What Not To Do

By Greg Graves

In my role, I get to talk to customers about what went well on projects and what could have been done better. In most of these conversations, I’m trying to figure out what we did that created the result, whether good or bad. Recently, one of our new customers explained to me that the key to success in his project actually hinged on what our guys didn’t do. Ever have one of those moments where someone says something that feels simultaneously new and profound, but also so obvious that you feel like you learned it in kindergarten? This turned out to be one of those moments for me.

This customer was responsible for multiple plants that do bulk material handling. These facilities were having a hard time hitting their production volume targets, primarily due to significant unplanned downtime. Over the course of the last few months, 5 different engineers from Revere have worked with the client, focusing on PLC programming and HMI configuration improvements to aid their operation’s automatic processes, diagnostics, and troubleshooting aids. Since completion, there has been a 30% improvement in overall plant production. The customer told us that more than 75% of the improvement is directly attributable to the changes we made in the control system. I asked the customer what our guys did to get this kind of result. His answer: “What they didn’t do was the key to success.” This obviously got my attention, so I asked what he meant.

He replied that Revere were asked to step into a very difficult environment. When we got there, all the control systems had been designed and programmed by non-Revere engineers, and some of those contractors were still active on the site. Some of the systems had also been modified by plant personnel, so they had a stake in what was there as well. Our customer knew the plant had issues and knew they needed new insights into how they could improve performance. The challenge was figuring out how to introduce a new integrator without alienating the people who had done the original work. Everyone needed to work together, and in an environment with so many competing interests, that can be difficult.

He went on:

“Here’s what your people didn’t do. They didn’t criticize or make negative comments about what was already there. So many times, we have seen technical people make negative comments about the work of those who came before them. This often comes across as critical or self-aggrandizing, which isn’t a good foundation for teamwork. If that had happened, it would have greatly undermined success. What the Revere team did was focus on what could be done. They valued the input of the site team; they accounted for what had been done previously; and they created a path forward based on goodwill with the people who were previously involved. New programming was created and, in some cases, completely rewritten, but there never was any criticism or negativity expressed. In the end, we all got the job done and the posture your people took allowed everyone to contribute in an effective way.”

At Revere, one of our core values is humility and I think this story highlights what we mean by that. We believe that our work speaks for itself. Many times, the path to success for a project is created not by what’s done, but by what isn’t done. When the contractors on a project are aligned to get the outcome a customer needs, everyone wins. This is the foundation of being a good teammate, which most of us are taught at a young age. Turns out, most of what you really need to know to succeed you may have learned in kindergarten.