RICK A RICE CONSULTING
Technical and Marketing Communications for the IT, Software, IT-Security, Change Management, AEC, and Media Sectors
HOME ● WHO WE ARE ● RESOURCES ● PROJECTS ● PROPOSALS ● RESUME ● SERVICES ● CONTACT US
The Ma'aden-Alcoa joint venture has selected Wagstaff to supply the joint venture's vertical direct chill casting complex with t-ingot, rolling ingot, and extrusion billet casting equipment. The contract includes capital equipment and technology to produce aluminium rolling ingot and extrusion billet at the casting complex, currently under construction and scheduled to start production in 2013 in Ras Az Zawr, Saudi Arabia. The greenfield smelter and rolling mill comprise the first of two phases in this super-project, which will leverage Saudi Arabia's bauxite and energy resources with Alcoa know-how, management expertise and support to create what the jv describes as the world's largest and lowest cost fully integrated aluminium manufacturing complex (Fig.1). The rolling mill will be the region's first and one of the most technologically advanced in the world and will primarily produce can stock, end stock and tab stock for the regional market. It will have initial hot-mill capacity of between 250,000 and 460,000 metric tons per year. - February 17, 2011, Reported by Process Engineer.
Aluminum Sheet Storage
Abdullah A. M. Al-Khodari Sons Company was awarded a storage facility construction contract in December 2010.
Hayward Interchange Simulation
Soccer Frog by Steve Gill
One advantage I have had as a technical writer has been the opportunity to work on project teams. Beyond serving in marketing capacities and proposing work for others, I have been part of the product delivery process, actually interacting with clients to meet their needs and fulfill contract requirements. I love this type of work because it is objective in nature, therefore a break from the subjective realm that is a part of the natural environment of any writer. Sometimes it is nice just to have a straight out target.
IN WITH THE OLD BULLS
In 2003, I was sent by Bechtel to Seattle to help pull together the contract documents for the new Seattle Monorail project. This project was expected to modernize and extend the existing monorail system that was built for the 1962 World's Fair. The expanded system was planned to finger out to 19 stations throughout the downtown portion of the city and function as a north-south commuter operation connecting the Ballard section to West Seattle, or the Space Needle to the sports facility where the Seahawks and Mariners play.
Bechtel had joint ventured with Jacobs Engineering and teamed with a passel of local Seattle firms to scope, cost, and perform a work breakdown structure for the project, then to manage the initial design and planning stages. Seattle voters had approved and just begun to pay a motor vehicle tax, which with fairs were going to pay the costs of the system, projected to be $1.7 billion, but actual project funding was minimal.
I arrived for work on a Monday morning and was told my first product delivery was scheduled for Thursday -- a preliminary work plan. The Seattle Monorail Authority (SMA) would eventually provide us with office space where they are located in the Securities Building on Third Street, but when I got there I was shunted into the basement where I and about 20 Bechtel/Jacobs engineers were set up to work at long tables with temporary computer hookups. They were, for the most part, a dog-faced crew of old field engineers, about as excited to be there as any Monday morning workforce, maybe less.
The Bechtel Program Manager was Linda Miller, who had been a principal project leader in the development of The Chunnel transit system connecting France and Great Britain. She is an athletic and attractive but tough-as-nails blonde, a former Army paratrooper. (Her resume used to state that she made a living jumping out of "perfectly good planes.") She held a project kickoff meeting with us, there in the basement, asking each person "Who the hell are you and what the hell are you doing here?" Ms. Miller is not a wasteful manager and she was making the point that we had all better have a task, get it done, and get off the payroll.
It was during the kickoff meeting that I realized that I was the only documentation person in the room. When Linda introduced me as the person who would be pulling all of their inputs together to develop the work plan and project management plan the bulls were quick to comment. "Good luck," one of them side, to some laughs. "What did you do wrong to get this job?" asked another. "It'll be like herding cats."
Working upstairs, developing the master plan for delivery of the first set of products, was Dr. Sayed Sultan, a guy I had seen around the Bechtel offices in San Francisco but had never known. Using an outline he had developed for the first documents due, I quickly pulled together a first draft and sent it to him electronically. He soon showed up in the basement with Gordon Anderson, another Bechtel project leader, who introduced Sayad to me.
Sayad was obviously not there to make nice. He was agitated. "All of this that you sent to me is awful!" he said to me. "This is not what I have outlined. We don't have time to go around on this, it has to be fixed!"
The old bulls sat watching for my reaction in what was, to say the least, an awkward situation. I asked Sayad to take a moment and go through his outline with me, which he was almost too exercised to handle, but he sat with me. Very quickly it became clear to me that I had misunderstood his outline. It had been organized in an Excel spreadsheet in a manner different from anything I had ever experienced. As he talked me through it, it suddenly became to clear to me. I very quickly issued a revised draft and suddenly Sayad and I were a team.
There were a couple learnings there. First, I had to open my thinking to other ways of organizing ideas, which meant focused listening and a bit of projection. Bright people often expect others will "get" what is being communicated, or do what's necessary to arm themselves with whatever background information is required. I was going to have to be on my toes.
The second learning was that staying cool under tough circumstances is a good way to win friends. The bulls were comfortable with me after that. In fact, they were solicitous.
Even with those problems solved, we were still headed into choppy waters. It quickly became apparent to the Bechtel/Jacobs team that it was going to be impossible to build the monorail for the approved budget of $1.7 billion, much of which was to be generated by the operation of the monorail itself. (For the record, this self-financing feat has never been accomplished by any public transit system anywhere in the world.)
The question became, how do you create a work plan for a system that cannot possibly be built with the allocated funding? Sayad and his team went into a mad scramble to achieve the greatest possible efficiencies for those parts of the system for which they were responsible.
As the guy through whom all of this information was funneled, I began to see disconnects developing, i.e., sections of the plan that weren't speaking to other sections, and in some cases planning engineers who weren't speaking to each other! No pun intended, but it appeared that we were headed for a train wreck.
It was apparent to me that to meet our obligations to the SMA we needed to have concrete answers, or at least responses, to a big list of issues. I developed a 100-point checklist of things we had to address in our contract documents, and Sayad went to work reviewing the information being developed by his engineers and making it fit within that detailed documentation plan.
The result was outstanding. It took some 18-hour days, but we delivered our documents on schedule and received a complimentary legal review from the SMA and the high counsel of the Bechtel/Jacobs joint venture. The Seattle Monorail project has recently gone on the rocks and may now not happen at all, for all the reasons surfaced by the Bechtel/Jacobs team, but as a team we fought through challenges, worked effectively together, and accomplished what we were sent to Seattle to do. In the course of it all, I made some great working partners in Dr. Sayad Sultan, Gordon Anderson, Linda Miller and the rest, and I will always be appreciative of the opportunity they gave me to function in an important way on this project.
IN SERVICE TO THE KINGDOM
I loved working at Bechtel in part because it always involved me in interesting projects, often with really interesting people.
In 2004-2005 I had one of my more memorable experiences working on the Ma'aden Aluminium Feasibility Study. This is a $7 billion project undertaken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and managed under Ma'aden, their mining arm, to build a bauxite mine, refinery, smelter, heavy gauge railroad, and gulf shipping port. The project had been brought to Bechtel by a colorful, entrepreneurial engineer named Jim Taylor, who had run his own engineering firms for years, been associated with I.C.F. Kaiser, and had extensive experience in the Middle East.
Bechtel's international arm teamed with Taylor and selected a brilliant mining engineer by the name of Mike Connolly to serve as feasibility study manager. Here again, Bechtel threw me into a lion's den without support as the only technical writer/editor placed on the project.
The study itself was voluminous (more than 600 pages) and people from throughout the Bechtel mining organization contributed to it. It was under constant legal review and also under meticulous review for compliance with Bechtel Mining & Metal's specific technical standards. Jim Taylor's organization was particularly diligent in scrutinizing the document, and it went through multiple preliminary reviews with the client.
Besides the technical nature of the study, the document was also developed referencing the standards and protocols of the client. Saudi Arabia is a country that has been developed from the outside by the British, Americans and others who had their own ideas about how things should be identified, and names of places and roadways vary depending upon whose documents you reference, so our document had to be carefully aligned with the standards of the Ma'aden group.
By the end of the project, Mike Connelly and I were working remotely, with me in the Bay Area and he at the Bechtel mining headquarters in Brisbane, Australia. With the 18 hour time difference, I was frequently on the telephone after midnight helping him with the information he needed for his work day.
Working with Mike was one of the more rewarding work experiences I have ever had. He is a true polymath who began our relationship with an attitude of skepticism toward technical writers and editors typical of technical professionals. Guys like myself often get assigned to projects, and to project leaders forced to accept these assignees it often feels like someone is being brought in to do a job they can't. There is nothing Mike Connelly can't do. He knows everything about mining and civil engineering and feasibility study development. He even taught me advanced MS-Word functions that I had never even thought to use before. But what he very quickly figured out was that I brought horsepower to the project in terms of document development; doing the intense technical editing, checking for inconsistencies, correcting formats, even rewriting entire chapters and shepherding changes through the complete review process. I couldn't tell him anything about bauxite mining and refinement, but I could help him manage a large, detailed technical volume.
"You made this document better than it otherwise would have been," he told me at project's end.
Conversely, working with Mike Connelly has made me a better technical writer and editor.
FLYOVER IN HAYWARD
In 2003-2004, I worked with Caltrans Senior Environmental Planner Howell Chan on the Final EIR/EIS for the Interstate-880/State Road 92 (I-880/SR 92) interchange project. Almost ten years in development by the time I came on board, the project is designed to replace the existing, four-quadrant, cloverleaf interchange in Hayward. The existing configuration is unable to efficiently handle traffic volumes on these two freeways, which are among the most heavily congested in the San Francisco Bay Area. Weaving and merging conflicts on SR 92 between the loop connectors and on the collector distributor segments of I-880 cause queues and exacerbate congestion, causing delays and resulting in deteriorating roadway.
Through public meetings and engineering analysis Caltrans had identified 23 alternatives for handling the traffic situation, including 14 build alternatives involving four basic interchange designs and their variations. By the time of the final EIR/EIS they had narrowed the alternatives to three build alternatives and one no-build. Caltrans identified Alternative H as their preferred alternative. Alternative H reconstructs two loop connectors -- SR 92 eastbound to I-880 northbound and SR 92 westbound to I-880 southbound -- into direct flyover connectors. It adds a second lane to the I-880 southbound to SR 92 westbound diagonal connector. The interchange is surrounded by residential property, so the alternative constructs sound and retaining walls. Auxiliary lanes are provided on I-880 between SR 92 and the Tennyson Road Interchange and then again between the Winton Avenue Interchange and the I-880/SR 92 interchanges. It reconstructs the Cheney-Eldridge Pedestrian Overcrossing, provides CHP enforcement areas and ramp metering equipment on the direct flyover connectors, and improves the intersections of Jackson and Santa Clara Streets and the Hesperian Boulevard/SR 92 on- and off-ramps.
With the EIR/EIS coming to its climax at a time when Caltrans was woefully understaffed, I was sent from Bechtel to help project leader Howell Chan to handle the final hurdles. In two volumes, including a 600-plus page technical volume and a separate volume of comments, the project was large and ungainly. It had yet to pass final review with the Federal Highway Administration, and it needed to undergo all of the final processes of preparing a document for publication.
My first task was to read through the existing document -- existing because some information was still to be collected from technical contributors, particularly sound tests associated with sound wall alternatives -- and my first task was to do a technical edit. I noted problem sentences, typos and misspellings, inconsistencies in format, miscalculations, weak transitions, and document holes. I worked with Caltrans Project Manager Mark Zabaneh to urge those whose contributions were still outstanding to give priority to the project. I also worked directly with stakeholders, particularly in the Hayward planning department, to gather other information required to complete the writing for the incomplete sections.
MS-Word was not doing a complete job of spell checking the document, which caused consternation for a time. Portions of the text had been tagged to be excluded, so you would get thumbs up from the software about the time you ran across a misspelled word. Bechtel Senior Environmental Scientist Dave Watkins, who was a principal author of the EIR/EIS, eventually diagnosed the glitch and we resolved the issue.
I went through the book tagging each section of text and each heading so that the document could be properly automated in terms of table of contents (TOC), list generation and reference links. I find this crucial on a document of this size because it allows you to use the automated functions of MS-Word to test if the book is “working.” Having it properly indexed and linked was desirable, because while print copies would be distributed, most readers would see read the document on the Caltrans website. There were technical issues to manage.
Another huge task was digitizing Caltrans’ drawings for the project. The work had gone on for almost a full decade and in that time technology had passed Caltrans by a bit. Some of the software that had been used to produce the original files was no longer in use or available, and many of the designers had moved on. In some cases, all we had were remnant drawings. I worked with Bechtel’s graphics personnel to scan and clean up detailed, and in some cases large format, drawings so they could be placed on line with the rest of the book. Finally, there was a big formatting issue regarding tables, which were used extensively in the document. They had been developed without consistency, so I reformatted every one of them and created style sheets for the captions and footnotes, organizing the information for easy reader access.
Finally, I broke the document into sections, created a home page for the project with links to separate chapters, and worked through the Caltrans District 4 web master to post the document on line.
In the end the project was reviewed by all appropriate elected officials, including Senators Boxer and Feinstein, and received the approval of the Federal Highway Administration. The Final EIR/EIS is still available on the Caltrans District 4 website. My hat is off to Howell Chan, a tremendously calm and capable project leader, who did a sensational job of seeing this long development through from beginning to successful conclusion.
SOCCER AND BOILING FROGS
One project that remains a particular favorite of mine took place while I was working at a well known design firm. It is one of those vindicating stories.
This was a venerable old firm by the time I joined them. Founded by a protégé of a legendary designer and an internationally respected planner, the firm was 40 years in existence and boasted a portfolio of some of the most important architectural design projects on the west coast. Its walls were festooned with industry awards, over 100 of them for projects ranging from corporate to municipal to Department of Defense. By my time, however, it was a firm in paralysis.
It epitomized the classic business metaphor of the potted frog, unaware that the water it sat in was slowly cooking it to a miserable end. The founders had assumed emeritus status and were more or less retired. The remaining principals were old and enervated and apparently at a loss to understand their firm’s place in the firmament of modern elite architectural design firms. Their problem was that their markets had changed over time. They were still living largely off the legacies of their legendary founders, and they were uncertain as to what they could do to deal with the new realities. The frog was about cooked. It seemed to me that the firm needed to make contact with some clients and find out what they were thinking.
The technique I was most familiar with for gathering the data required to plan business development was the market survey. Prior to joining this company, I had worked at a corporate training firm for which the development of client surveys was a core strategy. I had learned a lot while there about how to organize information gathering tools so that they were easy to answer, had high face value, had real value to the person filling them out, and were easy to total. I developed a survey intended to determine activity at California recreational facilities, and to learn what facility improvements would best meet the needs of users and administrators.
Working from a list of California park and recreation directors obtained from the California Parks and Recreation Society (CPRS), I mailed the surveys along with stamped self-addressed return envelopes throughout the state.
Skepticism within the firm was high, but within a week completed surveys started rolling in at a rate far exceeding even my hopes. We were getting a 60 percent response, far higher than what one might expect from a return mail initiative. Moreover, the telephone started to ring with recreation facility directors contacting us for information on the survey results. It became immediately apparent that our clients needed a way to compare their own experiences with those of other recreation professionals, and this survey was helping with this. We committed to publishing the results in the CPRS publication.
What was the big learning? Soccer was sweeping the state and more than anything else, parks and recreation people in California needed soccer facilities to meet the demand. The firm had people on staff who were experienced with sports field design, and now they had a target for their services. They had identified a market.
Moreover, this firm had positioned itself as a consultant operation that understood what was going on in this particular market segment. They were positioned to appear expert. They got inexpensive advertising that stretched from one end of the state to the other, and in the process provided a service to their clients.
I'm not saying it saved the frog. I'm just saying I feel good about the story.
HOME ● WHO WE ARE ● RESOURCES ● PROJECTS ● PROPOSALS ● RESUME ● SERVICES ● CONTACT US