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Diagnosis before cure: when to call an upstream doctor

At Rockflow, the challenge with every upstream project is finding what the real problem is.

You might come to us with an idea of that problem, like a patient who suspects they know what ails them. Frequently, though, the reason companies come to us is because they’ve exhausted their own resources – and sometimes their own understanding – and they need an independent, veteran expert to tell them what is going on.

That means we first need to pose the right questions.

In our experience there are typically three types of issues that an O&G company will want our perspective on. And while purely technical problems might have a direct solution, there are many that first require an accurate diagnosis.

1. A technical issue

When you know you have a technical problem and you’re not certain of the solution.

At the purely technical level, you don’t necessarily need a diagnosis, you simply need a solution that fits.

In this instance, you want the equivalent of a highly practised tailor who can measure you at a glance and produce exactly what you need – whether that’s a reserves audit or a feasibility study. The quality of the solution and its speed and efficiency all matter here, and that’s why many companies choose us and keep returning to us.

What they’re also looking for, however, is reassurance that the issue does not go any deeper; if we believe there are other dimensions, we are well placed to identify them and let the client know.

2. A diagnosis issue

When you have a technical problem, and you don’t know the exact nature of that problem.

One company asked us to investigate an issue they were facing with a fracking project: their wells weren’t producing gas, instead they were producing water.

They had already hired a number of other consultancies who had attempted to resolve the issue and, had it been an engineering problem, no doubt they would have succeeded. But the company was keen to find a solution and were willing to throw more resources at it.

Based on our experience, we suspected the issue was not with the well and our investigation determined that it wasn’t their fracking process that was bearing water, it was the rock itself.

The need for a diagnosis is not unusual. We have found that the more complex the issue, the less a client will know about what they need. Patients might tell their doctor what they suspect their ailment is but the doctor will – and should – say, ‘First, let’s talk about the symptoms’.

The diagnosis of subsurface issues requires a similar approach. Like a well-experienced doctor who has encountered a range of patient ailments; our extensive knowledge acquired across a wide range of fields and basin types allows us to identify the problem and find the solution.

3. A holistic issue

When you know there’s a problem but you don’t know whether it’s a technical, organisational or personnel issues.

To take another scenario, let’s look at a problem with a more human cause, one which involved lines of communications across continents.

In this case the message being received by the head office in one country did not square with some of the operational challenges arising in another. So they asked us to work closely with their technical team and undertake an in-country peer review to get a fuller picture of operations.

However, this is not all we did. While we were in conversation with our client, we began to suspect there was a deeper issue at play and the company didn’t initially – and quite understandably – want to tell us what it was.

Through our conversations, we were able to put our finger on the question that needed to be asked.

  • The initial question: ‘Is the quality of our technical work good enough?’
  • The real question: ‘Is the information we’re getting from our general manager correct?’

So the peer review was the overt part of our operation. Meanwhile, one of us had a covert job to do – to figure out what was actually going on. Was this an issue that could be solved by improving the quality of technical work – or did it involve other factors?

The answer was surprisingly simple and yet stark in its implications: the general manager wasn’t there. He was on another continent. In his absence, people were making decisions without him.

The solution was simple: hire a local general manager who wanted to live in the area. But arriving at that solution was anything but simple. It was only by going into the depths of the organisation that we were able to uncover what needed to be done.

As soon as problems reach beyond a purely technical diagnosis, the complexities escalate and the need for discretion intensifies. This doesn’t make the problem insurmountable, however. Just as we have analysed enough seismics to tell what is beneath the surface of the earth, we have worked with enough oil and gas companies to diagnose what is happening beneath the surface of an organisation.

Management consulting issues are inevitably complex. Our task is sometimes to take a step back from the forest of information in order to see the whole: in order to see more clearly how a company can meet their business objectives.

We’re able to do this at Rockflow because of the depth and breadth of our experience in the  upstream oil and gas industry. This allows us to know whether you need a technical solution, a technical diagnosis or a more holistic approach. .

All of this has to begin with a conversation. To talk through what type of support might suit your situation, get in touch.

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