Walking the Site; Wearing Your Own Shoes and Experiencing Someone Else’s

In my last post, I mentioned how important I thought it was to understand the other person’s perspective and made reference of the idiom of “walking a mile in the other person’s shoes“.  As I thought about that, it occurred to me that doing a site walk-through with folks from other disciplines is a way to both figuratively and literally walk that mile.

While not directly related to controls, a good example of the varied perspective such an experience can provide occurred to me when I was a facilities engineer at Komatsu Silicon America’s Hillsboro plant.

1998-04 APR98

I was walking the site with Peter Goddyn, our Factory Mutual representative, and John Rinier, the Fire Marshall from the City of Hillsboro.  Both were very knowledgeable in their field and were great to work with.  I always learned something when I met with them and this time was no exception.

On this particular day, we were simply inspecting the state of construction and looking for issues that would need to be addressed before substantial completion of one portion of the
facility.   As we walked through a loading dock area in the Epitaxial process portion of the plant I noticed that the seismic restraints had not been installed on the light fixtures and
mentioned it as I made note of the item on my clipboard.  I wanted to make sure that the item got on the contractors punch list so it was taken care of before we accepted that portion of the plant.  In other words, I was concerned with ensuring that the requirements of the contract were met and wasn’t particularly thinking about the ramifications of the item being overlooked if an event were to occur.

John had noticed the missing restraint at about the same time I did and had already started to make a note of his own to remind himself to spot check it at a later date to make sure the required restraint had been installed.   But, unlike me, he was not worried that the contractor would get off site without fulfilling his contractual obligations.  Rather he was worried about what would happen if his rescue workers and firefighters had to enter the facility through the loading dock during or after an event.  An unrestrained fixture could represent an added hazard in an already dangerous situation, increasing the risk to
his team as well as the risk to anyone they might need to bring out of the facility.

In a bit of a stark contrast to John, Peter’s reaction was that while it was a valid punch list item, from his perspective, it was not critical.  If a light were to fall in the loading dock area during or subsequent to a seismic event, it was unlikely that it would damage any of the machinery in the plant.  Since Peter’s company was insuring the plant and its infrastructure, his focus was more on damage to property rather than damage to life and limb. 

That’s not to say that Peter was a cold hearted individual who didn’t care at all about what happened to the people in the facility.  It simply means that his responsibility in terms of verifying construction was to make sure that the property his company was insuring was protected to the fullest extent possible while others focused on the life safety and contractual issues.

The bottom line is that like most things in this industry, it took the perspective of a team to completely understand and address all of the seismic restraint issues in the plant, including the restraint of the light on the loading dock.  And, by working as a team, we made sure all of the issues were addressed. 

But in addition to accomplishing my job, walking the site that day with Peter and John gave me some perspective into their world, a perspective that I now carry with me and that I suspect makes me just a little bit better at what I do than I was before that walk-through.

And personally, I think there were a few other added benefits that occurred on the visit.  My recollection of the conversations before and after the actual inspection were that in
addition to discussing business, we discussed what else was going on in our lives.  As I recall, John talked about a fishing trip that was coming up that weekend with his kids. I
mentioned that I had been down to Woodburn, Oregon to the tulip festival that was in full swing at the time.  Peter mentioned that he had been there and having spent time in Holland could attest to the fact that the scenery was very similar to what he saw while over seas in the spring.  So, in addition to learning something professionally, I learned something about the people I was working with, which I think is an important enhancement to the professional relationship.

So the next time you head out to do a site inspection, take a few minutes to coordinate it with some of the other folks who also need to do the inspection.   Chances are you will all
learn something and and both you and the project will be better for that.  And if there’s time, consider extending the visit to include lunch or a beer after work.  Not only will
you have a chance to debrief each other on what you saw, you’ll learn a bit about the human side of the people you are working with.  That will likely be good for the project too and will probably give the folks you see professionally some added color and depth;  not a bad thing in a world where we all need to learn how to live together.

And on a parting note to you more experienced folks; don’t forget to take the new kids out in the field  with you while you’re at it.  The few hours not spent in the office that day will yield big benefits down the road in terms of an enhanced understanding of what happens out where your company’s product meets reality.

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5 Responses to Walking the Site; Wearing Your Own Shoes and Experiencing Someone Else’s

  1. Red says:

    Hi Dave You are right on, in what we can learn from others, to in
    rich our jobs and our live’s. Getting all of the correct
    information is the first key to solving a problem. Red

  2. Chris says:

    Hi, nice post, I think the town for the tulip festival is Woodburn
    not Woodland. I only know this because i liked in Hubburd which is
    a few miles north of Woodburn.

  3. Thanks for the feedback Red, particularly if its Red Henderson. I
    was just wondering what you were up to the other day. Hope life’s
    treating you well. David

  4. Hi Chris, You are absolutely correct; I need a refresher course in
    Oregon geography! The tulip festival is in Woodburn. Woodland, is
    in Washington. David

  5. John Rinier says:

    Dave, i liked your article and thanks for your good comments. I did
    enjoy my time as the main Fire Inspector for the complex with you
    and the others onsite. I would like to contact you via email, you
    can reach me a johnri@ci.hillsboro.or.us

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