Update: The Lean Initiative

Date: 10/20/2011

New Point of View

Lean methods are sinking ever deeper into the Schlumberger mind and body, transforming on-the-job attitudes and elevating our operational efficiency to new heights.

“Lean,” the change management initiative for identifying and eliminating waste, has crept into the Schlumberger organization with increasing presence and impact over the last seven years, penetrating many of our people and installations with a “continuous improvement” philosophy that’s making a real difference in terms of product and service quality. 

 “Lean methods are having enormous positive effect on Schlumberger—its people, performance and bottom line,” says Vice President Operations Satish Pai. “What we’ve achieved so far is just the tip of the iceberg. As commitment to the process grows, we can expect ever greater benefits.”

Dietary Stand-out

One Schlumberger product line has adopted Lean methods with notable conviction in recent months, becoming something of a model for implementation of the process. Perhaps logically, since service incidents related to its activity can result in colossal added expense for the company and its clients, Drilling & Measurements has now established itself as a leading implementer of Lean methods at the field level, achieving a broad range of practical process changes at a considerable number of its operations locations around the world.

“Right from the start, we’ve adhered to a bottom-up philosophy, working with the people in our locations to effect a sweeping cultural change,” reports D&M Operations Support Manager Barry Cross. “We bring Lean to places and people who’ve never heard of it and try to ensure that it becomes their guiding mindset. It’s not easy, but the benefits can be astounding.”

D&M has implemented Lean in three distinct phases so far. Phase 1, which lasted from 2004 to 2008, involved the hiring of Lean consultants who would go to an operations base for a period of 10 weeks, train a designated Lean champion and seek to establish a new set of tools and rules to effect change within the location.

Phase 2 (2008-2010) saw D&M take more direct control of the program, developing its own Lean training program, assigning champions for each of several specific Lean efforts, and producing and introducing its own guide book on how to instill Lean culture at our locations.

In Phase 3, D&M management released control of the program to the field, considering that the momentum now well established through on-site champions and a squadron of Lean green- and black-belts will be sufficient to sustain Lean’s progression throughout the segment long term. “We’re confident now that the bottom-up system will continue to function and that the culture is in place,” says Barry Cross, who notes that the ongoing Lean revolution has grown hand-in-hand with the evolution of our maintenance organization.

Case in Point

D&M’s three-phase plan has proven effective in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where Lean first appeared in October, 2008—more as a suggestion than an imposed directive. “We’d always had a rough-and-tumble, frontiersman-like operation here. We were out of the limelight and just did things our own way,” explains Kit Perkins, an electronics technician who joined Schlumberger in Prudhoe Bay in 2001 and who was named Lean site champion in 2010. “But a customer audit of our operation and growing exposure to the outside world made us realize we could be working more effectively. Bit by bit, the Lean system became an obvious choice.”

After attending a three-month course in Lean methods in Oklahoma City, Perkins returned to Prudhoe Bay and began rolling out some basic Lean processes such as “5S,” which stands for Sort, Straighten, Sanitize, Standardize and Sustain. The exercise soon produced a whole new look and feel for Prudhoe Bay’s tool boxes, for example. Previously, finding a specific wrench or screwdriver at the base required concentration, good eyesight and digging through drawers. But Perkins and team quickly demystified the process by implementing Lean’s “shadow boxing” technique, whereby each tool has its own “home” in a well-ordered, easy-to-reach tray. It was a simple change, but since implementing the new system Perkins and team estimate they save more than 550 hours per year looking for tools.

The Prudhoe Bay crew has also seen big benefits from having reorganized their shop floor according to Lean principles—for example, moving toolboxes next to the work benches where their contents are most frequently needed. “Just shifting a few things around has saved us miles of walking and makes us much more efficient,” says Kit Perkins.

All this saved time has enabled our Prudhoe Bay team to log some remarkable gains in efficiency. For example, “tool availability”1 at the base has climbed steadily over the last 18 months, going from 44% in January 2010 to 73% in August 2011—an impressive improvement. Likewise, tool turnaround time, or the amount of time it takes our crew to get a tool in proper shape for its next job, has been slashed from an average of more than 25 days to just 10 days in the eight months beginning last January.

“We’ve made some good changes, for sure,” says Kit Perkins. “But there’s a whole lot left to do to get waste to the bare minimum. In fact the search for waste is never-ending. As the team here and I have learned, there’s always a way to improve further. It all comes down to how much you want it.”



  1 Tool Availability measures the percentage of tools at a given operations site that is properly functioning and available for shipment to a job site or location.