As I travel the world on various business trips, I am amazed to find organizations that still use Internet Explorer 6 as their web browser. This version of IE is not supported by many websites any more. Google and YouTube stopped supporting it back in March 2010! Even Microsoft, the creators of this monster, are trying to kill it off. Yet I still see it in multinational organizations, such as EPC companies that shall remain unnamed. You know who you are. If the clients of these organizations did any amount of due diligence on the reduced productivity from such an unsupported and outdated browser, I would be surprised if they would be allowed to bid for work. In a Web 2.0 world, and beyond, using outdated web browsers severely limits the ability of managers and engineers to effectively do their work. If you can't find the information you seek on the web in a time efficient manner, or at all, then you are not offering a competitive solution to your clients. C'mon you technology laggards, time to bite the bullet, upgrade your Intranets and bury that IE6 dinosaur! You need to get past this roadblock so you can access some of the great new offerings available via cloud computing, improve your productivity and effectively compete against your peers.
The term Action Management is not commonly used today. However, I think that is going to change. Far too often I have seen actions from important activities not properly managed after they have been identified. We spend a great deal of time and money gathering peers to review various aspects of our organization's activities, and generate wonderful risk reports, audits, corrective actions etc... detailing what the issues are and what the actions are for resolving them. But then we often fail in executing the resolutions to those important actions. I think the root cause of this has been a combination of a lack of recognition of the issue by industry, the reluctance of individuals assigned actions to be under more scrutiny and the lack of useful technology to address the issue. This is starting to change in many industries, including nuclear and offshore energy. For example, in the US offshore industry the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has clarified that it will begin enforcing API RP 75 (Recommended Practice 75 - Development of a Safety and Environmental Management Program for Outer Continental Shelf Operations and Facilities) as a mandatory requirement for all operators and facilities by Nov 15, 2011.
All operators must implement a Safety and Environment Management System (SEMS) by this time. Additionally, the Regulators now have teeth (larger audit teams and stricter rules) to back up their regulations, so there will be many more audits and there will be much more scrutiny on the follow up to the findings. Therefore, people can expect more pain regarding action tracking unless they recognize it as a management process and give it the proper attention it requires. BOEMRE will have teeth now, so get in front of the curve rather than get caught in a scramble after an audit. You'll need a best practice for action management.
As for myself, I use a combination of spreadsheets, online software and databases with a front end interface custom built by the IT group. As a consultant working on various offshore oil and gas projects around the world for various companies, I am a bit at the mercy of the company that hires me to work on their project. I have had some opportunity to influence the direction but mostly I utilize the systems that were in place before I was hired. My typical project duration is 3-4 years before moving on. This has given me a lot of exposure to different systems and I have experienced a lot of frustration with some of the approaches. While this may be the case in my industry, surely there are others in different industries that are having similar experiences. I see a lot of parallels between offshore projects and other large projects, where a lot of issues are identified in the development and operation phases that must be tracked, or make that managed. I am curious to see how others are approaching the issue of effective action tracking (i.e. action management best practice). I look forward to reader comments.
In the mean time, if you are involved in the US offshore industry, it would be prudent to start looking at your processes and consider reviewing some of the newer action tracking tools out there that may help you better prepare for the inevitable BOEMRE SEMS audit to meet the guidance of API RP 75.
When organizations undertake activities such as risk assessments, operational reviews, corrective actions, audits, plant shutdowns, factory acceptance tests, design changes, technical queries, critical operating procedures the result is always a set of important actions that have to be tracked properly. The process of addressing these type of actions varies dramatically between organizations. One thing is common though. They all are a pain to manage and close if you want to do it properly. Due to this common issue, human nature has an effect on the outcome. The level of diligence and effort by individuals at addressing critical actions varies and this can be for a variety of reasons. People may not have enough time to focus on the management of these actions or they may not have the necessary level of experience. They may also have problems with the tools they have at their disposal to help manage actions or they may have a poor management culture within their organization, that does not understand the pitfalls associated with poor action tracking. So what are the consequences of poor action tracking? It depends on the type of action and it's associated risk. Good organizations rank their actions by risk level to allow visibility of higher consequence and/or higher frequency events. Higher risk actions are obviously going to result in worse events. Lets just consider one example from the numerous types of activities listed above. Say a design change notice resulted in a requirement for a lower temperature metal at a flange face on a pressure vessel. The action was not addressed when it should have been and the project moved on, and in an effort to close out the action to meet schedule, the change notice was not properly addressed and the lower temperature flange was never installed...and now the facility is built and operating. One cold day during a process upset condition that creates a lower operating temperature, when the flanges cold temperature properties are called into service, there is a major release of chemical from the flange, destroying the plant and killing numerous people. One root cause at the inquiry was poor metallurgy at low ambient and operating temperatures. But years have gone by since the plant was built. No records of the original design can be found. The design change is long gone. No traceability or ability to audit the design to this level is possible. The mistake is not clearly understood as there is not enough in the records to help determine the root cause of the faulty metal. Even if the data is there to find and the lack of effective action tracking has been noted its too late as the event has already happened.
So how do we eliminate these types of latent risks and the many other design and operation risks that lead to incidents? Well, a good place to start is with the actions themselves. In today's world, incorrect closeout of actions due to poor tracking can be helped by using the cloud based technology, allowing everyone to work off the same list. But what really has to happen is people need to change the way they think about actions. Rather than call the process action tracking, why not give it the respect it deserves and call it action management? When you manage something you must demonstrate full understanding of the status and be able to report intelligently from start to finish. If you think of how you should manage your important project actions in this way, perhaps you and your team will find way to make sure the numerous actions and their ongoing status remains within easy reach of the key decision makers on you team. By providing full visibility and using a tool that understands the difference between action tracking and action management, you should be able to provide the visibility, accountability and audibility needed to satisfy yourself, your team, insurers, regulators and shareholders.