Thursday, November 3- Stephen Wieczorek & Ashley Donnini join the show and talk about Pipeline Safety and their work with the PSMS Linkedin Group.
Jim Schauer: Welcome to this episode of “Coffee With Jim and James.” Before we bring our guests in, James I barely have seen you at all lately.
James Cross: I know. I went back to back to back to back weeks. It seemed like live at events. Then here we are now just in these little boxes again.
Jim: It’s a little different form, but that’s all right. This is the world that we live in right now and we embrace it. So, without further ado, I think we should bring our guests in to help get this PSMS episode on…
James: Look at his shirt. Look at Stephen’s shirt. What happened there?
Ashley Donnini: I know…
Stephen Wieczorek: I’m repping.
Jim: He was saving that one for today.
Stephen: I’ve worn it on a couple of occasions but… [laughs]
Jim: Stephen, please introduce yourself…
Jim: …if you would. Go ahead, James. I’m sorry.
Stephen: Yeah, no, absolutely. Thanks again for the opportunity to come on the show. My name is Stephen Wieczorek, and let’s see, I’ve been in the utility industry for 14 years now.
I actually work for an operator named LDC out of the Washington, DC area. We serve about 1.2 million customers. I manage the QMS or quality management system, mostly over our construction and operations areas. I love PSMS. Really that’s it in a nutshell. It’s Ashley’s turn now.
Ashley: [laughs] Well, my name is Ashley Donnini. I am currently the founder and principal of Lola Link consulting. Lola is named after my first daughter Lola. Since then, I’ve had another Layla, so shout out to the second.
We are in the utilities and energy space, and really our focus is coming along industry stakeholders, helping them build strategies, whether you’re a utility company, a service provider, or even a technology product company, and coming in helping you develop the strategy and then really linking it to the operational fibers of the industry or of your business.
That’s where we’re at. I started actually unplanned, unconventional. I was an undergrad in college. I wanted to shift from four part‑time jobs to one, to go to night school, and I was desperate for any part‑time job. I ended up meeting one of my dear friends at a gas station at 11 o’clock at night, to pop my resume on the desk of the director at the Virginia State Corporation Commission that next morning. We joke now like he had to give me a shot at that point.
I found myself writing testimony for the state, then fell in love with the business and been blessed with a lot of different roles, mostly on the bleeding edge space, which Pipeline Safety Management Systems is, and just helping people wrap their minds around what it is, what it isn’t, how to drive value from that.
I spent some time with NiSource, and helped in a lot of different capacities from gas operations and construction to technology and other key strategic things and projects for the organization and then COVID hit, and I decided to start my own business, so here we are.
Jim: James. I don’t think we’ve ever…
James: We’ve some friends over a Dye Source.
Ashley: We probably know similar friends. Small world in the business.
James: For sure.
Jim: Can I ask you a question? Have we ever had an origin story that started in a gas station at 11:00 PM?
Stephen: Probably not.
James: Well, we have now.
James: I’ll tell you, Jimmy. I am a little concerned. I have two people so obsessed with quality on here while my Internet’s acting the way it is, and we had the pre‑show…
Ashley: Not upset with this commitment.
James: Continuous improvement.
Ashley: That’s the lifestyle that we need.
Stephen: You’re going to get better. If we can help you with that, we’re perfectly happy to.
James: I need another bucket of Internet.
Jim: When we’re connecting people from around the country, James, this is the world we live in brother. We’re OK. We’re all right.
Ashley: Be all right. Deep breath.
James: Jimmy, I don’t know if you remember, but this whole conversation started…I will let you tell the story. The larger idea of the episode of a few weeks ago when we were on a call with Jeff Weiss.
Jim: Well, and even remember talking to Steve Allen. James and I were we were talking to Steve Allen, who everybody knows, loves, and adores, and we’re talking with Steve. Steve loves to tell stories. You think I like to tell stories…
Ashley: He’s great at it, too.
James: He is a good storyteller.
Stephen: He’s got great stories.
Jim: …beautiful at it. We were going on and on and whose name comes up, but Stephen’s. We were connecting the dots.
James: Nobody could say his last name. No. But we know I’m moving something.
Jim: …by now. Yeah, Stephen W, and then we had Jeff Weiss on last week of the week before. We’re talking and whose names come up on that one from him, is Stephen and Ashley.
This is all coming together and actually before in the pre‑show we’re talking about when Stephen and I met in New Orleans at the AGA in the spring. We talked a little bit about them and the importance of PSMS, and really where it began where we’re talking about. One of the first things we talked about is because I join the LinkedIn PSMS group. Again I’m in my PSMS journey. I love it and adore it, but seriously…
Jim: Thank you, and this kept going on. I think, James and I were talking to be at probe one really, to kind of peel that back a little bit to understand about the PSMS group, and a LinkedIn. I think you have over 1,000 members right now, is that correct?
Stephen: Yeah, so it’s like 1,076, or somewhere around there. Yeah.
Ashley: Precision matters.
Stephen: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim: What was the…I mean? Did you guys…?
Ashley: Celebrate every member?
Stephen: Yeah. How did it start?
Stephen: I was in my company, I was managing QMS, I would say and I’m a self‑appointed, I was the first operational person that was close to PSMS. I was there in the beginning as far as when the they started shopping around the pilot. I was in working groups within AGA and GTI projects and all that sort of thing. We started to conduct our assessments and our gap analysis and all that.
I noticed having been part of those groups that it seemed to be that people were taking that information, they were going back to their corners and talking amongst themselves, but it got really quiet. The other thing I noticed is that I really am all about inclusion.
I’m particularly sensitive to making sure there’s enough people involved in the conversation that are at the heart of the matter. There’s a lot of stakeholders from your executives all the way or down to the person that’s in the hole twisting pipe, welding up, seams, doing everything.
I wanted to create an inclusive platform where anybody could come in and talk. Finally, I don’t know how long I’ve been thinking about it but I finally pulled the trigger in February of 2018. The first year was a total mess because I was sending messages out into a black hole.
Seriously, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue into 2019. It was that depressing. Actually, I came across a bit of information from an influencer in the media world and he had said when he started his YouTube…it was probably James.
When he started his YouTube channel, he went an entire year and nothing happened. He wasn’t getting any traction, and he said it finally clicked, people started catching on. I said, “You know what, I will give it a full year into 2019 and I’ll keep going, I’ll see what happens.” Timing is everything sometimes.
It happened to be that in the spring the AGA finally came out issued an executive order saying that all of their operator members would be on the path within the next three years, and at the same time plug to EWN. Steve Allen and I connected because when we were in New Orleans, I referred to him as one of the OGs and he thought I was calling him old.
James: Oh, God.
Stephen: He’s like, “What? I’m a what?”
Stephen: He was out there already, as you probably know. He was already out there talking about it at conferences, and he was mentioning the group. Between him mentioning the group and that trigger point of AGA issuing that statement, people started looking around for other ways to get involved.
It just happened. That March I actually started, I said, “Well, why don’t we move this to conference calls?” I just, honestly…I started a conference line. We just started getting on audio calls, and we did that through the year.
Then right up before COVID hit, I said, “You know, we should probably move to video because the platforms were kind of increasing, and oddly enough, it was going to have to happen anyway,” because we certainly weren’t going to meet in person. We moved to video conferencing and then our presentation month‑to‑month stuff really took off then.
We had some…Obviously, I leveraged Jeff and Steve as much as I could because honestly, that’s the nature of the game is trying to use as many of those resources as possible. I had, Lynda Dougherty on to speak, who was a assistant administrator at FEMSA at the time.
I had a few of those and huge successes. Then it just started to grow. Ashley and she’ll…She can tell her story. I reached out for help in ’20, was it ’21? Yeah, it was last year. I said, “Look, I want to scale this.” I know there’s no other way I can do it, but to actually start to get people to help me out, and I desperately put out the call, I was like, “Please, can someone like…”
I needed someone to really help, and I needed fresh ideas and I needed new perspectives. Ashley answered the call and obviously that was a huge win.
James: Ashley. Is that really how it happened?
Jim: Give us the dirt.
Jim: Give us the staff station at 11:30 PM of version.
Ashley: No, he said it right. I think it was also like we were talking about maybe even a presentation, and the more that I listened, the more I felt like I could help in a different capacity more. I’ve been blessed ever since to meet Stephen and help with the growth. We recently hit a major milestone, so that’s exciting.
Jim: That’s a 1,000?
Ashley: That’s the 1,000 membership.
James: That’s awesome.
Ashley: This year we’ve just been focused on structuring the channels by which people can get value from it. We’ve launched the PS Mess Table, which is a monthly reoccurring type of event where we seriesed it out for four series.
We’re in the middle of our key tools series, which is really focused on what’s out there, what exists that people can tap into to help them in their journey.
We’ve pulled in from resources outside of industry as well because we definitely have rich expertise within industry, but we’re not the first to go down this path. External perspective has helped us. We had Tim Hightower, a former NFL player who now works for the Washington Commanders in an executive role, come and talk about the power of conditioning that mindset.
Those types of qualities are so transferable when it comes to safety, culture, and risk assessment in the type of foundation that you need to have to launch something like an SMS system. It’s been exciting and a rich opportunity to grow and learn myself.
James: When I heard LinkedIn group, so you got to understand, I hear it through Steve Allen. He comes back. He’s excited about a LinkedIn group and I’m like, “Listen, Steve, I’ve been a part of a lot of LinkedIn groups.”
James: Usually, it’s an echo chamber or people spamming you with stuff. Right?
James: You all know what I’m talking about. We all are a part of the pipeliners of America or something. Out there that’s a group that started a long time ago, that’s not the crickets in there. When I joined myself and started to look around, I was surprised like you said. The calls, is it monthly? I’m sorry. Is it monthly?
Ashley: Yeah. It’s monthly.
James: OK. Monthly calls, things like that. Then I wrapped my brain…Yeah, I’ve hit on several things. What else out there are you all doing? What other kind of impacts and positive influence are happening, as a by‑product or a product of it.
Ashley: You want to talk about the exchange, Stephen? We just launched the practice exchange and that’s a subgroup.
Stephen: First, I’ll mention that, I think we’ve fostered over the years. We fostered this area where people can come in and they can interact over whether it’s the success or a challenge or something that they’re faced. They’re trying to figure out what are we trying to solve here? Whatever the problem is, and then they can go off because I’ve had people that I’m part of groups and so is Ashley.
We may have a call, an AGA call and then they’ll reach out separately because they know about the group and they’ll say, “Hey.” There’s a slightly different dialogue sometimes, because they’re not on recording with all other people.
There’s a lot of that. We encourage that which is come in if you want to take your business or whatever offline, it’s all great because I think that we’re there to foster those connections and that collaborative effort to help across the industry no matter what you’re trying to do.
If they’re not interested in necessarily what we have to say, [laughs] they can always just look in through the group, notice that someone is in the group and say, “Hey, wait a minute, they actually deal with this, maybe I can reach out to them and see if we can talk one on one.”
There’s that in a broad sense, but yeah, Ashley, why don’t you talk about the exchange. Do you want to talk about it?
Ashley: Yeah, sure. Besides what we are calling the PSMS table and that really we call it the table because it’s very much like what Stephen was mentioning, it’s a come as you are.
That’s the beauty of our group is that you don’t have to be an executive at a company to have a seat at the table. You don’t have to even know about Pipeline Safety Management System to come and be fed.
The dinner table is in our homes often where a lot of conversation and relationships get built, so that’s why we called it PSMS table, but that’s not the only channel. We just launched our practice exchange, an industry having sat with many hats and many seats, many tables.
Stephen’s referencing this practice sharing. It’s an uncomfortable place at times for industry. There’s many good reasons why, but we’ve got to get past that. This practice exchange…
Have you guys ever watched the show, “The Shark Tank”?
Ashley: It’s like that. It’s built upon similar concept that we have an industry panel of just expertise. In fact, Steve Allen is part of that to [inaudible 18:36] of that.
We’re getting ready to showcase this diverse spectrum of expertise across industry that is going to serve this membership and say you have a practice or on you’re getting ready to launch a practice and you want a set of diverse eyes, different backgrounds, different competencies like the Sharks to give you really perspective and round you out.
That’s really what this is about. It’s about kind of changing the way in which we exchange information and really creating a space of comfortability, space of security as an industry for industry to share some of that information without having to get to the end degree of your decimal point on risk and your risk register.
You can still have a really robust rich conversation without showing all your cards and putting your company or yourself in a really vulnerable position.
That’s really kind of what the practice exchange is all about. We’ll be holding them quarterly, we’ll be calling for exchanges, and just really excited about the momentum behind the subgroup.
James: Is there a podcasting practice that maybe Jim and I could be submitting on. I’m just wondering? Workshop down a little bit.
Ashley: Never say never, James.
Jim: We’re still kind of talk about next year for sure, but we should schedule.
Ashley: That sounds great.
James: Obviously, I’m joking about it. That sounds awesome. The more I learn, the more I talk to…I was going to say, I wrote it down, so I wouldn’t forget. I think Steve Allen and Jeff Weiss will be so proud of how many times we’ve dropped their names already.
Ashley: I know.
Stephen: Check is in the mail, right?
James: No big deal.
Ashley: There’s some other household names.
Stephen: There’s a lot that you’re going to notice them.
Ashley: Lauren Anderson, Amy Willis, Grant Emerson.
James: Go ahead, continue. Name all thousand members.
Ashley: Oh gosh, James Upton, Jim Francis…I’m going to forget someone, so I hate to start name‑dropping.
James: We better stop.
Stephen: I know the feeling.
Ashley: Super‑rich of talent and diversity, which I think is diversity of thought, diversity of experience. It’s critical in our industry. We want the panel to reflect that.
Stephen: That’s wonderful. As I sit here listening to the stories, that’s what I think about what’s so great about our industry is that when people get together for collaboration, for doing things better, safer in taking those aspects first and foremost, a lot of those corporate walls come down.
I’m not saying anything bad. I’m just saying that if somebody has a better way to do something, they’re not afraid to share that so somebody else can be safer. Doesn’t matter what uniform they’re wearing or where they’re located, everybody that really embraces that thinks about safety and safety first. I love that about our industry.
Ashley: I got to give a shout‑out. I do have to name‑drop if you guys don’t mind.
Stephen: Go ahead.
James: We’re in the spirit.
Stephen: Why is this not another podcast?
Ashley: David Top, and David Spangler. We think about Pipeline Safety Management Systems. I know we’ve been focusing as an industry heavily on the operating community, which is important. I often say, it’s when the oxygen mask drops, you are taking care of yourself first, before you pivot.
The contracting community cannot be forgotten. I’m really excited that we actually have David Spangler too, who’s part of Mirrors, who represents the contracting community. They’re leading this exchange that, Stephen and I, we’re helping guide and point the North Star. This seems really going to bring it to life. It’s cool to see.
Jim: That’s wonderful. I love all that. We at Energy Worldnet, we’re passionate about safety. We’re passionate about education, we’re passionate about having people be the best that they can be.
I’ll tell you, when you look at some of the players within our organization, Steve Allen, Brian Tressler, and Kelsey Klingler; I mean those types. I remember my getting onto the PSMS journey actually was with Steve Allen for myself, before he started with us.
I needed help, was giving a presentation in Vegas. I remember the biggest thing that he told me, he was like, “Jimmy, the biggest thing with PSMS, it’s a journey, not a destination, you never finish it.” Because I initially had that mindset, like what do we need to do to get it complete, check it off.
James: Near that check box.
Jim: It’s true. Top to bottom, CEO all the way through the organization, side‑to‑side. Everybody has to embrace it. Everybody has a piece to it that they bring. Then when you take all those pieces that can form together, he goes, “There you have a PSMS journey and plan and program.” It was wonderful, but I think a lot of our audience are probably asking the same thing. I think a lot of us have been aware of PSMS.
I think we’re embracing it, but I think we look to leaders like you both as to, what’s next? What’s coming down the road for us. Anything new, exciting, different things we need to be aware of. This is the time to, if you’re going to peel back the onion a little bit and show us something, it’ll just be amongst the four of us, so don’t worry.
Stephen: And a couple viewers now.
Jim: Couple of viewers.
Stephen: Just from operator’s standpoint. I know that, in addition to our own journey, engaging our contractors, something, I know, Ashley’s focused on that as well. But, just spreading that engagement through the contracting community, particularly for an operator is important because it needs to be there.
We need to find those synergies between all the groups, what they’re doing. Of course, some of the challenges are that they’re often if these are large contractors, there are supporting other operators as well.
That’s where this collaboration and community of sharing information and exchange comes in because it’s a journey, but it’s not necessarily an easy one for some of the more complex operations to bring a management system together to actually try to fine‑tune everything. I know Ashley is…
Ashley: A mentor of mine, Jim Howie, he always reminds me, it’s a way of doing business and it’s causing industry to think about how you’re conducting business. Then you pair that with industry paradigm shifts that we’re seeing in safety around human fallibility and culture and failure capacity, capacity models.
Then the construction dynamics, these power dynamics between contractors and owner operators shifting to this real more robust conversation that incorporates price realism for example. This is all nothing but tailwinds for Pipeline Safety Management Systems.
I see it getting more and more amplified and because of that not just to focus on contractors and framework which we’ve been all probably working feverishly around, but operational technologies that enable pipeline safety management system.
I think of like, what are some tools and technologies around management of change? How do you start to measure change fatigue in ways that we’ve never traditionally done? Or how do you know that one change is being evaluated around its impact across all these series of other changes that might be being prepared or already taking place.
I can see an example of operational technologies in a lot of different spaces to enable. You’re going to see that through product development for sure.
James: You’re speaking my language. What I think about all the data opportunities, they’re right. We’re seeing a huge movement, AI, machine vision, machine learning. I think of all the possibilities out there when we seek this technology on some of our problems with the amount of shared data that we have, I’m really, really looking forward to some of those things that come out of this. I love it.
I’ve got, so there’s something we do with all of our guests and you two are no different.
Ashley: OK, you’re scaring me. What?
Stephen: Oh, boy.
James: It’s fine. It’s fine.
James: I’ll let you all decide who’s going to go first, first.
Stephen: Ladies first.
James: Oh, wow.
James: Ladies first it is.
Ashley: You can’t tell the boys are together live, can you?
James: Ladies first, you get to choose, so who goes first.
Ashley: Yes. I’ll go first. Why not?
Jim: She’s not scared.
James: Yeah, I like it. All right, Ashley.
Ashley: No, I don’t know about that. [laughs]
James: We ask everybody a question. It’s something that we live by. It’s what our show’s based too, and that we do have this platform and we do have this opportunity. What would you if you have the floor, which you do, what do you want to leave everybody with? You want to give it all away, you can’t take it with you when you’re gone, what would you want to leave folks with? No big deal.
Ashley: Just to stay humble and kind. I think in today’s environment really there’s a lot of pressure that everyone’s under. Sometimes you just can’t see that pressure and you’re certainly not able to walk in other people’s shoes. I’ve certainly found myself in unkind situations through a really tough period in life.
Behind the curtain, in front of it, you would have never seen it, but behind the curtain it’s going on. Kind doesn’t mean rolling over and going against your value system, but there is a delivery in the how, and just to make sure that you keep that in your approach, because life is just so much bigger than that one task or that one moment where you feel on edge to, that human flesh side of you may get at you.
That’s what I would just offer is, in the grand scheme of life, does that unkindness really matter? Not really, but that kind moment will to somebody.
I guess that would be what I would say I can’t take with me, but I would hope that at least my daughters would learn that from me.
Jim: That’s wonderful. I love that. That’s great.
Stephen: How can I follow that? No, she’s right. That’s so important, and no matter what you do, I would say if I have to come up with something, it’s life doesn’t owe you anything. Whatever you’re into, it doesn’t matter what it is, you should give it everything you got.
Ashley: I love that.
Stephen: Then as you pointed out James, give it away. What better than to give all your energy to something, and then to pass that on or to just open it up, so that other people can possibly feed off of that as well? Honestly, the world needs more of that. That’s why I said it doesn’t matter what you’re really into, give it everything.
Jim: These are two caring and giving people.
James: What great new friends we have.
Jim: That’s a smash in. I love that. I absolutely love it. Can we do a quick favor though? Let’s remind the audience, I think that you folks would welcome some more participants in the group on LinkedIn. Is that a correct statement?
Ashley: We cherish all members.
Stephen: Anybody who wants to step up…
Jim: How would they find what’s the easiest way when they go in that search engine up there, what should they punch in?
Stephen: You can type in a hashtag PSMS, and when it filters, it should look for the groups. You should be able to filter out groups, or you can look up Pipeline Safety Management System, and pull up groups. You can look up certainly, my name or Ashley’s name, there’ll be a way to get to the group that way for sure.
Ashley: Hope you find your way.
James: I have my idea also. Ashley will put it down in the comments, won’t you, Ashley? I know she will.
James: I bet we can link it just straight, I’m sure we can have…
Ashley: Is that at me, Ashley, or…?
James: Yes, all of the above. Anyone. All the Ashley’s.
Jim: Well, we can put it in the comments.
James: One of us will do.
Jim: We have an Ashley too, that is instrumental behind the scenes. I think she’s going to throw notes in there.
Ashley: All right. Awesome.
Jim: I can’t thank you guys enough for the time. I know you all are really busy. I personally am very proud to be a member of the group. I’m still learning each and every day. Thank you for all that you do for us.
Stephen: Thank you.
Ashley: Back at you guys. Thank you for having us.
Jim: Absolutely. Have a great day everybody. We’ll see you next time on Coffee with Jim and James.
Transcription by CastingWords