Turnaround Management Knowledge Update, October 2011
Turnaround Management Knowledge Update
Michael D. Jeansonne
Twain, turmoil and turnarounds
It seems each day brings a new “crisis” to our country and the world. Fueled by instant access to news, an obvious bias by so called “journalists” and politicians who appear to put their own future ahead of those they serve, it often appears everything is topsy turvy. One minute we hear one view and the next minute we hear a 360-degree differing view. Which is right? What’s really going on and why? What should I do, how should I react? Should I begin hiring, should I hold off, should I stick with bonds or go with stocks or buy gold, should we launch that turnaround now or wait a year?
Except for instant access to breaking news every second, we must remember things have pretty much always been in seeming turmoil, it’s just we did not have the instant information and exposure to it we have today.
One of my favorite humorists, writers and political commentators was Mark Twain. He lived from 1835 to 1910, and, yes, I may be old but I did not know him. Yet, I have read his works and I think much of it is as applicable today as it was at the time. Twain had a distinct disdain for the U.S. Congress and took every opportunity to poke fun at them.
He once said, “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can (be taught).” He was referencing the travelling “trained flea circuses” of the day. He also said, “Suppose you were an idiot and you were a member of Congress, but I repeat myself.” One undeniable fact is we all tend to see things through our own set of lenses. Our lenses are ground with precision by our personal experiences including the beliefs we developed during our early childhood.
We all have learned things from creditable sources and taken them as fact yet some “facts” turn out not to be “fact” at all. For example, people once thought the world was flat and if you sailed too far, you would simply fall off. It also was thought the sun revolved around the earth rather than vice versa. To that end, Twain remarked, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it is what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Defining the scope of a big turnaround that is on a four-year cycle is a contentious event that can bring out the best and the worst of the stakeholders. Each stakeholder has his own particular interest and views of what is “so.” Those of us who have participated in the process of paring down a turnaround work list can identify with the frustrations of negotiating the merits of a turnaround project scope item by item. While we all may agree in principle, at the local level each item will have its proponents and opponents. It is not until the coherent factors are agreed upon as governing principles and are used as a filter to regulate, do the details begin to get sorted out and aligned. When the scope items are assessed within the context of all of the governing principles of the project (cost, reliability, safety, schedule and etc.) then clarity happens and alignment is reached. Still, it requires reasonable people to act reasonably.
During this recent national debt debate most were wondering where the leadership was because our politicians seemed to act like children and there were no thinking adults in charge. Some said since the ceiling had been raised in the past, it was OK to do it again. Others said, “But never before has the debt vs. gross domestic product been so out of alignment.” Many said, “It’s my way or the highway.” While others said, “Compromise is the only way (as long as I get what I want).” In the end, our politicians did what politicians always do; they disguised the solution as a solution and then turned it all over to another committee to hash it all out. Imagine if we ran our turnarounds like that. In our industry, we have the disciplines, the tools and the impetus to work out differences because our end goal is to have a successful project.
I’ll close with one last Twain-ism, “The difference between fact and fiction is that people expect fiction to make sense.” Washington purports to operate on fact, but it doesn’t make sense to me.
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