The past several years have had an interesting impact on the way people have worked together (or not) when it comes to coordinating for a project. It seems to me that the ‘best’ and ‘ worst’ experiences in our  daily interactions with people, occur at every level in an organization, and in every facet of our data center industry. People all react differently to stresses, and some tend not to hold back their robust display of emotions when things aren’t getting done right! Knowing that we have all been in the pressure cooker of a lackluster economy, ( I won’t remind you of the specific recession indicators) but we have all had to deal with economically-driven restricted budgets and limited project opportunities.

There is competition, and that has usually been good for our capitalism model, but there has been an overwhelming sense of urgency to perform, and that can also be a good thing, as long as we keep an eye on safety and quality. If the project doesn’t get awarded to you or your firm, then there is also the fear in someone’s mind that they may have the possibility of facing the unemployment line. I’m not saying that all of the finger pointing (if and when it occurs) on any project is what is to blame in this scenario, however, there is merit to taking extra steps to ensure project success through collaboration and respect for others.

Here is what I’m getting at…

In January or 2002, I was working on my master’s degree, and one of my instructors presented a model used in business that is very useful, and once I share it with you, you will understand how to employ it as it pertains to your daily interactions with people, and particularly as it relates to working with vendors on your projects.  The concept is something that you will immediately recognize every time you get into your vehicle. There is on your driver’s side dashboard a cluster of instruments that provide you with information for operating your car. In most cases, vehicles are equipped with a gauge that measures the performance of the engine known as the ‘Tachometer’. It usually has the initials R.P.M. listed somewhere on the face of the instrument, and the definition of this acronym is Revolution Per Minute.

The unique message taught by my instructor that day, was that he changed the meaning of the acronym from Revolution Per Minute, to Response Per Mandate.  The Tachometer measures performance of the engine, and he had suggested that we use the new RPM Model as a tool to measure the performance of every department in our respective organizations, (even applying this to ourselves) in the way we deal each other internally, and with our customers, vendors, and our families.

This new model certainly had a profound impact on me throughout my power generation career! I hope that it does  something positive for you well, and perhaps you will begin to identify certain applications for the RPM Model to be used in your life and career.  Think of how many times that our customers have expressed what their mandates are for us to accomplish certain tasks – how did we perform?  What was the RPM? Nowadays, I find it easier to not ‘lose my cool’ and be more patient with the situations that I have encountered, whether it is on the jobsite, or in the office.

Here’s an example:

Navigating through Vendor Turmoil

This project was well underway, headed towards completion with the installation of a 1750kW Emergency Standby Generator. The project was for a well known insurance company, and they were getting close to finishing the building that would house the generator system along with the rest of the electrical gear. The unit was staged at a fabricating company that worked on a customized fuel storage tank, and they also had to install the engineering firm’s specified Seismic Zone 4 Spring Type Vibration Isolators. Some of the western Unites States are subject to more seismic activities than other regions in our country. On this project the team’s consensus was to err on the side of caution, and install the isolators to protect the unit from aggressive lateral movements that can happen during an earthquake, aftershock, or other natural or weather related issue. It is for these reasons, that more studies and ‘shaker table’ tests are performed to ensure the generator system functions under such extreme or severe conditions. 

As with most projects, it is typical to blend the ‘Art and Science’ aspects of a project, and we see this take place when the project goes through the life cycle process of design,  production, logistical operations and implementation also known as commissioning. The focal point for this example was when the customer called for the unit to be delivered to the jobsite. The project manager notified the transport company to pick up the unit which was staged at the enclosure manufacturing company, and to make sure that the necessary permits, chase vehicles, etc. were ready to go. This aspect of the operation went as planned, until the driver arrived at the enclosure company. Apparently, the enclosure company’s oversized forklift was suffering from a mechanical failure, and no other piece of equipment was available on site to move the 1750kW generator onto the double drop deck trailer. This set off a chain reaction to employ contingency plans to overcome this mitigating circumstance:

1.The forklift cannot be repaired, as the vintage parts need to be special ordered and are not available for a minimum of 1 week.

2. The Project Manager’s Customer needs the unit in place that scheduled day, because the steel to set the roof was being installed the very next day at the end-user’s installation jobsite.

3. The enclosure company contacts a crane operator to have them arrive immediately to remedy the situation. (Aside from the increased cost associated, and a little luck in getting an available crane on short notice) this was a act of good faith on the part of the enclosure company.

4. The Project Manager has no idea that any of this is going on, that is until the transport driver calls him and tells him that there will be overtime charges, because the unit is not loaded on the truck at the time.

5. Obviously, the Project Manager grabbed his phone and keys to his vehicle to head to the enclosure company’s location and assess the situation. (and face the daunting task of explaining the situation and then updating the Salesman, and the Customer of the current events).

6. Now comes the crane outfit, this is where we look at the ‘Art’ side of the equation. Things could have worked out smoothly, had the crane operator, and the ground guide spend more time communicating to each other!

7. There is a certain amount of finesse to moving a large and heavy piece of equipment, like a generator. Once the unit was strapped, and the hook deployed, the unit was raised up at an improper angle, (which could have been prevented) had there been the appropriate communication between the crane operator and the ground guide, however,  the instant that the generator was lifted from the ground, all but one of the seismic isolators were broken.

8. This creates additional issues, but the main objective of this day was to get the unit delivered to the jobsite.

9. There were plenty of additional charges that resulted as part of the delay and damage and ‘finger-pointing’ that took place during this project scenario of events.

10.Tempers flared, poorly executed plans, choosing responsibility and accountability, dealing with delivering not so good news to your team and your client.

Maybe, if we understand that things happen, and not always as planned, we would understand that eventually, some of the equipment breaks down, but it doesn’t mean we have to!  Our unified goal is to make a difference in the power generation industry, and our ability to overcome the disparity between the best laid out plans and reality is important. Could this project have been handled differently?  I think so…What is your opinion?  How would you handle these issues, or what would take place if everyone used the RPM Model? 

It may be a good practice to foster nurturing relationships with our vendor suppliers. They help us complete the project!   Rather than having the constant requests to cut costs, (e.g.  ‘sharpen your pencil’, or ‘do this for me if you want the next order’, and even ‘this better happen or there will be consequences’) I believe that we need to take an extra moment, or maybe a deep breath, to reflect on the RPM Model before we interact with others!

 Try the RPM Model, and let me know how it works for you!