistakes, Doctors bury theirs.

STD = Stop Talking Dad

Favorite Sayings from Friends (it must be good if I post it ;))

Tell us what you need… and we’ll tell you how you can live without it. (Ken Mertes)