Make Sure the Coffee Is Strong and the Pot Brews Quickly on Start-up (career tip)

The following tip is from the ISA book by Greg McMillan and Hunter Vegas titled 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career, inspired by the ISA Mentor Program. Today’s Tip #25 is by Hunter Vegas.

101 Tips for a Successful Automation CareerThis may seem like a crazy tip, but there is a lot more truth in this statement than you might realize. It’s directed to management, but a young engineer may have reason and opportunity to encourage management to do this.

Concept: Simple things like strong coffee and a fast brewing pot seem minor, but during start-up or production outages they can impact productivity and morale a lot more than you might realize. Bringing in a couple of pizzas or a few half-gallons of ice cream costs next to nothing, but it can make a world of difference in the attitudes of the people who are working 24-hour coverage to get a plant started up or back on line.

Details: A start-up or production outage is a hectic, chaotic time. People may be working long hours, patience is short, tempers flare, and the pressure mounts as everyone struggles to stay on schedule and resolve the myriad of unexpected problems that invariably crop up. With so much going on, anything management can do to ease the situation and improve morale is a worthwhile thing. Bringing in donuts in the morning or pizzas or subs at lunch is definitely appreciated by the crew. Some companies have “ice cream socials” during the shift change meeting. Do SOMETHING to show that the company appreciates the extra effort.

Watch-Outs: Do not forget the night crew, the off shifts, and even the contractors. Arranging food for these groups can be logistically more challenging, but the negative effect of NOT including them is great – not to mention being unfair to them.

Exceptions: The biggest risk to this idea is setting a precedent where people simply begin to take the food for granted. If possible, arrange the special meals irregularly enough that their arrival is still a surprise.

Insight: As crazy as it might seem, a fast brewing coffee pot and easy to use coffee pouches probably create a measurable improvement in the productivity of an engineering office as well. It would be an interesting study to find out how much time is wasted sitting around the coffee pot waiting for it to brew and talking about last night’s ball game.

Rule of Thumb: Take the time (and spend the money) to show appreciation to the crews on a start-up or during a major production outage. These people are under a great deal of stress and deserve the recognition.

Look for another tip next Friday.

Hunter Vegas

About the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. His job titles have included instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he joined Avid Solutions, Inc., as an engineering manager and lead project engineer, where he works today. Vegas has executed nearly 2,000 instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms.
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