Inspectioneering Journal

STO Innovations For Now & The Future

By John Natarelli, Sr. Manager at T.A. Cook Consultants Inc. This article appears in the September/October 2020 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.


Earlier this year, the arrival of Covid-19 threatened the “Business as Usual” model. No longer could employees work at the office, conduct face-to-face meetings, and in some cases directly follow up on team assignments and deliverables. Many companies were forced to respond quickly with ways to not only stay relevant but to also progress objectives – specifically Shutdowns, Turnarounds, and Outages (STO) – that were set long before the arrival of Covid-19. The old way of doing business, at least for some, is gone and will not return. In these challenging times, innovation is key. But is implementing a new innovation today any different than twelve months ago?

The Challenges to Innovation

Many people have ideas on how to improve, but what actually constitutes innovation? In general terms, innovation:

  1. Is a new product or process
  2. Is an improved version of an existing product or process
  3. Always strives to make things better, easier, and/or more efficient

So why is it so important to innovate now? Because we have to! The past six months have presented challenges that very few people could have predicted a year ago. Organizations big and small were faced with making changes over a relatively short period of time in order to survive. While some of these concepts, like working from home, were not entirely new, under pre-Covid conditions they were not implemented. Very few leadership teams could accept a majority, if not all of their staff not showing up at the office. The reasons are plenty. But at the center of it is likely one concept that tends to get less press than the others - organizational hierarchy.

Organizational hierarchy is a simple concept where every level of the organization is subordinate to another. It’s a top-down approach, and just about everyone needs to go through someone else in order to make changes. So even though the hierarchy is clear and accountabilities, processes, and practices are established, it does not lend itself to thinking outside of the box, so to speak. While it may not always happen, this inability to be forward-thinking and embracing of change, even if for the better, is frequently overlooked. And the reason is that the hierarchy doesn’t support it.

So while Covid may have forced us to innovate and make changes over a short period, in normal times hierarchical organizations typically stumble. But it can be overcome with some effort and a solid plan. The best way to approach it is by using an agile management framework. Agile involves bouncing ideas and concepts off of others along the way to developing something new. Through this process, others get involved and are able to provide their input and ideas on why this new idea may or may not work. This inclusion creates a bond – more people involved, more ideas, and ultimately greater influence over the next level of the organization. Now I’m not saying to include everyone on day one. That’d be a mistake. Most people have a pretty good idea of who they can share ideas with. Former bosses, old colleagues, mentors, current co-workers, and even fresh faces that may be new to the organization are all fair game. Having resources at different levels of the organization can provide you with just the right balance and influence to make change happen. And just think, if it is implemented, the hard work of selling it at the shop floor and to co-workers is already done as people were already involved.

Innovation in STOs – A Solid Foundation Will Help

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