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FIELD TIPS

June 25, 2019

Drill Project Success: Seven Tips for Effective Communication

Consider the past fifty years and all the ways people communicate. New technology, systems, and methodologies have changed the course of history. However, one factor has remained the same and has been the overarching key to success – effective communication. Looking at the next fifty years, the future of exploration drilling projects will only be successful with efficient workplace collaboration.

For example, consider the first exploration drilling project that might take place on Mars.

For example, consider the first exploration drilling project that might take place on Mars. New variables such as lack of oxygen, space travel, and extreme climates make for a difficult work environment and unfamiliar conditions. But at the end of the day, what’s most important is a drill teams’ ability to communicate effectively throughout the duration of the project.

Regardless of the place or world where a drilling project is located, success starts and finishes with communication. 

Regardless of the place or world where a drilling project is located, success starts and finishes with communication. 

Consider projects you have completed… how did communication affect the outcome?

Because we interact and associate with people every day, communication can often be overlooked as an essential factor of success. Here are seven tips for effective communication to help keep your team in check, and ultimately exceed project goals and objectives.

Onsite Communication

1. Ensure all members of the drill crew understand the chain of communication.

Onsite team communication starts with all members understanding the chain of communication. During the drilling process, communication starts and stops at the driller’s controls. The driller is responsible for   all procedures and tasks on the job site, and is aware of every process. The driller also prioritizes tasks and communicates this to the entire team.

This chain of communication works because the drill crew knows the driller is the starting point for every process. The driller is the first to observe changes downhole communicated by the drill rig and the tooling, and then he/she transfers critical information to the rest of the onsite team. 

2. Ensure all members of the drill crew understand the drilling process.

In the past, it was not uncommon for the supervisor (foreman), driller, and the driller assistant to be the only crew members to understand the drilling process. The rest of the drill crew was only expected to understand the job site specific daily tasks, and general safety requirements.

The old-world argument warns that educating all members onsite can lead to the possibility of leaking job site information and trade secrets to the competition. This antiquated way of operating created an information silo of many under-invested employees.

A 21st-century drilling team understands that it’s more important to hire team members who exhibit honesty and integrity, increasing the level of trust and ensuring critical information remains safe.

Furthermore, a thoroughly educated drill team can interpret and react faster to a drill rig’s communication. These teams anticipate catastrophic rig failures or downhole issues and implement corrective measures. When a drill team is properly trained and understands the drilling process, its members can safely take preventative action to minimize problem events that could potentially impact the project. 

3. Align all verbal and non-verbal communication.

Aligning communication starts with all members onsite utilizing common job site terminology and safety language. That language changes depending on the region, rig manufacturer, and level of the crew’s professionalism.

Consider the four-letter word “STOP!”; it’s not uncommon for a drill crew from Wyoming full of horsemen to use another four-letter word “WOAH!” Both terms meaning, ‘halt all activities’ can be utilized safely when team members are aware of both interpretations and use.

Often 80% of all correspondence on a noisy construction site is non-verbal signals. Hand signals are also a beneficial form of communication if everyone is employing the same signs. Operators, along with spotters, must be able to see and signal each other when it’s challenging to hear verbal commands. An experienced drill team can operate safely and effectively for hours on site while speaking very few words and utilizing industry standard hand signals. Crews that use hoisting and heavy equipment operation signals have much lower near-miss and recordable incident rates than crews that use random hand signals like waving to one another. 

Offsite Communication

4. Develop a strategic plan for external communication.

Effective external communication starts with knowing which type of customer is being engaged and what information they require. This dynamic changes due to confidential information. The project information relayed to the senior geologist or the project customer will rarely be the same as the information given to the neighboring landowner or the local public.

A drilling crew should have a defined communication plan that starts with asking who the visitor is, so they can understand why they are onsite, followed by directing the visitor to the right representative. The big fear is that ‘the new guy’ might relay incorrect data to the customer or pass on confidential information to a stranger. This is why it’s essential to have a strategic plan for external communications and remind the onsite drilling team of that communication plan daily.

5. Ensure the drill crew is aware of all abnormal operating conditions.

On a “right-of-way project,” good communication begins with the team knowing all abnormal operating conditions for environmental, health, and safety (EHS) considerations and adherence.

An abnormal operating condition could be anything from an environmentally sensitive area, which would limit the hours of operation for equipment that reaches over 80 decibels of noise. If a rancher arrives onsite at dark with a flashlight saying that the drill is interrupting his livestock’s sleep, it is crucial to know the rules before engaging with him. 

Often on an established drilling site, this information is presented as a site-specific orientation by the customer. However, on smaller single-hole projects, the only EHS information is found in the contract.

6. Understand the goals and objectives of all parties involved.

Drilling is a disruptive process that changes the location forever. Once a drill starts cutting the ground, the chain of communication quickly expands from the customer, to possibly the neighboring property owner, to corporate officials, to regulatory government agencies. Each party requires different information to properly oversee job completion.

Complex projects in remote locations require a diverse staff of people to complete the job successfully. The men and women involved have a common goal of success, however, they have individual objectives and information to gather before the job is complete. When all parties involved understand their goals, and the goals of others through proper communication, project success increases exponentially.

Listening to Respond vs. Listening to Understand

7. Listen to understand, and don’t listen to respond.

Effective communication is fully understanding what is being said before answering. It’s easy to assume what information the customer wants and have a response ready, but often crucially relative information is lost while listening to respond.

Effective communication requires all parties on a project work together for best results. At the Advanced Rig Technology Conference hosted by the IADC, presenter David Kaplan, a NASA Engineer, spoke about the importance of NASA continuing to utilize pilots when moving humans in and out of space.

He said “You can’t engineer man out of the technology. It will cost you billions of dollars. However, the goal is to give them the right information through effective communication at the right time to make the best decision.”

NASA understands that men and women with the right information, working in collaboration with their team, can outperform and overcome any situation. Communication requires cooperation to be effective just as a drilling project can only be successful when the drill team, customer, neighbor, and regulator all work together.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  George Bernard Shaw

Download the Seven Tips for Effective Communication PDF

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Brock Yordy

MEET THE AUTHOR Brock Yordy Brock Yordy is an experienced industrial drilling engineer and global drilling trainer. He has created and taught drill training programs for the NGWA, IGSPA, American Ground Water Trust, Remediation Technology, numerous state groundwater associations, the Department of Labor, and The United States Military. Brock also teaches the Hydrogeology Drilling course at Western Michigan University. Brock’s experience started with drilling wells for his father’s company in southwest Michigan. He has a degree in Arts & Science from Western Michigan University. Brock began his professional career as a Drilling Fluids Engineer for Baroid Industrial Drilling Products, a Halliburton Company. As a mud engineer for Baroid IDP, he worked with all methods of drilling including; geothermal, water well, geotechnical, tunneling, construction, HDD, wireline coring, large diameter shaft drilling, cathodic and Oil/Gas.

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