Striving toward perfection

June 1, 1996
Ian Strecker Executive Vice President Technology and QHSE Schlumberger Limited
Ian Strecker
Executive Vice President Technology and QHSE
Schlumberger Limited

Since the extremes of the 1980s, the mentality of the industry and its definition of quality has changed dramatically. Tasks have been reorganized, and management structure and interfaces reengineered. New technology and communications methods have been applied universally to improve efficiency. Closer communication links have been established between operators and service companies. Coordinated, joint decision-making processes have been initiated at many levels. Indeed, a new type of relationship has evolved between operators and contractors. Working as cooperating business partners with well-defined, shared goals and incentives has resulted in operational benefits and bottom-line improvements for both parties. Meeting or exceeding the goals set by mutual agreement between supplier and end user is now the objective. Clearly, an industry-wide quality culture is emerging.

Toward a zero-defect culture

At the heart of a quality culture is a commitment to continuous improvement, the basis of which is the belief that within any situation or any activity, there is always room to improve. The goal is perfection or "zero defects," nothing less. This goal applies to every piece in the puzzle: people, processes and products. All must work together to provide the foundation for a zero-defect culture; but, how?

The continuous improvement process increases efficiency and competitiveness, reveals opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked and promotes teamwork and proactive problem solving. Every person has input to achieving established objectives. People are empowered, not only to participate in the system, but also to contribute in demonstrable ways toward the goal of getting things right the first time, every time.

Benchmarking the performance of key elements of any operation is paramount to this process. It aids with the design and planning phase, the establishment of standards of performance and the identification of opportunities for improvement.

Training also plays a key role with the focus evolving from strictly technical to a broader view. At the operations level, a competency-based approach includes assessment and measurement of proficiency as well as a systematic methodology to correct noted deficiencies. At the management level, training encompasses how to better manage, how to better recognize problems and issues, how to empower and facilitate, and how to communicate. At every level, training has become more focused on quality as the end goal.

No-blame culture

By definition, incidents will never be eliminated. Rather than assigning blame, a quality culture fosters the belief that even undesirable events can be used to advance risk reduction. Focusing on problem solving rather than finger pointing encourages people to call on particular hands-on knowledge of hazards and near-accidents to identify risks. The result is continuous improvement of risk management and safety.

The role of information technology

A quality culture requires implementation of a quality management system that is simultaneously employee and client oriented. Its procedures must be systematic and consistently applied. It should generate action rather than reaction. And, of course, it must foster an environment of cooperation, mutual goal-setting and teamwork.

Harnessing information technology is key to a successful quality management system. Through both internal networks and the Internet, continually updated, critical information is instantaneously available on a global basis. Training programs augmented with computerized benchmarking regularly measure compliance, provide feedback and aid in developing action plans to rectify inefficiencies. On drilling rigs, CD-ROM manuals ensure access to the latest information and improve the productivity and efficiency of rig workers. The result is less downtime and fewer errors and losses.

At Schlumberger, information technology is a key enabler of our quality culture. Engineers and scientists share design files, brainstorm when developing new products, browse interlinked databases of previous experience to discover solutions to recurrent problems, and interface with clients, common suppliers and public networks, all of which help reduce defects and product cycle time. A recently developed health database, which will be converted to a standard Web site this year, includes information concerning health issues in more than 150 countries around the world. Topics range from vaccinations and food and water recommendations to local diseases and their prevention, local health facilities and information on emergencies and evacuations.

Mission: possible

As stated earlier, the goal of a quality culture is zero defects. This is not to say that anyone actually expects to achieve perfection, but having it as a goal makes each achievement a starting point for the next level of improvement. Therefore, the road to developing a quality culture can be considered a journey, not a destination. As targets are set or projects planned, the operative question evolves from "How can we improve?" to "What is possible?" In a quality culture, given the innovative spirit of the oil and gas industry, the answer is, "Anything."

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