What is a Program?

I recently spoke at the AFPM Occupational & Process Safety Conference. It was a great event, with lots of real-world knowledge getting shared, good products being presented, and all in all, just a fun bunch of professionals getting their safety on.   Besides evangelizing on my company’s products, I always also learn about market trends, forces, and most importantly, mindsets. As a consultant and entrepreneur, it is critical that I be aware of, and I react to, people’s preconceived notions. If their notions are valid, I am a fool if I do not pay attention and re-align my company’s products to encompass this new knowledge. If their notions are invalid, or founded upon misinformation, it is just as critical that I re-educate them, as gently as possible.

Through the years, as I have worked to spread the word about DangerTags, I have frequently run into situations where prospects (typically management) told me “we have that already”, or more commonly, “we already have a LOTO program”. I found this discouraging, because I really thought we had innovated and were delivering something to the market that was new and a valuable tool to provide a solution to a very real problem. Oddly, I would then speak to someone else in the same facility only to discover that they had nothing like DangerTags in place. I found this disconnect between managers and operators frustrating and almost inexplicable. There is no way one person could be under the impression that they had LOTO automation in place, with their direct report just as confidently saying that they did not. As time has passed, I have found that there was a communication breakdown between myself and prospects, surrounding the definition of the word “program”. As usual, I was most of the problem.

My name is Keith and I am a recovering programmer. As we all know, programmers program programs. No ambiguity there, right? That is, until I go to my kid’s elementary school musical and somebody hands me a program. Disturbingly, this is a program that doesn’t run on a computer. This strange object frightens and bewilders me. Where is the code for this program? My reality collapses as people repeatedly refer to the pamphlet as a program. Well, guess who is the moron here? Here’s a hint: it’s me.

My new expanded reality makes it clear that a program can describe a process and documentation standard. This, of course, almost every plant in the world has in place. Well thought-out and very detailed programs in which someone has a great deal of time invested. These are vital documents that represent corporate standards that are not to be ignored and certainly not discarded. So when I come in and start talking about our LOTO automation program, if I don’t make myself clear, I can rightfully expect resistance from the owners of these processes. They do have a program in place, and it works, and therefore is not lightly replaced. Which leads us to my next communication failure: DangerTags does not replace the existing program.

Every time we go into a new facility, we customize DangerTags to produce lists and tags in the format that facility has always used. We find that when the staff in the field sees a document that looks familiar with the only difference that it is more legible, it increases comfort and therefore buy-in from the people on the ground that have to use the system every day. So, DangerTags simply takes the laborious handwritten processes of the existing program and automates their production. In a facility where not only tags are handwritten, but lists are as well, the labor savings is huge but the increase in efficiency and safety is the big deal. Being able to easily reproduce a list that exactly matches the set of printed tags is a massive improvement in the program. Our program becomes a part of their program. And my grasp of the English language becomes a little better.

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