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Week of 24 July 2017: How well do you know your territory?

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"You've got to know the territory." As I remember it, this was a song sung by a chorus of some erstwhile salesmen in the Broadway show "The Music Man." If you are a mill manager or a department manager, it is your responsibility to be a walking encyclopedia about your territory and all that is in it. You've got to know your territory.

A pop quiz any day in your morning meeting should yield, without notes, answers such as digester capacity, paper machine top speed, refiner hp tons per day (if in the US; metric elsewhere), capacity for each cleaner bank and so forth. You and your team need to be so enthusiastic that these figures accurately trip off the tongue without thinking. If you don't know them, you are most likely a sleep walking manager. If you are really good, you will know the balance speed of all your major rotating machinery, too.

Some think of management by the classical definition, "allocation of scare resources." Others see it as purely a people motivation exercise. Both are valid, but incomplete, looks at the complexity of operating a mill. I once knew a manager who thought it was a badge of honor that he knew nothing technical about his area of responsibility!


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The only thing fixed about your operation is the equipment and process systems (tankage, piping, controls) that link it all together. A very large portion of your job as a manager is to optimize the use of this equipment and these process systems. How can you possibly do this if you do not know what their capabilities are? Can you draw accurate flow diagrams of your mill, noting and labeling the capacities of the process equipment, without reference to any documents? Your best competitors can. They know their mills, and know them inside and out. You and your direct reports should know this for all portions of the operation for which you are responsible.

If you don't know this information, where do you start? Well, you start by gathering P & ID's (Process & Instrument Diagrams), operating manuals, operating training software and anything else that may be applicable. Break your direct reports into departments (or smaller units if you are a department head) and go to school on this stuff. Now, classroom time is good and essential, but it is no substitute for wandering out in the operation and putting your hands on everything. You have to see it physically in order for it to stick in your mind.


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Set a time table--ten weeks is reasonable--to learn all this information. And stick to ten weeks no matter what happens--catastrophes, unscheduled downtime and all. No excuses. You should have it committed to memory in ten weeks. Have some fun with this--have some pop quizzes in your morning meetings--and don't ask all the questions yourself--let others do this, too. When do the pop quizzes start? Right away. When do they end? Never.

If you have been experiencing poor operations, wild swings and unscheduled downtime, adopting this approach is one of the strongest steps you can take to move things to a higher and more consistent level of performance. Don't delay, start today.

Make sure you know all you can about safety issues. Take that attitude to your operations and your part of the mill will not only run better, but reinforce safety, too.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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Nip Impressions has been honored for Editorial Excellence by winning a 2016 Tabbie Award!


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