Case Study: Major Refinery

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Business Pain

A refinery in the Northeast was alarmed that many of its most experienced operators would be eligible to retire within a short window of time. The firm wanted to ensure that the refinery would not be without fully qualified operators to run the plant safely and efficiently when the more experienced workers retired.

Business Request

Revise the existing Basic Operator Training (BOT) course to better equip newly hired operators to perform safely.

Project Response

The team conducted an Organizational Alignment analysis to evaluate the various factors throughout the operations side of the refinery that was impacting operator performance.  The project was broken into three phases:

  • Phase 1:               Organizational Alignment
  • Phase 2:               Performance Architecture
  • Phase 3:               Implementation

Phase 1: In a 4-week period, the team evaluated all of the units and operator roles to determine what most affected the performance of the refinery operators.  The team conducted in-depth interviews with star performers as well as employees with more safety incidents in the refinery.

Phase 2: In the next 8 weeks, the project team used the information gathered in the first phase to develop the tools and templates necessary for improving the performance of the operator’s role in the refinery.  This included the design of a new Basic Operator Training (BOT) course.

Phase 3: The project team worked with the refinery management to ensure a smooth transition to the new BOT.

Key Findings

The project team found that a large gap existed between the average and top-performing operators both in the field and on the operating consoles.  In particular, star operators were better at optimizing team performance through leadership and supervision.  In addition, they knew which key parameters of which processes to run at what values in order to maximize performance. The project team also found significant differences in how operators responded to critical incidents with the stars better able to take action to prevent injuries or environmental releases.

There were also key opportunities for improvement in the overall management culture of the refinery including clarifying operating metrics, providing better communications mechanisms and aligning rewards with expectations.

In addition to identifying key design elements for the Basic Operator course, the team also found that additional training at key points of operator development would be key to shortening the time for a new operator to become fully proficient.



  • BOT was redesigned to focus on key accomplishments and tasks expected of newly hired operators in the field.
  • Training was made more ‘hands-on’ to better equip new employees for their unit-specific tasks.


  • Refinery management implemented a series of mechanisms designed to improve the flow of communications between console and field operators and between shifts.


Direct results:

  • Improved operator performance led to reduced safety incidents and environmental releases.
  • Time required for newly hired operators to become fully productive team members was significantly reduced.

Other benefits:

  • Operators reported higher job satisfaction.