Featured Guest Blogger: Robert Mote
Motagg’s Blog by Robert Mote
Let’s connect on LinkedIn: http://ca.linkedin.com/in/robertmote
This can attack at any time in your professional life. It is a cultural disease and fairly contagious without treatment. Even if it is successfully treated it there is a chance of relapse. It is not just the peril of students life.
The symptoms are identifiable:
• Agreeing without checking
• Cutting corners
• Not asking questions
• Working alone
• Repetitive work, turning the wheel
• On cruise control
• Lacking challenge
The treatment usually requires one or more of the following therapy:
• Set a goal for the future
• Go the extra mile
• Share the issues with a buddy
• Focus on what interests you
• Identify the crux of the problem
• Specialize your passion
• Ask curious questions
• Develop a parallel personal project
• Use a diary, record your days, hopes and dreams
We are all affected by our environment, colleagues, relationships and responsibilities. They consume our awareness totally leaving little room for little else. My old buddy aptly described apathy as “sigh…tired of moving forward.” The greatest antidote to apathy is a dream, a belief in the future. So regardless of the daily demands on our mental resources and physical stamina, keep a candle burning brightly, to hope. Affirm it daily. Even so, I believe apathy precedes a period of great change and I have the experience of that, more than once.
Even after more than twenty years in the business, I know well, apathy can strike hard. Today, my brain is shutting down and I don’t know what to blog about. The site job is going very well but I am going through a quiet patch, we are settling into summer mode as the holiday season approaches and I find myself falling asleep during the day. Should I see a doctor? I haven’t felt this way for years! When, I return to camp and my room, I am bored. I don’t know what to do with myself. And still I am tired. This is unheard of in my usually busy schedule but I know I have fallen into apathy.
I remember the last time I felt this way too well. It was nine years ago and I was in limbo land, between projects and not knowing which way to turn. I was waiting for something to happen. Jobs were hard to find and there was no ‘freedom’ to leave the company; my wife pregnant with twins on the way and the mortgage on the new house were compelling reasons to stay. That was Holland at the time of 9/11. The politics of the terrorist strike in New York had an immediate domino effect on the workload in Holland. Project after projects, based in the Middle East were shelved, delayed or suspended, overnight. For a period of nine months, there was a sense of not knowing what to do and I was trapped by responsibilities so I became apathetic, frozen in the headlight glare of the future. I had spent the last few years developing electronic-style calculations and developing technical expertise in dynamic structures but now we were waiting for something to happen, twiddling thumbs. I wanted to stay so as not to rock the boat of my current obligations but I was ready to move on and didn’t know how to.
After nine months and five remarkable years, the company had to let me go so I had to find the tools for change. This was a start of an incredible period of my professional career. I was looking for new challenges in the UK nuclear field and about to sign up until I was encouraged to continue in the Oil and Gas field, on my terms. Some of my terms were that my civil/structural team would do electronic-style calculations, engineers would get computer training in Microsoft Office and I would get to lead a project.
We relocated to the UK and I was now lead engineer on a lump-sum joint-venture project with South Koreans in Kuwait. I applied everything I knew and the project completed under budget and on schedule. I traveled to Los Angeles, Seoul, Kuwait, Rome and had a small team aligned and performing to my standards. After the project completion and finishing a fantastic parallel study into an innovative pipeline anchorage design for a Kazakhstan project (saved for another post), I resettled to Calgary and got involved in workshare coordination.
Against a wall of cynicism and apathy in the Canadian office, I applied again all the tricks of the trade regards Microsoft Office and taught the workshare team in New Delhi. We achieved the impossible deadline. I traveled to New Delhi and showed them what I was looking for and how to do it. After six months, we completed the project goals. I was delighted by the success. This was the time I thought to write my books about electronic-style calculations.
Another project beckoned and I agreed to take on bigger workshare teams based in Edmonton, Charleston and Mumbai. I repeated the same process. On a megaproject, we had completed the calculations and checked them within budget and prior to approved drawings. The success of the main piperack design with the Mumbai team (over 300 modules) had no rework or revisions. All piperack stick-built steel and modules were installed as per schedule. I got my confirmation, it wasn’t a “one-trick” pony.
Now, I work on site mopping up the details and I see the huge gaps between design and reality. To tackle the apathy spiral, I have created a parallel study that is gaining a lot of interest. My latest idea is building the awareness of how quality engineering work can make a fundamental impact on project execution, costs and schedules.
I have survived an Alberta Oilsands megaproject from concept to turnover. I have seen every step of the way from the blank paper to field erection. I have followed a line on the drawing through fabrication, to the module yard, through transportation to field installation. I have interacted with every single participant at every level. We listened, optimized and improved their productivity and incorporated it into the design. I have seen what contractors actually do in the field and the engineer in the design office doesn’t know it. I have seen how the roles of the construction and project managements created a unique culture in the Oilsands; so different to the rest of the world. It has been one helluva ride!
It is more than ‘Lessons Learned’. It is more than a list of two hundred issues and 500 photos. It is a team-building alignment session so that the next structural team does not sleep through the next design but become active participants in the quest for improved designs that will impact project performance. It is knowledge that can profoundly affect the way engineers can work in Alberta. The engineering profession, the engineering houses, the clients and Alberta reputation for innovation can benefit. The knowledge reaches far beyond the current project, it is applicable to every megaproject in Alberta.
Unfortunately, Alberta has the greatest propensity for apathy within the engineering profession. The ‘iron ring’ culture cannot fix it. The engineering profession has found itself in a backseat, subordinate role to construction and project management teams. I am wrestling with those issues. The truth is I am apathetic now. The luxury to say it is not trivial but critical to the treatment. It has a vicious downward spiral most people would recognise.
I have been on the same project five years now and feel compelled to take what I have learned to the next level. But the apathy of my colleagues and managers is overwhelming me. Where the idea of “ignorance is bliss” served me well nine years ago, I cannot say that now. Does anybody believe me, really? I could disappear tomorrow and it won’t make a blind bit of difference to my employers. Oh dear, that is not positive thinking! It is a pity that they do not understand my message. I am an engineer, they are managers. Is that a touch of inferiority complex? The cultural rush of the last decade to put project management in pole position and engineering in support role needs to change. Engineering must win back the crown and we can do that by collaboration.
The financial crisis of 2009 forced many clients in the Oilsands to consider Lump-sum contract approaches. Returning to the lump-sum culture will be positive for engineers and enable them the opportunity to reclaim the role of construction coordinators and managers. The ascendancy of “project” management of the last twenty years has peaked and they have not performed too well, against a century and a half of engineering. Management is about global, speed and profit and driving for the lowest denominator. Sadly, engineers are begging to become project engineers losing the opportunity to develop their technical expertise.
At the heart of it, I know the civil/structural engineering profession can have a profound effect in addressing the staggering cost overruns of megaprojects in Alberta but we have to step up to the plate. A contracts manger explained to me about the cost multipliers. He said if the design change is done at the time of engineering design then it is 1 dollar. A design change during fabrication is 4 dollars, during module assembly is seven dollars or on site is 10 dollars. I spent three years during design phase being told not to waste time and pass the problems to site, site will sort it out. Now I see the consequences every day on site. The design is so cheap now but the site costs have other hidden and horrendous multipliers due to scaffolding, delay in information, inexperience and poor alignment.
Many people said my ideas about electronic-style calculations would never catch on but I persisted and I know now that it will happen. This idea of quality in calculations and professional responsibility was my ‘baby’ nine years ago and I can let it go now. I broke the apathy spiral. Along the way I got involved with how engineers could become “dynamic” and break the “transactional” culture of the last fifteen years. I want my next mission to stand and deliver in Alberta to a wider audience, prove that civil/structural engineering holds the key to innovation, project performance and excellence.
I will light the candle to my biggest hope yet.
I missed one from the list, kill the apathy with a holiday! Enjoy yours.