November 26, 2014

I Remember When I Realised This Peer Assist Would Save Lives

I Remember When I Realised This Peer Assist Would Save Lives

The mine started its history as an open pit type mine but over the years the time that it took for trucks to get down to the bottom of the pit and back to the surface became uneconomical.  This isn’t unusual for this type of mine, its part of the life cycle of the mine, so the time came for a shaft to be sunk and the mine to go underground.

It is well known that when a mine changes from a open pit to deep underground that the accident level increases dramatically.  Suddenly you move from working in natural light to working in the light of your headlamp.  Everywhere is in total darkness save for the area illuminated by your headlamp.  The mine owners wanted to open this new deep shaft mine with fewer fatalities than had been achieved by any previous new deep shaft mine.  They decided to hold a Peer Assist to transfer the learning from other mines into their development plans.

The leaders in each of the deep shaft mining disciplines were invited to attend the two day event.  During that time the project team outlined the approach that they were taking and listened to the suggestions offered by the visitors.  What was interesting was the impact that what seemed to be very small changes in the design / implementation of the new mine could have on safe operations.

The mine not only opened with much lower fatalities than comparable mines but its on-going safety record was much better. 

The Peer Assist also had a secondary outcome: the mine was opened faster than originally scheduled and at the saving of several million dollars.

November 12, 2014

I Remember When I Realised This Peer Assist Is Going To Be Special

I remember when I realised this Peer Assist is going to be special.

The Peer Assist had been arranged to improve the start up of a solar panel production plant.  The panels produced electrical power so visitors were invited from microchip manufacturers as well as others operating continuous production facilities.  All the visitors signed a mutual confidentiality agreement that would allow the hosts and the visitors to have a conversation within the confines of commercial confidentiality.

The hosts outlined their plan to start up the production line and the visitors listened intently.  We had set the ground rule for the first part of the Peer Assist that questions from the visitors at that stage would be ‘for clarification only’ to allow the dialogue to proceed relatively uninterrupted.

When the hosts had finished their presentation the first comment from a visitor was, “If you can do that you will be the first in the industry to do it and others will be beating a path to your door to learn how you did it”.  To say it had an impact on the hosts would be an understatement.

The issue seemed to be that the production line consisted of a number of pieces of equipment, operating in series, one after the other.  Unfortunately these machines had a tendency to be unstable when initially started so the trick was to get the first one stable, then add the second one, get the two stable, start up and add the third one, get the three operating in a stable fashion and continue in that way until the whole line was stable, if one machine tripped, it tripped the whole line and you had to start from the beginning again.

The visitor then went on to explain how machine four in the sequence was the most temperamental and had a tendency to trip the whole line during start up.  Once it was stable, it would run forever, the challenge was getting it to operate in a stable fashion with all the other equipment operating.  The visitor went on to share that they installed three of that machine in parallel, all operating at the same time, which meant that at any one time, one of them would be operating which allowed them to get the whole line up and running.  Once the line was stable they could remove the other two, leaving one of machine four operating in a stable fashion.  The capital cost of installing the extra machines in parallel was more than offset by the early production from the line.

The host team listened intently and amended their plans based on the advice shared during the Peer Assist.  A business case was presented to management based on that advice and the additional capital approved.  The plant was subsequently commissioned in line with the original expectations, something that wouldn’t have been possible without the advice of the visitors.

Another interesting thing surfaced during the Peer Assist that the host team just hadn't anticipate.  The host team had been focused on the technical aspects of starting up the production line but the visitors highlighted the critical path nature of permits and licences.  These permits and licences covered a variety of things but crucially they had to be provided by a local or national government agency and the applications for these licences would be progressed in a time frame / process totally at the discretion of that agency.  Some horrors stories were shared by the visitors of plants ready to be commissioned waiting on a licence from a government agency.

The potential impact of licences on the start up of the plant caused the hosts to create a best practice knowledge asset on how to work with local and national governments to obtain licences to operate such plants.  That best practice was then used around the world each time they built a new plant.

November 10, 2014

I Remember When I Discovered Peer Assist

I remember when…………I discovered the power of the Peer Assist process.

I am currently participating in a Creative Writing Course and one of the exercises is to take the text ‘I remember when’ and then write something that adds to that statement.  I thought it might be an idea to combine my participation in the course with my blog entries so here goes.

I remember when I discovered the power of the Peer Assist process.  A manufacturing site wanted to introduce a new software application and had formed a project team to undertake the scoping and implementation work.  The team had heard of this new process called Peer Assist and decided to host one in the belief that it might assist them.  I was asked to facilitate the meeting.

I started the meeting by asking everyone to introduce themselves but to stick to the basics of name, job title, site they came from.  Then I asked the host team to briefly outline the project and the challenges they would appreciate assistance / insights on from the visitors.  I then asked each of the visitors to introduce themselves for a second time but this time highlight the relevant experience and essentially outline why the host project team members should pay attention to what they might say.

The next stage was the project team to outline in detail their project and its challenges.  The further they got into their presentation, the quieter the visitors became.  At the end of the presentation there was a noticeable silence in the room.  As the facilitator, I knew something wasn’t quite right but wasn’t sure what it was.  I decided to ask the first visitor for his initial thoughts.  “You could change the name of their project into ours as they are planning to do almost exactly what we have been doing.  Only problem is that we have spent 2 years and $12m on trying to implement this software and haven’t been able to get back to the functionality we had 2 years ago”.  You could have knocked me down with a feather, as they say.

I asked the second visitor for his initial thoughts and he replied, “Same as him, we still haven’t been able to get it to work”.  It transpired none of the visitors, all from different locations in the company, hadn’t been able to get the software to work successfully.  This was completely unknown before the visitors had mentioned it.

Now one of the principles upon which the Peer Assist process is based is that the host project team can decide to accept or reject the advice and suggestions offered by the visitors.  Having just heard that none of the other sites had been able to get the software to work successfully, I fully expected the host team to indicate that they were going to completely rethink why they were doing the project but no, they indicated that they intended to proceed on course as if the Peer Assist had never taken place.

As a facilitator you sometimes need to ensure that the host team stop and reflect on what they have been presented with, so I summarised the discuss as, “This company has attempted to install this software in at least five of its locations.  In no instance has it been able to get the software to operate successfully.  In at least one site they have spent 2 years trying to get back to where they were before they started to install this software.  Given that the visitors think your project is going to replicate what they have already proven doesn’t work, what can you do to make it work this time?”

The host team decided to stop all work on their project.  They then organised and hosted a Knowledge Exchange workshop at which all the sites that had tried to install this software were invited to share their experiences.  A best practice document was created based on the collective knowledge of the entire organisation, things they knew didn’t work, things they knew work and things they thought might work.  The host team them ‘piloted’ this best practice document on behalf of the entire organisation.  The software was successfully installed and the best practice document updated and rolled out across the organisation.

The Peer Assist worked because;

  • The host team were prepared to listen to suggestions and advice
  • The visitors were prepared to share their negative and positive experiences
  • The host team were prepared to put the overall company performance ahead of their own project short term objectives

The Peer Assist is an extremely powerful process and one that I have always been fond of.

November 3, 2014


A number of years ago I attended a Petroleum Economics training course part of which was evaluating and preparing a bid for new acreage.  For those not familiar with the oil exploration business, oil companies bid for a licence to explore on a piece of territory, the acreage.  The objective is to obtain the licence at a price that allows you to make money.  That is always assuming you find some oil!  Obtaining licences is the life blood of an exploration company, without the licence you can’t explore for oil and without oil you will soon go out of business.

The course taught us how to work the numbers and calculate the value of the acreage and hence how much we should bid for the licence.  It also taught us that frequently a premium would be paid in order to obtain a licence that was deemed ‘strategic’ eg getting access to a new area or stopping someone else getting the licence.

The next stage was role playing the negotiating sessions.  Very quickly the desire to ‘win’ overcame the calm logic and the bids started to go way beyond those calculated before the negotiations began.  During the debrief we learned that it was very common during the negotiations to bid well above the initial valuation of the licence.  The instructors told us that there were several reasons for this including;

·       People who were involved in the negotiations were often deemed ‘high potential individuals’ within their organisation

·       This type of person wasn’t accustomed to losing or being beaten

·       Winning second prize in negotiations was perceived to be career damaging

·       It was not unusual for this type of person to have an inflated opinion of their capabilities


The reason that I tell you this story is because I think it frequently applies to the concept of ‘innovation’.

Getting things right, consistently getting them right can produce stunning business results but it isn’t as glamorous as ‘innovation’.  Let me try to explain.

Imagine you have five plants in different locations.  Most plants don’t operate at 100% efficiency, nothing like it so let’s suppose that each plant operates at an efficiency of 80% to make the mathematics nice and simple.  If you add up the lost efficiency across the five plants you get 5*20% = 100% or in other words the lost efficiency is the equivalent of one new plant.  Just imagine going to your boss and saying that if you could successfully manage your knowledge and share best practice across the five plants, they could have the equivalent of one plant for free!

I have deliberately made the mathematics in the above example very simple to highlight things but the most important thing to take away from this is that by transferring best practice between plants you can dramatically improve the financial performance of your organisation.

I have witnessed this phenomena on several occasions now, in one example the ‘waste’ due to lack of systematic knowledge management was the equivalent of the largest industrial plant of its type.  Imagine being offered the largest plant of its type just by transferring and implementing best practice, who would turn that down.

So next time you are tempted by your ego to go after ‘innovation’, just take a minute or two to consider whether investing in transfer and implementation of best practice might produce better business results.