Management of Change Needs More ‘Yellow Hat Thinking’

by Dave Righthouse – Senior Project Manager, Engineering Services

The power-generation industry of today is continually evolving. Many of the changes – particularly on the regulatory and technical fronts – are sharpening the competitive edge, making financial margins ever leaner. This is driving numerous cost-cutting initiatives throughout the NAES fleet and at power-generating facilities everywhere.

In the past, these efforts focused on extending equipment life, implementing state-of-the-art technologies, upgrading to more advanced emission control equipment and other measures that, ironically, involved major capital outlays. Recent initiatives, however, have tended to avoid the big spend, opting instead for subtler improvements to procedures, administrative functions or even the organizational structure. Though they might seem innocuous by comparison, such changes can have just as large a ripple effect as high-priced upgrades to the physical plant.While we have continually supported our clients’ cost-cutting efforts and other suggested improvements, our management of change (MOC) procedure at NAES has focused primarily on equipment and technical changes. While it is intended as a comprehensive analysis of potential pitfalls that might result from a proposed change, our existing MOC approach has tended to neglect procedural or organizational changes and their ramifications.Root cause analysis (RCA) investigations across the NAES fleet have in recent years confirmed this shortfall.

Further, the solutions resulting from many of these RCAs run parallel to steps that could’ve been taken within the existing MOC procedure. But when asked if an MOC had been conducted prior to implementing the solution, many RCA participants responded that the MOC procedure wasn’t appropriate for addressing that change. Some of them even replied that, in their understanding, the MOC’s purpose is simply to communicate the change that’s been implemented to plant personnel.

So, what in fact is the intended purpose of our MOC process – and how does Yellow Hat Thinking factor into this discussion?

Edward Bono
Dr. Edward de Bono, physician, psychologist, philosopher, author, inventor and consultant, wrote The Six Thinking Hats, has promoted the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools and has worked with many of the world’s great corporations to help them think creatively.

I’ve borrowed the ‘Yellow Hat’ concept from Edward de Bono’s book The Six Thinking Hats. De Bono’s strategies are intended to help groups collectively organize their thinking and solve problems more effectively. Having a structured process that systematically ‘channels’ different modes of thinking, he argues, tends to encourage individual perspectives while still leading to a productive group consensus. For example, information gathering is the first mode, generally followed by creative solution proposing. The group then analyzes these proposed solutions, first wearing their Black Hats (critical/cautious) and then their Yellow Hats (optimistic/hopeful).

It is this Yellow Hat perspective that we need to integrate into our MOC approach – the same perspective we adopt in conducting a job hazard analysis (JHA) before taking on a new task. In the JHA process, we purposely identify the hazards or ‘trip points’ we’ll have to deal with – but with a view to eliminating or successfully navigating them while still accomplishing our objectives.

Since participants in an MOC often have a fuzzy grasp of its purpose, it can negatively affect their ‘buy-in.’ They focus on identifying additional changes that might be needed rather than on implementing the initial change successfully and without incident. As Adam Grant observed, “When you’re in the weeds, all you can see is the process of doing the work. When you take a step back, you can see the purpose.”

With the JHA, our purpose is to meet our objectives without people getting hurt. The MOC, however, goes well beyond safety: its purpose is to successfully meet the objectives of the change without causing an incident of any kind. Yellow Hat thinking, if firmly embedded in the MOC, would keep our focus fixed on a successful outcome: how can we implement the change safely, compliantly and in line with the client’s expectations? We move forward with the purpose of ensuring our client’s success by identifying risks and taking steps to effectively mitigate them.

It has been the absence of this mode of thinking that often surfaces in our RCAs. However, we continue our efforts to refine the existing MOC procedure to make it more straightforward and more relevant to the types of operational changes we are likely to implement in today’s evolving industry.

As we work on this, I invite you to submit any ideas you might have on how to improve the Management of Change process. You can email me here.

Righthouse Tech Speaking May 2018