This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Sheila Howard of P.I. Confluence discussing the important aspects of a Pipeline SMS cultural survey as part of a pipeline operator’s efforts to support stakeholder engagement.
In this episode, you will learn about how to structure questions to receive valuable feedback from pipeline personnel, the importance of tracking and acting on responses, the need for top-down buy-in to continue optimizing stakeholder engagement, how to engage additional stakeholders as part of a broader effort to increase pipeline safety, what can be learned from the airline industry’s progress, and more topics.
Pipeline SMS Cultural Survey: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Sheila Howard is the VP & Software Solutions Manager for P.I. Confluence. Connect with Sheila on LinkedIn.
- P.I. Confluence (PIC) provides software and implementation expertise for pipeline program governance that is applied to operations, Pipeline SMS, and compliance. PIC leverages process management software to connect program to implementation.
- PIC offers a stakeholder engagement tracking tool in their ProgramMgr software module that optimizes pipeline stakeholder engagement communication.
- Pipeline SMS (Pipeline Safety Management Systems) or PSMS is an industry-wide focus to improve pipeline safety, driving toward zero incidents.
- The Plan Do Check Act Cycle (Deming Method) is embedded in Pipeline SMS as a continuous quality improvement model consisting of a logical sequence of four repetitive steps for continuous improvement and learning.
- One of the 10 core elements of Pipeline SMS is stakeholder engagement, which helps advance the PDCA cycle from Do to Check.
- API RP 1162 (Public Awareness Programs for Pipeline Operators) is an industry standard that provides guidance and recommendations to pipeline operators for the development and implementation of enhanced public awareness programs.
- PHMSA incorporated API 1162 by reference into their federal pipeline safety regulations (49 CFR 192.616 and 49 CFR 195.440) that require pipeline operators to develop and implement public awareness programs.
Pipeline SMS Cultural Survey: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 185, sponsored by P.I. Confluence, providing software and implementation expertise for pipeline program governance applied to operations, Pipeline Safety Management, and compliance, using process management software to connect program to implementation. Find out more about P.I. Confluence at piconfluence.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. And now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show the appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Brian White with Magellan Midstream. Congrats to you, Brian. Your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around until the end of the episode.
This week, Sheila Howard with P.I. Confluence is joining us to talk about pipeline safety management, the safety culture survey, and stakeholder engagement. Sheila, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Sheila Howard: Hi, Russel. It’s great to be back. Thank you.
Russel: A little different topic this time. Last time, we were talking about Pipeline SMS. I think this time, we’re going to get a bit more specific. I’ve asked you on to talk about the cultural survey and stakeholder engagement, how those things relate.
Maybe, to dive into this, I’ll just ask you, what is the pipeline safety management system cultural survey? What is that?
Sheila: I believe it’s a way to determine where our safety culture and our programs are in order to make critical decisions, basically to capture the overall health of the safety program.
Russel: I would certainly agree with that answer. I think I’d want to unpack that a little bit, because how do you do that? How do you know where you are with your safety program, and how do you know where you are with your safety culture? What kind of information do you need to be collecting, and from whom?
Sheila: The information that needs to be captured usually comes from the boots on the ground. That’s where the data’s actually applicable, and that’s where the people feel it the most. Those are the people that you want coming home every day as healthy as they walked in the door.
You’re looking for, “Are they doing the right things? Are they provided the right tools? Do they have the things that they need to do their job effectively?” Those types of pieces. You’re looking to make sure that they’re going to be safe in the field when they’re doing their jobs.
Russel: The thing I think that’s interesting about that — and I think if I were a pipeline operator, what I would be struggling with right now — is, where is the balance between qualitative questions that are easy to ask and quantitative questions that require more thought in how I answer them?
Well, require more thought in how I prepare the questions and require more thought in terms of how I answer those questions, right? Maybe we ought to talk a little bit about what I’ve been seeing. Most of the surveys that I have seen so far tend to be what I would call qualitative.
They’re asking questions like, “Does the company leadership demonstrate an interest in safety?” or they’ll make a statement, “The company leadership demonstrates an interest in safety,” and then there’ll be a strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, that kind of qualitative, are we doing the things we need to do?
Would you agree that that’s the majority of what’s out there right now, or are you seeing something different?
Sheila: No, I think you’re right. That is the majority of what’s out there, and the problem with that is there’s no actions tied to that. Just because somebody feels strongly or not as strongly doesn’t give you any detail on what to actually fix or correct to improve, and as you like to say, move the needle to a better position of safety overall.
What I’ve seen historically is people ask those types of surveys, and they send them out every year, and the answers don’t really change much, because there’s not a whole lot of, like I said, action tied to those types of surveys.
You’re really looking for more of a structured data approach. “Did we say we’re going to do this? Did we do it? Did we do it right?” Actually have specific examples for people to tie the information to. For example, if you say, “Does the procedure tell you to do this level of effort?” Yes, it does.
“Do you have all the tools that you need to do the job?” Yes, I do. No, I don’t. Well, then, if you say, “No, I don’t,” then what are the tools that are missing? Provide people an avenue to expand on the details on what they’re missing, and then aggregate that info across the company to be able to develop corrective actions.
Russel: Yeah, I think that’s right on point, because to me, getting this kind of thing to something that’s actionable is what actually moves the needle. It’s the asking how do you feel about something. Maybe that’s too loosey-goosey of a way to frame what I’m saying here. Those questions have some value, but they don’t necessarily tell you where you’re at. They give you an indication. They don’t necessarily tell you where you’re at, I think. Does that make sense?
Sheila: Yeah, totally. Like I was going to say, those types of surveys are great to use as a trend. Over time, we see the feeling, as you said, [laughs] the feel goes up or down. You can use it from a trend perspective, but again, there’s no actionable design to come out of that.
Russel: Yeah, so I guess that goes to the next question. First off, let’s just talk about the mechanisms a little bit, about how people are gathering this kind of qualitative information. What are you aware that people are doing out there to gather this qualitative information?
Sheila: As you mentioned, SurveyMonkey is a big one, or even something internally developed, where they just say, “What do you think?” or getting feedback in that way.
Russel: Some kind of website, email, go here, click, answer these questions kind of thing.
Russel: How extensive are those questionnaires?
Sheila: To be honest, I’ve seen them anywhere from 10 questions to 30 questions. You can get a lot of questions that all give you that range from lesser to more, and then they bucket them based on different categories.
Russel: Right, but a 10 to 30 question form doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to complete. I don’t have to think about it a lot to answer the questions, right? Where some of the stuff we were talking about before requires more thought.
I think the thing that I believe to be true is, while those qualitative things have some value from a trend perspective, the real question is how do you move the needle around how people are responding? What does that mechanism look like?
Sheila: I don’t want people to think that, just because you have to have more thought to an answer means that it’s going to take more time, or it’s going to be 100 questions. You can still take something that’s only 10, 20 questions and make it pertinent to their applications and what they do in their everyday work life and get value all the way up to the top. I think that some people may misconstrue the “better data” for “more work,” and that isn’t always the case.
Russel: That does require some intelligent design, if you will, into how you’re putting the questions together and what that looks like.
Russel: I have a premise — and I’ve done a number of podcasts now on Pipeline SMS. I always ask the question, “How do you get this down to the boots on the ground, the people doing the work?” The guys in the trucks that are going out to the sites and are moving valves, and doing digs, and all the things you do to operate and maintain pipelines. How do you get this all the way down?
I think, when you start talking about structured questions, that’s the answer, is you get questions that are really applicable to what somebody’s doing. I don’t think you necessarily have to do a whole lot of questions. I think what you really need to do is ask questions, get the feedback, and then do something with it, all the way to the point that the boots on the ground see you doing something. Does that make sense?
Sheila: Absolutely. The more that people — the boots on the ground — see that you’re doing what they’ve spoken about, or even mentioned, it builds greater employee engagement, which then helps them be more involved and identifying opportunities for improvement.
The idea is you want to enable them to provide management with those leading indicators of safety metrics. Stop things before they happen. You don’t want the opportunities to be identified after events. You want to try to identify them prior. The only way to do that is to get to the people who are actually doing the work.
Russel: [laughs] You just said a mouthful right there. You said “leading indicators,” right? What would be a leading indicator? What kind of things are you looking for?
Sheila: Yeah, like your procedure. If somebody’s following a procedure every day, and it’s not correct, some people know better in the field the right steps to take, but the procedure’s not right. You can have a new employee come in and follow the procedure that’s inaccurate or not correct anymore, not current, and cause an event.
If you have those people that understand the details and those procedures — and know that they’re wrong — give them an avenue to bring that up to the surface, to get those things updated and correct, that would be a leading indicator.
So you don’t have somebody new coming in and doing something wrong and causing an event. You actually have them fixing it prior to an event occurring.
Russel: I want to dig into this a little bit, because I’m aware of some people that I think do this quite well. The people that I see that do it quite well, they collect a lot of change input, and a lot of it is small. It’s simple things like, “Well, this wording’s not quite clear,” or, “This punctuation needs to be modified.”
It’s not big things. A lot of it’s little things, but I think that a leading indicator is how much of that input are you getting?
Sheila: Yeah, agreed. That’s an additional leading indicator, yes.
Russel: If I’m not getting any input on my procedures, and that’s not driving me to make any change, that’s probably telling me that my procedures are out of date.
Sheila: That’s a leading…
Russel: People aren’t paying attention to them.
Sheila: Yeah, sorry to interrupt. That’s a leading indicator in itself, too, the lack of feedback.
Sheila: If you provide an avenue for feedback and you’re not getting any, that’s an equal indicator, as well.
Russel: Yeah, so that starts getting into something that I think’s more interesting, because this is the kind of thing that, if you think about a particular program — I don’t care what that program is, but if you think about a particular program — if I’m not getting feedback from the people doing the work about change, or new circumstances, or new employees in training… If I’m not getting that feedback on a regular basis, then I’m probably not improving things.
Sheila: I would agree.
Russel: Likewise, if I’m getting that feedback, and I don’t communicate back to the people in the field that I got the feedback, that I analyzed the feedback, that we made these changes, and here are the changes coming back to you. If you don’t close that loop with them, then you’re going to create a process where you get no feedback.
Sheila: I think that’s the whole concept of stakeholder engagement. Two-way communication. Not only are we looking for them to communicate with us, but we need to have an avenue to communicate to them on broader scale lessons learned, things we heard from one site to be able to be shared with another site.
The two-way communication is what needs to be able to happen, and like you mentioned, with all those different details and pieces of things, that goes back to structured data. If you have a structured data approach that could actually bucketize those improvements, they’re going to be easier to tackle, easier to update, easier to implement.
Russel: Yeah. I should frame this as a question. I would assume that, if you’re going to get good, structured data, you have to structure the data you’re collecting in alignment with the people and the roles that they’re in.
Russel: You want to collect the data from the people that are…If I’m collecting data about a dig, then I need to collect the data from the people doing the dig.
Russel: If I’m collecting data about an inspection, I need to collect data about from the people doing the inspection.
Russel: Structured data — I’ve got to drive the data that I’m collecting all the way down to the details.
Russel: In practice, how difficult is that? What does an operator need to do to actually make that, create the results they’re looking for?
Sheila: There’s so many tools out there now that really benefit and provide opportunities for this. Then you also have to have some kind of expertise in what they’re looking for, or people that can work with others to develop these questionnaire sets to be able to get the right feedback that they’re looking for.
Make sure that it’s mobile, and make it easy to use for everybody to be able to access. Be able to allow the sorting, querying of all that data to be easy, and user-friendly, and efficient, so you’re not just left with a bunch of Excel sheets with data.
Russel: Right. [laughter] Again, I want to unpack what you just said a little bit. I think one of the key things you said is whatever mechanism you’re using for collecting this data has to be easily available to the people you’re collecting it from.
Russel: The easier it is for them to get to it and get to the right thing, the more likely you are to get good data back.
Sheila: That’s correct.
Russel: Then the easier it is for them to put the data in, the more likely you are to get data back.
Sheila: Like you said earlier, the easier it is to get the data back to them… It’s not that they have to go search for it. It just comes to them.
Russel: Right. This actually raises an interesting question for me, because what I find a lot of times is, to really get good, structured data, if you’re building a form for really good, structured data, it’s all dropdowns, and the more detail or precision you want, the more complicated the dropdowns get.
I think a lot of people in the field don’t want to navigate through all of that. They want one or two simple dropdowns and some free-form text. How do you bridge that gap? What’s that process look like? How do you make that sync?
Sheila: There’s some of that that’s built in, based on their role, based on where they’re working, based on the department that they’re in. There’s a lot of structured data in there that’s in the background that people don’t even recognize.
If you could capture some of that information when they just log in, then you’ve already got a handful of dataset. You already have a handful of structured data, versus some paper tool or random things that get sent out.
Russel: For a software developer that’s building something like this, you want them to know who’s putting the data in, and because of who it is, you know their role, their responsibilities, the processes that they might be engaged with.
That already gives you a whole bunch of structured data, and they don’t have to put anything in other than, “Hey, it’s me,” which ought to be self-identified when they get into the app. Then, if you added one more piece, which is what job order is this related to? Then you get a whole bunch of other data that would be useful in terms of structuring the data. Then all they’ve got to do is add the free form text.
Russel: Sounds easy.
Sheila: That’s what they all say.
Russel: Making it simple isn’t easy.
Sheila: Agreed, and sometimes the simple way out isn’t always your best way out, either. It’s a balance to be able to provide…I like to just say “efficient.” You want it to be efficient, not necessarily simple. You want to make it easy for everybody and still provide benefit at the end of the day.
Russel: Yeah, efficient and effective. Yeah, exactly. We’ve talked a little bit about structured data. We talked a little bit about some leading indicators. What are the other things that you really have to do if you’re going to actually move your safety culture in the direction you want it to go?
Sheila: We’ve touched on some of that, too, as far as just the engagement. The more people that you have involved, the more observations or gap identification or corrective actions that you’ll actually identify and be able to capture and implement.
Having a greater pool, which is again why you want to go to the boots on the ground, and not just a couple higher-level people within your organization, the bigger the sample size of people that you’re reaching out to gives you a better opportunity for improvement.
Russel: What’s your thought about reaching out to stakeholders outside of your company, like contractors, or first responders, or landowners, that sort of thing, to get them to participate in those kinds of surveys?
Sheila: That’s key, especially today. So many companies out there are using contractors for everything. If you’re talking about even public awareness, it’s really key to gaining their feedback. API 1162 tells you you have to. [laughs]
You have to reach out to the public officials, excavators, and that group of people. I think, circling back to the cultural piece of it is, the more engagement you have with those people, the better your safety culture is. Again, you need a tool to be able to access everybody holistically.
Russel: Yeah, I think the other thing, too, is sometimes those qualitative answers from those third parties are more valuable than the qualitative answers from inside your company. As an operator, we get indoctrinated into that operator’s groupthink.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I know some operators that are very intentional about that, but when you start getting into the contractor community, well, then, I’m no longer the only operator they’re working with.
I get feedback that is different than I get from people that are my employees. Then I start talking to landholders, and then I’m going to get a completely different kind of feedback. That requires some judgment when I get that data in, and I’m analyzing what are the results telling me?
Sheila: Again, the tricky part is having an avenue to be able to do that. What I’ve found is a lot of systems are isolated to the operator only. Being able to have something that can reach out to those groups of people and to reach out to the contractors, and be able to, again, query and add that detail helps a company grow both safety culture and effectiveness.
Russel: Right. Just to wrap this up, I want to try and tie this conversation to the whole Plan Do Check Act thing that is part of Pipeline Safety Management.
The plan being figure out what you’re going to do. The do being do it. Write the procedure, execute the procedure. Check and make sure the procedure was followed, and create the result you’re looking for. Then, if not, figure out what to change, and modify it. One of the things about really moving the needle in this kind of thing, it’s one thing to know where I’m at.
It’s another thing to take this data and tie it right back to my policy and procedure, and modify my policy, procedure, and training to actually get to the result I’m looking for. All of a sudden, that becomes a much larger challenge, and it’s a much bigger problem to solve.
Sheila: That’s why that stakeholder engagement piece is key. You’re not going to get any of that without that engagement and without that information. We can write all the procedures. We can say that we’re doing all this work, but to know if we’re doing it right, effectively, and improve upon it if we’re not is all based on getting that information from somebody. [laughs] We need that feedback.
Russel: Yeah, absolutely. Sheila, I know you have a relationship with a gentleman who’s in the airline safety management world, and there’s a lot of parallels between where the airlines were 20 years ago and where we are now as a pipeline industry.
What do you think, what do you know about what the airlines do in this domain, and how does that work? How does that behave?
Sheila: It’s interesting you ask that, because there’s actually quite a lot of parallels. Again, like you mentioned, 20 years ago or so, they started this, and they developed a program to be able to ask those specific detailed questions.
They release that to the teams and the boots on the ground, from mechanics, pilots, stewardesses, the flight attendants, everybody. They’ve started very similar to how we’re starting, being new at this. You get a couple of observations here, a couple of pieces of feedback, with a lot of concern about disciplinary action.
People were afraid to say things. I think it’s the same feeling that we have here. In the airline industry, they overcame that, and now, have thousands of entries a month. They meet at a frequency, I believe they meet monthly, and maybe even more frequent than that.
It’s management, regulatory companies, and the labor union. They all meet together to review all the different thousands of observations that they get to be able to sort, and organize, and prioritize those improvements.
They’ve really worked hard to gain that safety culture, so that the people aren’t worried about disciplinary action, that they can actually provide this feedback and continue to improve their safety. You look at the safety airlines now, sometimes they say it’s safer to fly on a plane now than it is to drive a car. [laughs]
Russel: That’s right. I remember the conversation we had with your friend, and what I found really interesting about, he spent a lot of time talking about what it took as an industry to get over that fear of things being punitive.
Then he also talked a lot about how they got there. Each company has its own internal group that does this. Then those groups collaborate, and there’s an industry-wide collaboration around this as well.
Sheila: That’s correct.
Russel: It’s not just the fact that they’re collecting the data and communicating the data back, but they’ve created a very robust process and capability that each of the airlines has, and then they have as an industry as a whole.
They have regulators and pilots and mechanics and labor unions and flight attendants, all the different stakeholders come together to do the analysis. That’s pretty powerful, because it’s very easy for those natural, important conflicts… When I say important conflict, what I mean by that is a conflict you want to have, because the working through that conflict creates some value in the process. You’ve got a lot of natural conflicts there that, if you don’t bring people together, they might not work through them.
Sheila: Yep, I agree.
Russel: Cool. What do you think our takeaways should be from this conversation?
Sheila: I guess a couple things. One, you need to gain stakeholder engagement in order to be better from a safety cultural perspective. I think that, just because it may be a little bumpy in the beginning, doesn’t mean that we can’t be successful in the future.
It’s a matter of just starting and getting the right feedback to begin with in order to start your improvement process.
Russel: I think that’s right. I think the other thing I would say is that there’s a lot of value in going very deep and narrow. If you don’t have anything in place, trying to get all of this, related to all the things a pipeline operator does, it’s just a daunting task. There’s some real value in going narrow and deep in those areas where you think as an operator you need to focus.
Sheila: Yeah, you definitely need specifics to create actions. You can’t get better with a strongly agree or strongly disagree type of answer. There’s no action items that come out of that.
Russel: Right, yeah, exactly. Well, listen, this has been awesome. I think I know more now about what a cultural survey and what stakeholder engagement actually ought to look like. I’ll let you, if you want to here at the end, just do a shameless commercial plug. You guys have sponsored this quarter of the Pipeliners Podcast, so I think we ought to let you do a commercial plug.
Sheila: Well, thank you, Russel. I do appreciate it. We happen to have a tool to be able to provide great safety engagement through contractors, public awareness, as well as internal operators. We do have tools to document all your processes and to be able to reach out and gain that stakeholder engagement that is so needed in order to make those improvements. Thank you very much.
Russel: You’re welcome. We’ll make sure and link your stuff up in the show notes, so if people are interested and want to dig in a little bit more, they can go to the pipelinerspodcast.com and look for this episode, and dig that out of the show notes.
Sheila: Yeah, and I would say, regardless of using P.I. Confluence or not, this is truly a key to improving your safety and your operations.
Russel: Yeah, I agree. Listen, thanks so much for coming on. We’ll look forward to having you back.
Sheila: Thank you so much, Russel.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Sheila. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
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