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Ep007: The Turnaround Optimizer Process with Don Cooper

The podcast discusses a strategic approach for specialty contractors and clients to engage in successful turnaround projects. The focus is on achieving alignment among stakeholders, optimizing processes, reducing costs, enhancing safety, and capturing all follow-up work. The host, Don Cooper, explains two traditional approaches for contractor-client engagement and presents an alternative method that emphasizes collaboration, transparency, and value creation. The key steps involve a comprehensive risk conversation, identification of strengths and improvement areas, and the establishment of measurable key outcomes. The ultimate goal is to have the right people, resources, and equipment in place, eliminate standby time, and achieve success with measurable results.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways from the Turnaround Optimizer Podcast:

1. Stakeholder Alignment: Achieving early alignment among stakeholders is crucial for project success and value creation.

2. Collaboration and Transparency: A culture of collaboration and transparency leads to optimized solutions and better outcomes.

3. Safety as a Priority: A strong commitment to safety is essential for creating a safe work environment and achieving zero injuries.

4. Process Optimization: Optimizing processes and resource allocation can significantly reduce costs and eliminate standby time.

5. Measurable Key Outcomes: Defining measurable key outcomes helps track progress and ensures project success with tangible results.
Listen to the full podcast for in-depth insights and strategies on transforming your turnaround projects.

Wyatt McPherson 0:00

This podcast is created and produced by Innovator. If you’re looking to cut back or eliminate hot work on your next job or for all of your industrial services needs, visit innovator.ca.

Hello, and welcome to a very special episode of the Industrial Innovators Podcast where today I will be talking to founder and CEO of Innovator, Don Cooper, about his first book, The Turnaround Optimizer Process. If you’re anyone in the industrial turnaround space, then this is one that you’re definitely not going to want to miss. To find out more info and to get the book for yourself, just check the links in the description. Now let’s get on with the conversation. So tell me, how long have you been involved in industrial turnarounds? And where has your passion for the industry come from?

Don Cooper 0:49

Well, I started in turnarounds in 1994. Well, I did, I did some work in ’92 and ’93 in a different area of the market, not in specialty mechanical but entered into specialty mechanical in ’93 and started doing turnarounds in ’94. So it’s been what’s that, 26, 27 years, some of that 25 years. Yeah.

Wyatt McPherson 1:21

And where exactly did your passion for the industry come from?

Don Cooper 1:27

You know, when I started, when I was first a technician, I was a lead technician. And, and I was running technical bolting services. So you know where I started was torquing tensioning, ultrasonic stress verification, doing all the calculations, and I really loved taking, you know, in those days. Bolting, as you know, technical bolting as it is now, was really, really new. Most tradesmen, most pipe fitters, boilermakers, you know, right, who are working with bolted connections, were using impact wrenches, were using hammer wrenches. And it wasn’t controlled, it was, it was real brute force work. So you know, what really intrigued me about it, you know, at that time in those days, is just the act of using that technology and understanding that technology was already an innovation. And so I entered into this entire industrial space, starting from an innovation standpoint, so that, you know, just always introducing new ideas into the marketplace has always been a passion for me. And that’s, that’s really what started my entire journey, and you know, why we have the company we have today is just a constant passion, somewhat intrigue, interest in, in what’s new, that brings new value. And that’s kind of how it all started.

Wyatt McPherson 3:08

So with that being said, in terms of introducing new innovation, I imagine in an industry that’s historically been very, not to say anything bad about it, but very set in their ways, I guess, what sort of challenges have come up? And how have you been able to get around them when it comes to introducing new technology that some of the people who have been in this industry for so long may not get be familiar with or want to make the switch to because the way they’ve been doing it for years and years has worked for them? So far, you’re trying to bring in something new?

Don Cooper 3:41

You know, I think it’s been a trend from day one, that, you know, and I think this is just kind of human nature. It’s human nature for us to resist change. So

, you know, 25 years ago, it was the tradespeople and the client management who’d been around for 30 years and were used to doing things a certain way. They were real resistant to change. And they were real resistant to it from, you know, just a lack of understanding of what the technologies, any other technologies we’ve introduced over all those years, can do, what it can accomplish, not really understanding it. What’s interesting is the younger tradespeople, at any point in time over the last 25 years, were always the ones who grabbed that because they weren’t already set in their ways with what they were used to doing. So, you know, young journeyman pipe fitters and boilermakers 26 years ago, who were maybe 25 years old then, are now 50 years old, but they learned early in their career. So that, you know, this makes a lot more sense to use a hydraulic bolt tensioner or a hydraulic torque wrench than brute force and just a lot of sweat equity. So, you know, those were younger apprentices and younger journeymen in everything we’ve done for all those years have always been the ones who were most open to it. But the key, what I found is education. I’ve done lots and lots of training with people over the years. And if you kind of when you introduce something, originally, there’s some defensiveness, you know, when you all of a sudden are introducing, you know, a hydraulic bolt tensioner as an example, and all of a sudden, you can do it 10 times faster, and it’s way more accurate. Some people will perceive that as you’re going to take away my work. And so there are kind of two kinds of education that I’ve always found really effective in the near-term to mid-term adoption of new technology. And one is just educating what it is that the technology will do and make them feel comfortable with us as number one. And the second thing is showing them that it’s not about taking away their work, it’s about giving them a new tool, a new tool in their toolbox. So they can be more effective, they can work more safely, they can work more productively. So when you put off a training session with anyone in our industry, and you approach it from the point of view of it’s going to add value, it’s going to help them, as opposed to it’s going to take something away from them, I think that’s always been the most effective way to introduce new technology. It can be a bit of a slow burn because, you know, I think often some people don’t want to be the early adopters. There’s only a certain percentage of people who want to be the first to do anything. So it takes a lot of perseverance with new technology, new ideas, to find those first early adopters. And what eventually happens is, you know, you find a critical mass of a half a dozen or a dozen early adopters in almost anything that has real value. And then a lot of the people who’ve already heard about it, through some exposure, very quickly get on board. And they become, you know, either the early majority or the silent majority. And there’s a point where it hits a critical mass. And in those days, it was actually on the pipeline side of the industry that were early adopters, on technical bolting before refineries and process facilities. But fast forward five years to the late 1990s in 1998, 1999, and all of a sudden, the entire industry sort of almost behaved like they just they just discovered the wheel. And technical bolting was everywhere. So, you know, I think

it’s education and just being patient and persevering and understanding that there’s always some early adopters. And then there’s a curve of sort of the silent, the early majority, and then the silent majority. And there are always stragglers. And you can follow this with any technology. There’s sort of a bell curve that shows the different types of people from an adoption standpoint with any technology. And when you understand that, every time you introduce something new, you’ve got this sort of deceptive phase early in a new technology in a new process, where you don’t get a lot of people jumping on board right away. But the real key is you just get a few. And then you prove the technology and you prove the value, and then it gains its own momentum with time. And I think the key with any innovation, whether it’s technology or process, is you just got to persevere and trust that as you get a certain adoption rate, a certain buy-in, that it grows and eventually it becomes standard practice, but it does take time.

Wyatt McPherson 9:34

Right. So you’ve now been both witnessed this many times as well as very much been a part of it for over 25 years now. So why do you feel now was the perfect time to publish your first book and come up with your own process to only further change and hopefully innovate this industry group?

Don Cooper 9:56

Well, with the Optimizer Process, I’ll say two things. The Optimizer Process is a mindset about being efficient, about being lean, and it leverages some good digital technology that takes the heavy lifting out of it. Now, this book is specifically about turnarounds, how we apply the Optimizer Process to turnarounds. But the principles, the nine steps in the Optimizer Process, really apply to having a lean, right people, right schedule, right equipment, right alignment with your customer mindset in anything, in any type of work execution. And the reason I wrote it now is I think it was really trend-stopping, driven by the convergence of a lot of things happening in the industrial market that are against our industry. You know, we have a lot of market forces that are suggesting that we’re not productive enough or not cost-effective enough. And in Canada, in the United States, we’re seeing lots of capital flight, where big energy companies have to decide where they’re going to invest dollars. And, you know, particularly in Canada, where, you know, since 2014-2015, we’ve not really recovered from the oil crash that happened five years ago, the United States has recovered, had had, I should say, we’re in the age, we’re recording this in the age of COVID-19 right now, and we’ve had another oil crash. So Canada hasn’t recovered from the oil crash of ’14-’15. And we’ve got, you know, some pretty significant pipeline restraints. So all resource process facilities in Canada are kind of on the ropes. And we’ve got to drive our productivity and our cost-effectiveness to a new level for us to stay relevant. So I thought, you know, I had discovered this process, and we were using it internally for the last few years. And I just wanted to get the word out to see if I could add some value to the conversation around how our entire industry can look at optimizing and becoming much more productive and leveraging technology to do that. So, you know, that’s why now. I think, you know, now we’re recording this in early April 2020. And the whole world is on its heels and on pause because of the current COVID-19 pandemic

. And one of the early casualties of the pandemic was a decrease in demand for oil from Asia in January and February because that crisis happened there first. And that kind of sparked some level of a price war between OPEC and Russia. And, you know, some people would say it’s targeting North American oil production to grab market share. You know, the politics of it doesn’t really concern me. There’s nothing I can do to control that or influence that. But the impact has been that North American oil, shale oil in the United States and oil sands production in Canada, has just gotten a kicking because the price of oil dropped to the low 20s. It made a lot of shale and a lot of oil sands oil uncompetitive and certainly unprofitable. But we have customers who have existing facilities that they still need to maintain them. And now is the time to figure out, you know, I think the best time to figure out how to be cost-effective, how to be creative with productivity, is when you’re forced to. And our entire industry is being forced to optimize right now. So I didn’t anticipate what was going to happen with oil and COVID when I went to publish this book. I wrote it in December, November, December last year. We published it, I think it was, we were working through the publishing process through January, and we got it out in February. The timing just happened to align with, I think, a new need in the industry to get new thinking in terms of aligning the owner, the general contractors, and specialty contractors to be totally aligned with what we want to accomplish out of a project and all working in the same direction to find the most efficient way to do that. So I think the Optimizer Process, the Turnaround Optimizer Process, is a perfect tool that can add to that. It doesn’t solve everything for every client. But it does add a chapter into how all of our industrial clients can think about being more effective.

Wyatt McPherson 15:41

So you mentioned cost effectiveness a few times in there, which is, of course, extremely important, outside of the current situation. But what other major key areas of the Turnaround Optimizer Process potentially assist with?

Don Cooper 15:59

Well, you know, the very first part of the process is alignment. When you have an owner organization that has a multimillion-dollar turnaround to complete, one thing I always see from a supplier standpoint is if you go talk to 10 people, 15 people within that organization, they all have their own things that they’re focusing on. And sometimes they’re contradictory to each other. Sometimes their priorities are misaligned. And it’s just down to not necessarily not having a system to just say, here are the key outcomes we’re all trying to accomplish, and get them into alignment. There’s, you know, you know, quality and execution and finance and safety can all be aligned to the same objectives without having conflicting interests or conflicting measurements. But oftentimes, there is a lot of conflicting communication happening and conflicting priorities. And that, from a supplier standpoint, or particularly from a second-tier contractor standpoint, can lead to, you know, helping some of that organization accomplish their goals and really having no alignment or letting down other parts of the organization. So the first thing that we try to accomplish in the Optimizer Process is getting real tight alignment between all the stakeholders so that when we’re putting together a project plan, we’re actually aligned with everything we’re gonna do. And that includes all of what I call the technical or specification stakeholders who aren’t even involved in execution. But you can add a lot of value to project controls and contracts and safety and inspection, with setting and understanding their expectations upfront and still being able to plan and execute the work. So often, the way these things start for specialty contractors and not just mechanical specialty, but I know I’ve seen it true for whether you’re an insulation or insulation contractor or an electrical contractor or a scaffolding contractor or a crane operator, you know, Oregon is a crane supplier organization. They, there’s always a focus on what I would call the utilizers or the execution team. You know, we’re trying to serve the people who are physically using our resources. And sometimes that’s not in alignment with a whole bunch of other parts of the business. So that alignment, I think, is key. So that’s where it starts. I think when you set up with, when you begin with the end in mind with all the stakeholders identified, it eliminates a lot of confusion. The cost-effectiveness side of the equation comes down to a whole bunch of things in the process, and it’s a step-by-step sequence. So you can get to a place where you can figure out how to optimize without shorting yourself have the right resources. And we go into, you know, we align scope and schedule, we align scope with assets, and then we align those, the scope with the skill sets required to complete that so we don’t have redundant or the wrong people in the wrong place. But the other part that the Optimizer Process really nails is safety and reporting. So that, you know, when you begin with that alignment piece upfront, and we understand what everyone wants out of the project, then it’s really clear what our safety performance needs to be and much deeper than don’t hurt anybody zero injuries, because we hear a lot of that from everyone. And the problem with that is it’s a result, it’s a lagging indicator that everyone expects. And that expectation comes with an expectation that everyone knows how to deliver on that. And often they don’t, often it’s simply compliance to a safety program, and not really creating a strong set of leading indicators. And so the Optimizer Process sort of steps back from just having a sort of surface-level understanding of the safety result is we don’t want to hurt anybody, which is obvious. But it drills down deeper and really creates heightened awareness about all the behaviors that we want, from everyone involved from a safety program standpoint, leading indicators, and make sure that what we’re doing, you know, really fits well with the general contractors’ objectives and the owners’ objectives and making sure that we report on that in a really clear way. That first step of alignment creates something else that I think is really missing or often is missing from turnarounds. And that’s collaboration across owner, general contractor, and specialty contractor that creates, you know, creating collaboration really helps find wins, helps you capture opportunities that might not be obvious in terms of extra scope, or found work or productivity gains, or particular critical path objectives that could change the way that the whole turnaround is planned. So safety, alignment, collaboration. And we try to wrap all that up with, you know, with total transparency. So one of the reasons that the Turnaround Optimizer Process can now be so effective is that this entire process is digitized. So whether you are in contracts or project controls or you’re in safety or you’re in inspection or you are in planning and scheduling and execution, we create the right with that alignment, and the digital tools that the Optimizer Process brings, we create transparency of progress. So every day, every shift, we’re able to report on all of our safety behaviors, all of our job progress, all of our cost control measurements, and we do it in the cloud digitally automatic, so we don’t have to wait for a team of people to consolidate reporting. It all just happens with our work face-level supervision, doing their work and using the digital tools to document what they do. So there’s a whole bunch of pieces that I think create a lot of value along the way.

Wyatt McPherson 23:29

Absolutely. No, I mean, just in terms of, you know, digitizing systems, that’s something that we see in every industry and hope to see far more of going forward, especially in the industrial and oil and gas space as again, in some areas, some people are a little bit behind. So it’s very enlightening to see you pushing forward.

Don Cooper 23:51

Well, I was at an industry turnaround conference in Calgary in December, and they had a speaker come in talking about digital technology. And, you know, the sentiment in the room is, “I’d love to do that. But I’m scared. I don’t know how.” And I think that goes hand in hand with the age of the leadership who are running all of our supplier companies. All of us leaders who are mid-40s, on up, I’m getting closer to 50 than I am 40. But many, many of those guys, particularly so much of the leadership in our industry, comes from the tools. So for big chunks of their career, they weren’t using a computer in a work format anyway, they might have had one at home, but they weren’t. They weren’t on that path. So if they entered into management in the last 10 years, they were probably just using basic tools that their companies have given them for planning like things like Primavera or, and basic Office Suite tools, some of them may have had some cost control tools. But what happens in our industry so much is there’s a whole bunch of disconnected tools. So the cost reporting tools are probably some of the most robust from a client perspective. They have strong ERP systems like SAP or, and others. But their planning system is a separate tool, the way they progress the job is a separate tool. Their safety system is definitely a separate tool and often not even digitized. It’s paper and spreadsheets. So when presented with how do you pull all this together, and you know, the manager or the vice president of that turnaround group or that construction company, he’s not an IT guy. And the IT guys don’t have the expertise to bring it together. So there’s this lag time. And you know, what I saw was a lot of people gone, “I would love to do this. And I don’t know where to start.” I actually had one vice president of one contractor say to me, “This looks like great stuff. Someone after me will have to do it.” And I think that’s the sentiment. This looks great. I’m not going to do it. But it’ll be cool when our industry does. And I think the industrial space, in a lot of ways relative to digital technology, is probably 15 or 20 years behind a lot of other industries who were forced to grab onto this technology quickly, you know, but we’re at a different age now. And, you know, the prediction across most trailblazing sort of industry people is that the 2020s are not just going to be a time for digitization, they’re going to be a time for leveraging artificial intelligence for analytics and helping us make better decisions with tons of data. And so our industry has got to catch up. And we got to catch up quick because this next 10 years is going to come fast and furious. And if we don’t get our businesses digitized, we’re going to be left behind the next revolution in the industry, which is how every industry in the world is leveraging artificial intelligence. So we got to hurry up.

Wyatt McPherson 27:44

And I mean, with that being said, as well, I mean, you’re not even talking about just I mean, there are some industries, including our own here, where it’s a new thing, just to start invoicing, like within a PDF, you know, like, oh, I can sign something on a tablet now, that’s great. But there’s another step further from that, that you’re at now and approaching and trying to get for other companies, which is the moment that something is done, whether it’s a safety form, whether it’s an invoice, whether you’re looking at lens, whatever it may be, it’s immediately beamed off to everyone that needs it. It’s not waiting on anyone. It’s an immediate process.

Don Cooper 28:17

Yeah. Well, you know, so forget about not knowing how to do it because the reality is that if you are a leader in, you know, in a turnaround organization, whether that’s with the owner or with a general contractor, you already know the great things and the insights and the ways you want to be able to make decisions. There are thousands of who’s out there who know how to digitize your business. So you know, you don’t need to be afraid. I don’t know how to digitize. If you know how, we did this was really quite simple. We looked at every paper process we had and looked at which were the pieces of paper that we use every day the most. And it was LEMs. It was managing projects, it was a handful of different safety tools. It was managing individual job tasks, it was understanding our equipment. And we just worked away for a period of time to digitize each one of those things. And here’s the part that I think people maybe missed, you know, don’t connect the dots on is, the minute you digitize it you can make you can start to kind of glean what I call management actionable insight from the data in ways that are just impossible to do with spreadsheets and with paper and with PDFs, because look at something as simple as safety. Now, I’m going to write a book on this later this summer. It’ll come out in June, and it’s called Reaching Zero. And it’s the blending of using technology and culture to create a safety system and a safety culture in your business that delivers zero injuries, not just targeting zero, not just journeying to zero, but actually reaching zero. And we weren’t, that was one of the first things we accomplished, we actually accomplished reaching zero with safety before we digitized costing or work progress. And, you know, a really insightful thing that happened. And it was in talking with a lot of different clients on one simple part of this process, which is, and it’s a common safety practice across our entire industry that’s really done really well on its own. And that’s behavior-based observations or changing the culture in our industry from having, you know, what used to be safety officers walking around, enforcing safety, to it being peer-based safety, where you and I are working together on a job, and we’re looking after each other. And one of the ways that we look after each other is we create, we eliminate complacency and habit by doing a behavior-based observation once a day on our work or on the work of our peers. And almost every general contractor and owner out there has some version of a behavior-based observation today. And they have one or 5000 people on their job site. And every single one of those workers is asked to complete an observation on some frequency, likely once a day, maybe some are more or less than that. But on average, I think most people as a best practice will ask every worker to do one safety observation per day and look for what’s at-risk conditions, what are safe conditions, so that you can really create a culture of working safely. So you know that just doing that I think has transformed our industry a lot. But one of the challenges is it produces a ton of paper, a ton of paper. If you have 1000 guys on your job site, sorry, 1000 people on your job site, then you’re going to you know, you’re looking for 1000 observations. And when I was writing that part of the book, I talked to several construction managers and superintendents, I just asked a question. When you’re doing observations, you know, if you have 500 or 1000 people on your job, how many observations do you get? And they go, “Well, I don’t know. It takes me a week to get that number.” And because I gotta wait for all of the paper to come in, I’ve got to wait for someone in some safety administration role to give me the count. And I said, “Great, so it comes back 24 hours later or a week later.” And you know what? He says, “Well, what I’ll know is that I have 500 people on the job, and I only have 300 observations.” So that means you got a 60% participation rate, just in who’s doing an observation. What do you do from there? Well, I don’t have a way to manage that. It’s darn near impossible unless I pay a bunch of indirect costs to put it all into a report to figure out who are the 200 people who aren’t participating. And even then that’s just one day in time, it doesn’t really tell you a trend. You know, if you pull that report together, and it says that, here’s the list of 200 people who didn’t participate, you when you start spending time on it, you find out that, well, 40 of those guys were off shift today. And and then another bunch of them just submitted their paperwork a day late. And so you’re you keep chasing ghosts. So here’s, here’s a really novel simple thing. That creates a ton of value when you have digitized your work in the optimizer process. All the safety observations are digitized, meaning every every, you know, depending on the tool we’re using, we’ve gone from 24-hour reporting on safety to 12 and now we’re just about to launch some artificial intelligence on it that makes it instantaneous. So all of our workers and foremen can just take a picture of a document and it goes into the cloud and instantly hits our system. And we know that they did an observation. But the other part that makes it powerful is our timesheet system for all of our people is also digitized. So we can instantly every day get an exact participation rate in something as simple as a behavior-based observation. And know that we are 100% compliant or we’re at 80% compliant, but not just know the number, but then be able to look at who did and who didn’t participate. And then over the course of a few days, we can very quickly hone in on is there a trend here where there’s who are the 20% outliers who are just never participating? Because then you can focus your supervision on having the right corrective action conversations, the right coaching conversations, and you can do it before it leads to an injury. That’s just a very novel simple use of having your timesheets and your safety system digitized in a system that is connected so

that it talks to each other. And you can instantly run the right reports and focus the kinds of coaching conversations in a direction that will create a ton of value and keep people safe. And that’s, that’s a real simple thing, that’s just doing some analytics. But then when you layer in artificial intelligence, you drill beyond simply knowing who didn’t didn’t participate. But you can start to see what are the kinds of at-risk behaviors and kinds of at-risk conditions that our people are actually observing and that we’re faced with on this job that might be different from last week or might be different from a different job site. So you can then use some other simple tools to understand what the at-risk behaviors and adverse conditions are. And just using some really, it’s a marketing automation tool that leverages the data so that we can send the right kinds of toolbox meetings to all of our people in the right areas of the work that are focused on what they are reporting. So if one area of the plant is reporting housekeeping issues or some scaffolding issues or PPE, we can target that to a particular job so that we can actually target it to the individuals who are reporting it and get them having the right kinds of conversations, doing the right kinds of focus audits on the right topics in a dynamic way. And the power that I’ve found with that is, one, it targets the issue. So think about it from a diagnosis standpoint. If you went to the doctor and you said, “I have a headache,” and he just gave you aspirin, but he didn’t bother to look to say that you had a head injury, you simply have a headache. What this tool allows us to do is diagnose what’s really happening and then prescribe the right kinds of actions for our people to take, the right kinds of conversations, the right kinds of toolbox meetings, the right kinds of inspections, the right kinds of focus audits that are compelling. And that becomes really targeted communications with our people. And the other part that is a little bit novel is if I’m on the tools and for three days in a row, I’m reporting some at-risk issues that I don’t have the right PPE or there are other trades constantly working at heights above me, and we don’t have the right dropped object prevention systems in place, then eventually, if I don’t see that people are listening and taking action, I’m probably gonna just disengage and go, “Oh, they’re not paying attention anyway.” But with our company, everyone understands inside of Innovator that everyone in the company can see what’s happening. And so people pay attention because they know that everyone in the organization is acting on it. And everyone takes it seriously. There’s something about a second-year apprentice who knows that I can see what he’s doing in safety that somehow changes him to take it more seriously. But what is really compelling is that when he not only knows that the leadership of the company is paying attention but that we’re doing something about it, it creates a level of safety engagement that transforms the culture in the business, in a way that we’re all in this together and we’re all going to look after each other, we all have a responsibility. And it comes down to two parts of our culture that I think feed that really well. One is our number one core value is family first. We look after each other, we take care of each other, we take care of our own. And that’s from top to bottom. And our safety system is based on the fact that we care. I care about the health and safety of every one of my people. I don’t care so much about the statistics, that just kind of happens. I care to make sure that my people are safe. And that’s number one. And the number two part is that in our business, we value behaviors or results from a safety standpoint. So behaviors matter. Behaviors are what we measure. We spend a tremendous focus and time on leading indicators of safety behavior. They create results. We do measure results, but we don’t focus all of our time and attention on results because they happen. They’re an outcrop of great behaviors. So all of our conversations, all of our reporting, all of our transparency that we give our people across all levels of the organization and that we give our clients is really focused on reporting on behaviors. And when everyone’s behaviors are reported, and they know that we’re coaching and that we have genuine intentions to look after them, we all tend to be in this together. And I think that that’s a really powerful part of what we’re trying to do with the optimizer process.

Wyatt McPherson 42:09

Of course, it’s taking a small step back away from just the safety aspect of things and looking at the book as a whole. This isn’t exactly the most common space for this sort of thing, you know, releasing a book within the industrial space. And I mean, we’re recording a podcast right now, the first of its kind within the industrial space. So how do you think that plays into your own company, innovator, and the values of innovation that you bring there?

Don Cooper 42:40

Well, you know, one, we value transparency. And so we, within our own organization, we like to over communicate so that everyone in the organization understands what we’re trying to accomplish. So Transparency is key. So, you know, what I find, as the leader of a company, often there’s something, and Simon Sinek, who’s a much better author than I, on a whole other scale. I was just sort of publishing some of my ideas. He’s a wonderful speaker and author. But he writes about, in a couple of his books around leaders eat last and start with why, he talks about something called the circles of leadership. And I think most organizations have this, depending on the size of your organization, it might be called politics. I don’t know, sometimes it’s intentional. I think in most companies, it’s not intentional. It just happens. With hierarchies and whatnot, we tend to be a much more entrepreneurial organization. I don’t like hierarchies, and I don’t like filters. I want all of our people to be on the same page. But inevitably, the things we’re doing in the optimizer process are not new. These are things we’ve been doing in one form or another, one level of consistency and sophistication or not for a while. But I wanted to formalize it in terms of this is how we’re gonna do things. I don’t really care how the rest of the world does things. But here’s the value we want to create in the marketplace. And so I thought, to accomplish two things. One is what a great way to tell our customers exactly how we’re going to do work for them, but to write a book about it and publish it in the public domain. And to writing the book becomes an instruction manual for everyone inside our business. And anyone who wants to join our business, this is how we’re going to do. This is how we’re going to work. This is the unique value that innovator wants to carve out in the marketplace. We want to be an optimizer of the way customers do work. So writing the book was a way of stating our intentions in a very public way to drive accountability. And, you know, in terms of people inside the company, people who might want to join the company, and customers who may or may not value what we’re doing, if customers don’t want that level of alignment and transparency, and collaboration, and don’t value safety and value creation beyond an hourly rate, then they’re probably not a great fit for us. This turnaround optimizer process is for customers who value transparency, who value collaboration to create value beyond a rate sheet, and who culturally value safety above all else. And so writing the book was about attracting the right kinds of customers, it was about attracting the right kinds of people to join our business. And it was about documenting, this is what innovator is going to do for all of our people internally. And, you know, from our value of transparency, there’s nothing more transparent than writing a book and publishing it on Amazon to say, here’s what we’re going to, here’s what you get if

you hire us, here’s what you get if you work with us, here’s what you get if you come and be part of our team. And, you know, it’s in the public domain, it’s not a secret document that I slide into a proposal. I wanted to write it down as a, this is who we are, and it’s going to attract the right kinds of people and the right kinds of clients. And it’s equally going to repel the wrong kinds of people and the wrong kinds of clients. It’s always a big part of stating our values, our culture, and our beliefs in a way that will help us become stronger and work with the best clients.

Wyatt McPherson 47:19

So speaking of the right kinds of people, who exactly is this book for? Are you thinking that it’s, you know, only the facility owners and execution managers who are planning these jobs? Or can general contractors and sort of anyone in between find value within it?

Don Cooper 47:38

I think it’s all those levels. You know, and I, you know, in almost every organization, there are multiple stakeholders. So certainly, Owner, turnaround leadership should read this and should give copies to all of their people, if they believe what we believe, that this is a value that our industry needs in terms of doing things in a much safer, leaner, more cost-effective, and productive way because I think that creates value for our industry long term. But execution supervisors form and there are many stakeholders that have influence on how the culture of an organism of a turnaround is going to take place. So I think it’s important for Project controls people, contract personnel, safety stakeholders, inspection stakeholders, at both the owner and the general contractor organizations should read this. Not everything in it is going to apply to their particular area of focus, but there are pieces of the process that apply directly to contract people, directly to execution people, directly to planners. So when you read it, you might not get value out of every page in the book. But there will be a chapter or a half a chapter in there that is directly talking about how the optimizer process applies to you and will make your job better and easier. So it’s a wide spectrum. And, you know, inside our organization, everyone has to read this book because we call this our front stage. This is everyone in our organization needs to understand their role in delivering the optimizer process to our clients because we have finance people who have a part to play. We have IT people, we have shop personnel who have to prepare equipment a certain way when we’re bagging and tagging all of our equipment materials. So within our organization, every single individual needs to read this because this is our process for how we go into the marketplace. And for all of our potential prospective clients, whether they’re with the owner organization or with a general contractor, I think anyone involved in their turnaround should have a read on it. And then focusing on what are the parts of this process that apply to me, and, you know, it’s about an hour and a half read. So I think just read it cover to cover and then dog-ear and highlight the parts of the book that focus on your area of responsibility. But, you know, deeper than that, this book has a context about turnarounds. But and it has a lot of examples of how it applies to a turnaround. But the reality is that innovator’s process is the optimizer process. This is one application of the optimizer process specifically on turnarounds. But this can be applied to a fabrication project, this can be applied to a maintenance project or maintenance set of tasks. It can be applied to inspection, you

just take out the references and the context of turnaround. And it’s really a work activity optimizer process that, if you take it at that level, can be applied by our clients to their own work because it’s a methodology of taking these nine steps and applying it to the mindset of how you’re going to plan and optimize the work you’re going to do. So, you know, the book has a context of turnarounds. But the guiding mindset or principle behind it is a new way and a new mindset of alignment, planning, optimizing, reporting, and executing according to that plan. So that everyone who’s involved in that work is fully aligned. So, you know, from that point of view, anytime you’re executing any work that is more complicated than one task with one crew, I think the optimizer process can add a lot of value, particularly when it gets a little more complex, when it’s multi-day, multitask, multi-crew with a lot of different stakeholders. In anything that our clients do, you can take the principles of the optimizer process and apply it to that work and get similar outcomes, get similar cost savings, get similar results for all the stakeholders, get similar safety performance, and similar efficiencies, productivity, cost effectiveness, and ultimately reach zero injuries. So, I think it has, depending on how you use it, it can be applied to both inside and outside of turnarounds.

Wyatt McPherson 53:00

And we’ll get a bit more in-depth with each of the steps involved in a few moments or the earlier steps. That is, but give me just a quick rundown of the earlier stages of your process, just the first three steps.

Don Cooper 53:15

Well, the first step is really an overview. You know, what we want to accomplish is to identify who all the stakeholders are right up front. The traditional approach, there are two potential traditional approaches for a specialty contractor to engage with a client on a project, particularly a turnaround project. It can happen in one of two ways. First, you have a technical sales-focused person from the contractor dropping in to see the general contractor and the owner personnel. They try to figure out who’s who, who has the most influence, what the scope of work is, what they all care about. They try to piece together this jigsaw puzzle to write a winning proposal. This strategic approach takes about six to nine months, involving a lot of people’s time, including the general contractor, owner, and contractor. It’s a more sophisticated engagement than the alternative approach, which is getting on the bid list and waiting for the supply chain team to define the scope of work. This approach usually focuses on rates and involves submitting a proposal with an executive summary highlighting differences. However, both approaches are time-consuming and ineffective, often leading to an adversarial relationship between the client, contractor, and subcontractor.

In our case, we aim to create instant alignment by publishing the book, providing a summary video, and offering a scorecard for stakeholders to assess their readiness. This scorecard helps identify areas of improvement and determines if there’s a fit. For example, a client completed the turnaround optimizer scorecard and scored 60 out of a possible 96. This indicates a 33% improvement potential in schedule, cost, and safety, which can be substantial. These early-stage tools allow us to gauge compatibility before any face-to-face meetings.

Once stakeholders have engaged with the book, videos, and scorecard, we proceed to book a 90-minute meeting. This meeting serves as a sales engagement, separate from project planning and execution. It eliminates the need for blind RFQ (Request for Quotation) processes and streamlines the identification of key players. We focus on uncovering value and finding an optimized solution rather than figuring out who the players are. During this meeting, we ask clients to identify all their stakeholders, including budget owners, project chiefs, area execution managers, and various specification stakeholders.

The next step after the meeting is the risk conversation, where we aim to achieve alignment across the entire organization. All stakeholders participate in a workshop lasting two to four hours. We ask them a simple question: “When we’re sitting here, three weeks or three months after this project is completed, what has to have happened for you to be happy and satisfied with your progress and the results?” This question helps identify priorities, potential conflicts, and key requirements. We also explore the risks, improvements, and strengths from each stakeholder’s perspective. This process uncovers valuable insights, including pain points, lessons learned, and high-level priorities.

After the risk conversation, we delve deeper into the organization’s strengths and identify opportunities to leverage them. We want to capitalize on existing strengths and explore additional wins that can enhance the project. By considering the top risks, improvements, and strengths, we define what success looks like with measurable key outcomes. Each stakeholder provides up to eight measurable key outcomes, which serve as benchmarks for success.

These initial steps aim to achieve alignment, optimize processes, reduce costs, improve safety, eliminate standby time, and capture all the follow-up work. We seek collaboration, safety commitment, and transparency from our clients. The process isn’t for everyone, but for those who value value creation, safety, and collaboration, we offer a proven approach. The book is available as a free download from our website, and hard copies can be mailed upon request. If the value proposition resonates with you

, reach out to us, and we’ll be glad to discuss further.

Wyatt McPherson 1:09:03

Right, so it’s not just about bringing anyone onboard. We’re looking for the right fits for our process.

Don Cooper 1:09:24

Exactly. This process isn’t suitable for every owner or general contractor. We seek clients who are highly collaborative, value safety as a cultural commitment, and prioritize transparency. Our approach focuses on optimizing the process, rather than competing solely based on cost. By bringing the right people, equipment, and materials together at the right time, we eliminate standby time and reduce the personnel needed by 50%. We can still capture all the follow-up work due to our integrated crew approach and cross-training. Our commitment to safety ensures zero injuries, and the optimized execution leads to lower costs. We’re looking for clients who align with our values and are committed to collaboration, safety, and value creation.

Wyatt McPherson 1:12:26

Of course, the overall goal is to achieve alignment, optimize processes, reduce costs, enhance safety, and capture all follow-up work.

Don Cooper 1:12:51

Yes, precisely. Our goal is to achieve alignment among stakeholders and thoroughly analyze the scope, schedule, and assets. By placing the right people and resources in the right places at the right time, we can eliminate standby time, reduce costs by up to 40%, and still capture all the follow-up work. Our integrated crew approach and safety system ensure zero injuries. The key is total alignment and clear definition of success with measurable outcomes.

Wyatt McPherson 1:14:41

That summarizes the book and process. Readers can visit our website or download a free copy of the book.

Don Cooper 1:14:59

Exactly. We’re passionate about this approach, and it’s proven through experience. If the value proposition resonates with you and your organization embraces collaboration, safety, and transparency, we encourage you to explore the book and reach out to us. We are here to help.

Wyatt McPherson 1:15:21

Thank you for sharing your insights and answering my questions. We hope to generate more interest in the book and process.

Don Cooper 1:17:27

One last thing, if you prefer a physical copy of the book instead of a PDF download, reach out to us, and we’ll gladly mail you a copy for free. The book is also available on Amazon, both in paperback and Kindle formats. Kindle users can have the book read out loud by their Amazon Echo devices. We appreciate your support and interest in our process.

Wyatt McPherson 1:18:41

Thank you once again for joining us. We encourage listeners to visit our website, check the book, and reach out to us. Don’t forget to leave a rating and subscribe to the Industrial Innovators Podcast.

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