When the COVID-19 outbreak began, Dan Myck, Engineering Superintendent at Elkview Operations, sprang into action and quickly assembled a group of peers from across Coal to form a new special projects group known as a skunkworks team.
This small team of six set out with a big mandate: to support Teck's health and safety efforts by finding creative solutions to help implement Teck’s response to the pandemic at sites.
Dan recently shared with Connect how the skunkworks project team came to be, some of the creative solutions developed as a result, and what’s next for the team.
What is skunkworks?
Skunkworks is an effort involving a focused team that breaks away from the larger organization to work autonomously on advancing a project. The team’s task is usually to implement creative solutions to a problem under aggressive timelines.
How was the skunkworks project team formed?
Each of the operating sites in the Elk Valley nominated a person familiar with their site’s current strategy, site layout, functional groups and site-specific constraints. In addition to me, our team included Lindsey Deluca, Senior Engineer, Supervisor, Maintenance, Elkview Operations; Patrick Lidster, Buyer, Materials, Sparwood Office; Ryan Fuzi, Senior Engineer, Supervisor, Mining, Line Creek Operations; Stephanie Cote, Specialist, Operating Excellence, Fording River Operations; and Kyle Matter, Lead, Operating Excellence, Greenhills Operations.
There have been so many great ideas from so many different people and groups. It was also really important for us to share ideas, learnings and wins with other operations, so over the past few weeks, we’ve also been in close contact with teams at Highland Valley Copper and Trail Operations, as well as in the Vancouver office, to do just that.
What type of support did the skunkworks project provide to Teck?
The skunkworks project was about supporting the sites, specifically the health and safety and procurement teams, to help reduce the risk of transmission and to maintain support for our people and our communities to continue to operate safely.
Our primary task was to coordinate a consistent response to COVID-19 that could be applied to our operations and operating areas. Examples of that coordinated response include researching and sharing best practices, helping to deploy strategies and materials, responding to changing guidance from Health Canada, and coming up with creative ways to source critical supplies. In some cases, that meant we made critical supplies ourselves. For example, we made disinfecting wipes, and we used 3D printers to print clips that help with the fit and comfort of face masks.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of how the team generated so many creative solutions to challenges that none of us have ever faced before. And by implementing these great ideas, we’re helping ensure Teck can continue to safely operate – and that means maintaining employment and keeping our local economy going in a way that’s responsible.
Having Teck support this initiative and the solutions put forward by the team is really important to my family and me, as I’m sure it is for all employees, their families and our communities.
What excites you the most about the skunkworks project?
I’m always impressed by how everyone comes together at Teck when faced with a challenge, and this could not have been more clearly demonstrated than during the pandemic. Everyone has pulled together across all aspects of the organization: health and safety, procurement, our crews, different sites and business units, communities and communications teams, mine rescue, and all the Teck employees working from home. I’m so impressed with the company’s response, and the team and I are thrilled to be part of that effort.
What is next for the skunkworks project and the team involved?
While the situation is still very challenging and dynamic, the health and safety and procurement teams have done a fantastic job putting practices and procedures in place to sustain our response and adapt to change. Right now, our team is focused on thermal camera screening as another layer of protection to identify people who may be sick but who don’t realize it, and then we’ll be returning to our home sites to support the COVID-19 response there.
In their own words...
“It has been very exciting being on the skunkworks team and seeing how an entire company can rally around a unified cause to quickly and efficiently work through problems and find sustainable solutions. I have also gained a big appreciation for the field of occupational health and hygiene and the importance of it in the workplace – COVID-19 or not.”
Lindsey Deluca, Senior Engineer, Supervisor, Maintenance, Elkview Operations
“What stood out for me through my work with skunkworks has been the incredible supply chain disruptions that made basic cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, disinfectants and personal protective equipment suddenly harder to procure. It became very important to understand our burn rate of these items and explore as many creative avenues as possible to either obtain our regular products or source substitutes. This work has brought many teams together throughout the company and it's been an incredible collaborative experience to have been a part of.”
Kyle Matter, Lead Operating Excellence, Greenhills Operations
“It was so impressive to see how quickly a diverse group of people from across the business unit were brought together and able to tackle some challenges that we could not have expected as a result of COVID-19, like the impact on procuring everyday items and completing everyday tasks that we otherwise take for granted. The way we were able to come together to meet those challenges and ultimately succeed is a testament to the commitment of the company and to individual employees.”
Stephanie Cote, Specialist Operating Excellence, Fording River Operations
“Diversity, respect and teamwork have made the skunkworks team a success. The innovation and agility of such a large organization has put Teck ahead of the curve to keep everyone healthy and safe and employed. It was amazing to see all parts of the organization come together and work as one team to keep our business moving forward.”
Patrick Lidster, Buyer, Materials, Sparwood Office