Before my team begins commissioning a system, we review the state of the system with the installation team, just to keep everyone on the same page. Despite the project manager swearing up and down the system is “ready for commissioning,” when you speak to the guys who are doing the installation, you get an entirely different story. Kind of like our friend Chunk:
Of course, my team and I never threaten to blender off someone’s hand during a commissioning. There was that one time…with the soldering iron—my point is, during this pre-commissioning meeting, what is the best way to capture all the items for the report?
Tools of the Trade
Typically, we are walking the job site and reviewing any open items. If we weren’t walking and talking, I would say the laptop takes the cake. I can type on a keyboard way faster than I can write. Plus, there is the added benefit of the notes being directly entered into the report form. The problem is that we are usually walking around the entire floor or crouching behind an equipment rack. Holding a laptop, much less typing on one, is usually not probable.
A lot of people like entering things on their phone. It is certainly portable enough. However, my thumbs are not as fast or accurate typing into my phone as my hands are sitting on a full keyboard. My typing speed suffers on mobile, but with the proper software, the notes can go right into a report format. A shortcoming is that I tend to get caught up in the formatting in this option, and editing or moving text takes me a bit longer than I’d like on such a small screen. Also, in an ideal world, my note taking would not interrupt the flow of the integrator’s conversation, so nothing is dropped or forgotten while waiting for me to finish taking a note. All in all, though, this is not a bad option.
We’ve played with the idea of using video camera glasses to record the entire exchange while keeping our hands free. However, knowing a camera is on can put pressure on the integrator and stop them from being as forthcoming as they usually would. This also has the annoying need to play back the entire process to extract the information, which can be frustratingly slow. It’s a complete solution, and the most accurate, but it may not create the best results.
My preference has always been my notebook and a pen. Writing is slow, but shorthand is not. My chicken scratch would make a doctor’s note look like art, but I can read it. Sometimes, it’s actually preferable for other people not to be able to read your notes. I can also sketch out flow diagrams or I/O tables, if that gets the point across better. There is also no problem if I drop by notebook or pen. They stand up to abuse way better than my phone. I don’t necessarily need the emotional connection to these notes that I like with my daily task list[LINK TK], but it certainly doesn’t hurt when I am planning out the order of steps to the commissioning. I do have to translate the notes into a computer at some point, however, which adds time. A lot of my team prefer their phone for notes. For me, yet again, I’m an analog guy (pen and paper) living in a digital world.
This blog is about capturing notes during a commissioning, but the skill transcends just testing. Capturing detailed information while keeping personal interaction conversational is incredibly valuable in sales meetings, interviews…even figuring out tonight’s dinner recipe off one of those videos on “the Facebook.” It is a very important skill to hone.
I love that scene from The Goonies, and after thinking about it, I should use that as an interview exercise. I would ask the interviewers to “arm” themselves with their preferred portable note-taking device and then I’ll press play. After the scene, I’d ask, “So…tell me…what did Chunk spill his guts about? Tell me everything. Everything? Everything!” If they miss a few items, that’s fine. But, if they get everything, including the bit about knocking Eadie down the stairs, I’ll know I can put that person in any client-facing meeting, and they can return with an accurate account of what happened, especially if someone attempted the truffle shuffle.