Soft Skills

How to Handle a Crisis and Save the Day

In every chemical processing plant crisis’ occur which demand your complete attention, skill and experience to overcome. Whether it is a power failure with the potential for every pipeline to bog, or a life threatening fire, or even quality contamination that could cost millions of dollars, the ability to stay calm in the face of adversity is a significant advantage.

“Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself. He imposes his own stamp of action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own.”

Charles de Gaulle

1. Be Prepared

No-one can prepare themselves or their plant for every possible crisis, but having a plan of action prepared in advance means that you can act quickly and reduce the potential consequences. The action of preparing the plan itself is just as useful as having a plan - it provides an opportunity to develop the best strategy without the added pressure. Conducting a HAZOP means that potential problems and consequences are always considered, and turning those into an action plan ready to go is the next step.

All plants have action plans for cyclones and power failure, but there are countless other possible crisis’ that should be considered to ensure the best outcome is achieved.

If there is a potential crisis that you can foresee with devastating consequences then get working on an action plan NOW! Waiting for it to actually occur is too late.

2. Don’t be Hasty

“Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted”

When a crisis occurs time is critical, but it pays to slow down and think deeply about the problem, consider all the consequences and people that will be impacted so that the best action can be taken. All too often people act quickly without thinking. Consider that thinking before acting will take less time than acting incorrectly and having to clean up your own mess, or start over completely.

3. Communicate

During times of a crisis everyone needs to be working towards the same goal. They can be working on very different aspects of that goal but their overall focus should be the same. Communicating fully is extremely difficult, and increases in difficulty as the size of the business and crisis grows. Systems should be built to ensure that communication can be achieved during difficult circumstances.

4. Learn from the Experience

All too often problems occur multiple times. It is fascinating to listen to older experienced workers who have experienced similar problems several times throughout their careers without appropriate controls being put in place to avoid them. Learning from our mistakes is absolutely critical to ensuring success as a business, a plant, and an individual.

Being cool, calm, and collected during a crisis is extremely advantageous for any engineer. It is particularly important if you are at the point in your career when many turn away from the technical aspects and focus on management. Learn how to handle a crisis now and you will have a much greater likelihood of saving the day when the time comes.

Please leave a comment if you have any advice that you have experienced after  successfully or unsuccessfully handling a crisis.

7 Presentation Tips for Engineers

Throughout university engineering students are made to do presentations to prepare them for their working career. For a practicing engineer presentations are extremely important. They can be the difference between getting capital approval and a projects cancellation. They can be used to train others to result in process improvements.

Source

 1. Who is your audience?

Are you talking to experienced engineers trying to improve the entire processing plant or accountants interested in the bottom line?

Management is made up of various people from lots of disciplines and understanding exactly who they are can make a huge difference. If a significant portion of the audience is made up of safety representatives then make sure you address all of their concerns, even if it is not your main message.

You should also identify who is the key person in the audience. The general manager or CEO is the one who makes the decisions, and impressing them will often automatically impress everyone else. If they are very influential then talk directly to them.

2. What does your audience want?

Inherently linked with who you audience is is what does your audience want. Is the main point of your presentation to change attitudes, request funding, or demonstrate your project’s success? Is this what your audience is interested in?

All process changes influence various different aspects of the plant, from fuel efficiency to production to profitability, operability, and simplicity. Is your audience of accountants interested in ease of operation or the bottom line? Do they care about the changes in chemistry or overall production?

Think about they real concerns, address those concerns, and you will go a long way to improving your presentations.

3. Be Honest

Be honest, and don’t sugar-coat the truth. If there is a possibility of project delays then let management know. This will allow them to assist in providing resources or additional technical support.

For a presentation to maintenance, if you believe your project may have a detrimental impact on equipment reliability then be honest. Your audience may have ideas to help resulting in even more success.

4. Get to the Point

Every single person you will presenting to has other tasks that need to be done - they do not have time to listen to fluff or filler. Get the point of your presentation quickly, focusing on the key points. Summaries and dot points work well by ensuring that your presentation follows a set sequence.

5. Know your Topic inside out

You are the expert. Even if you are presenting to meeting with much more experience of technical knowledge, remember that you are the expert on your presentation and your project. Prepare extensively and ensure that you can comprehensively answer any possible question. This will go a long way to proving to other people that you are the expert, which in turn lends expertise to your project/proposal.

6. Graphs are better than text

During a presentation your audience should be focusing on you, not your visual displays. You do not want the audience needing to stop listening because they are too busy reading.

Graphs, diagrams, and photos are ideal in displaying information. Trends are particularly good in showing process step-changes, comparing before-and-after, and displaying multiple sets of information in a simple, easy to read manner.

7. Be passionate

“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

Benjamin Franklin

Passion and enthusiasm is contagious, and can be a valuable asset if used correctly. For anyone who has been to a presentation by someone who is truly passionate about their subject, it is a memorable experience. Getting your audience as passionate about your subject as you are is extremely difficult but extremely rewarding. A process change which everyone is enthusiastic about has a much higher probability of success than one where people are discontent or disgruntled.

As the quote above suggests, remember that passion does not overcome content. Being passionate without reason or being able to justify proposals can lead to problems.

For more information, read the following related articles:

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Bad Engineering Presentations
  • 7 tips on how to conduct a successful technical presentation
  • Technical presentation tips

Practice makes perfect, so get practicing. Presentations are part of almost every part of an engineers careers, and their value cannot be underestimated. Use these tips and you can be sure that your presentations will improve and be more successful.

7 Resume Tips for Chemical Engineers

Your resume is one of the most important documents in your possession, and can have a staggering impact on your career progression. It is a written description of your ability to fulfill a business’ requirements, and is often open to a lot of interpretation. There are thousands of different ways to manipulate the same data (your skills and experiences) to present it in the most compelling way - remember, you are trying to prove to management, technical staff, and human resources that they will be better off with you in their employment.

Source: Vu Hung

A resume is used by companies HR departments to evaluate a huge range of your characteristics to see if you will succeed in the desired position and whether you will fit into the culture, including:

  • Intelligence
  • Education
  • Experience
  • Team Work
  • Communication Skills
  • Problem Solving Ability

The differences between a standard resume and a great resume can result in a significant reduction in job opportunities if your application is dismissed.

Follow the tips below and you can improve your resume to truly reflect your actual ability.

1. Be clear and concise

No-one wants to read a novel to obtain the same information that you can dot-point. Summarize your key points and try to reduce any ‘fluff.’

2. Tailor your resume to each job application

Find out exactly what skills and experience the potential job is looking for and highlight those skills. If the job requires extensive process modelling then demonstrate your process modelling activities.

3. List your key projects and achievements

A potential employer is not interested in the 6 months you spent checking your email during work experience, but they are interested in the commissioning that you were involved in during those 6 months. Highlight achievements rather than timelines.

4. Sell your skills

Remember, you are not selling your personality. You are offering the company a solution, i.e. the ability to improve fuel efficiency, quality, or profit margins.

5. Demonstrate continued learning and education

With technology advancing at ever-increasing rates the ability to continually learn and improve your skills is extremely valuable.

6. Be 100% grammar and spelling mistake free

If you are sloppy enough to make a spelling mistake on a resume, than maybe you will make a mistake in an important calculation or critical decision.

7. Be honest

Do not try to trick your way into a job, or both you and your employer will be disappointed. Your reputation is your most valuable asset and should not be compromised for short term gains.

 

A resume is a document outlining your value and potential. Its importance should not be underestimated, but at the end of the day it is your skills and experiences that really count. Look at improving your knowledge and attributes and your resume will continue to improve.

5 Ways to Change Mindsets for Increasing Efficiency

For anyone who has worked in an ageing plant they will undoubtably be familiar with the response “Because that is what we’ve always done.”

Bad habits passed down over many years can be extremely difficult to break. The problem is often not with the solution, it is in changing the mindset of everyone involved. While the change may seem extremely simple and logical to you, others can be more difficult to convince. Instead of hearing “I have a solution to your problem,” they often hear “Your actions over the past x years were wrong.”

Source: Perpetualplum

Being able to communicate between disciplines, education levels, and experience is one of the most important lessons - one that is often skipped. The ability to get things done is rare, but it can be learned.

For any process change to be succesful it needs to have the confidence and involvement of all levels of a processing plant, from management, maintenance, operations, health and safety, and control. If any one of these departments are not happy, then the project can come to a disapointing halt.

The following steps are helpful in converting any idea into a permanent process change:

1. Participation

“Tell me and I’ll forget

Show me and I may remember

Involve me and I’ll understand”

Chinese Proverb

Involving the person who are trying to convince in your trials is much more influential than explaining the results of a historic trial. This is a great way to get people emotionally invested in your project, because they are assissting in its implimentation. Depending on the effort involved in their participation it becomes their project as much as yours, and they will go out of their way to see its success.

Once this has been accomplished you no longer have just one person trying to change mindsets, but an entire team.

This can be difficult when multiple people need to be convinced, but it is the most powerful item in your persuasion tookit.

 

2. Visual Management

“What gets measured gets managed”

Peter Drucker, Social Ecologist

Many companies are obsessed with visual management tools, for one reason - they work!

Graphs and boards filled with greens and reds, ticks and crosses, smiles and frowns, are plentiful, and while they may be too simplistic for the complications of a process engineering role, they are an easy way of managing change and viewing compliance. One way to increase the probability of a process change is to measure the compliance to the new system in a simple and easy to understand manner. Depending on the importance of the change and responsibility of an individual, this system can even be reflected in performance bonus’.

If people understand that the direct result of their actions has consquences on the process, profitability, and their visual management board, then they are much more likely to comply.

 

3. Understanding

There are very few employees who do not want the best for their site, and even fewer whose concerns are not relevant - understanding those concerns and implimenting them into your solution will often improve it.

A lot of people are so focused on pushing their idea through, that they do not use criticism or concerns as an opportunity for increasing operability or reliability. Actively listening with the sole purposing of trying to understand another persons problems with your process change is extremely helpful, both in terms of further developing your project and bringing another person onto your team. Once someones ideas have been implimented into the final solution, rather than being ignored, will result in a more successful change.

Use the concerns of others as a tool to improve your base idea and you will develop more thorough solutions in areas outside of your expertise.

 

4. Consider all parties involved

Every process plant is made up of many, many people, each with an important part to play. Almost all process changes impact everyone in the area, and considering their concerns is wise and effective. The more reliability and rigour that can be implimented into an already process beneficial change will result in direct improvements.

A well thought out plan, which has consulted heavily with all stakeholders is much more likely to succeed.

There are many examples of process designs failing or projects being cancelled after the maintenance costs proved higher than anticipated, or the safety risks were not thoroughly considered.

  • What maintenance routines will be involved?
  • Will operations need to change their strategy?
  • Has Health and Safety been consulted?
  • Is legal required?
  • Will quality or production or profitability be negatively impacted?
  • What will the impact be on downsteam processes?

If you have thought of the risks, benefits, and involvement of the parties involved prior to them asking, then you are well ahead of the pack and more likely to gain their approval.

 

5. Trust

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Every small positive action builds trust with another person, and every negative action destroys it. After trust has been built on an ongoing, and long term basis, every project will be easier to impliment than the last.

Building trust is a long and difficult process, and can be lost in an instant. It must be built with each person on an individual basis, and cannot be faked. There are huge amounts of literature regarding building trust.

 

Bringing one or all of these mindset altering techniques into your workplace will significant increase the chance of success of any of your projects, and reduce the amount of time that every change will take.