Taking Better Field Technician Notes (For Work Orders, Troubleshooting & For Yourself)

July 29, 2020

It may seem like a simple topic. Field notes for field technicians. But good notes can have a bigger impact on your job out in the field than you might realize.

We put together some ways to take better notes to help you be a faster, super-knowledge-slinging field technician.

Bob's Notes

"Hey, Bob. What'd you do over there on tower 21 yesterday?" "Oh, yesterday? Oh, I think I got it right here. Yeah. Oh my bad. I got hydraulic oil on my notes, man. I don't remember."

Field technicians, you take notes for your work order reports, to help teammates understand what's going on when troubleshooting and just for yourself when you want to remember things.

Better, Easier Notes?

Do you ever feel like creating and sharing notes is a pain in the butt while you're on the job? Well, we're going to talk about some pain points that we're currently experiencing and how to make it better for everybody involved in the note taking process. Let's dive in.

I couldn't read what I wrote down because it was in the heat of the moment, I had my hands all greasy. I'm trying to write down the measurements to some voltage readings inside of the hub, and I'm trying to troubleshoot something and like pass the information along. I got it all written down, and then I go back into the nacelle to write down some more notes and I realized I can't read what I wrote. And now I have to contact somebody and tell them, "Crap, I got to go do this all over again because I don't remember what it was."

Benefits of Good Notes (That You May Not Realize)

Let's talk about the benefits of good notes.

1. Help the next guy or gal out

You got to help the next guy or gal out. Structuring your notes so you can bring back someone to that exact time and place so they knew exactly where you were at, how you were doing what you were doing, what part of the process you were in and where you were trying to go. You have to create notes that are legible. You have to create notes that are easy to read for the next guy.

Make it legible, make it so you can comprehend it and somebody can understand your workflow. So that means creating a structure for your notes. This might sound like too much, but if you use a good note taking app or even good notes on a paper that you can take back to your desk and write up a good report on what you did at that tower, then it's going to help the next guy out. And you got to help the next guy out.

2. Help managers see that you're worth promoting

And that brings us into the second part. If you think about all of the things that you have to do throughout your day, and you get good at writing about it and you get good at explaining yourself, you're actually going to show your manager your technical skill level. That's important because he's going to evaluate you on those work orders, those task, your notes.

So notes equate to good technical writing, which equate to advancements in the field. Good notes are the stepping stone to good technical writing. Good technical writing can lead to a whole career. So we all want to advance and do better, so step up your skills, write something down, be consistent with it and make sure that it helps everybody out.

3. Speed up troubleshooting

Leading a team, I'd had a lot of guys that wrote down notes and couldn't read them back or wrote down notes and then tried to explain to me what their notes meant, but they didn't necessarily understand what their notes meant. That's a big issue because I'm trying to help them fix the turbines and we've got issues. And then we've got to kind of rework and do things over again. Let me center myself. I am centered.

4. Good notes = better running turbines

Good notes equal better running turbines. And that might be a stretch for you but it's true.

If you write good notes, if you can explain the state of the turbine that it's in, how you found it, then how you left it, the time, the date, where you were at, how long it took you to do this particular job, what you checked all along the way, not just the things that you fixed, but the things that led you to the fix because you're walking somebody through that's reading this technical document of your notes that you put into a technical document.

So what you're doing is you're listing that all out and then you're saying, "Okay, this is a sweet spot. This is what actually fixed it." But you don't want to just put what fixed it. You want to put what led you down that path to fixing it. So better notes equals good technical documentation in your work orders, which equals better running turbines.

What Makes A Good Note... Good?

How do we determine what a good note is?

It's understandable

Well, how about first, you can read it back and know what it says. It's clear and it's concise.

When. Where. What you did.

You know when and where you took it. You know what it's about.

Photos and other details

Hopefully it's accompanied by some photos, maybe a video, maybe something a little bit more in detail. How detailed can it be? Let's say we're talking about a fault on a winter run. Let's talk about that. How to I write down what I already did and what I need to do?

Easy to share

And how do I figure out how to share that information with somebody else when I can't figure it out myself? It makes it a little bit hard when you got your pen and paper. Maybe you snap a picture of your notes, send it off. Maybe you share it on one of the apps you currently use.

Or maybe you have a common place where you guys all take notes and you can share all of the best notes that you could possibly pile up, all the information that you ever wanted in one place, easy and there to share. "There to share!"

Be consistent with it

Whatever you use, make sure you use it consistently. Keep notes and do it consistently. Make that part of your routine because that is what helps you be a better technician, because you learn from those notes as you move forward and you teach yourself in many ways.

Keeping Notes on Paper? Apps?

So you need to take some notes while you're out in the field, right? You tell your buddy, he writes it down on his hand. How do you keep good notes? What do you do?

Pen and paper

Do you bust out your pen and paper?

We polled the Tower-climbing Grease Monkeys Facebook Group, and they told us that most of them still use pen and paper for their note taking. That's their go-to.

And that doesn't surprise me. I wrote notes like that every day. So I'd have a date, and then I'd say everything I was doing that day and then some notes about that tower. And then I'd go back and I'd put it into my work order system to keep track of everything. And that's how I did things for years.

It was actually not that bad, except for when you have to fumble through those papers, look back and try to accurately tell somebody when and where you were doing what, and what you found and all of that, right?

So can you query your work order system? Maybe. Maybe that works well, maybe it doesn't.

In my case, it doesn't work all that great. And there's a bunch of work orders that have zero information in them. And then maybe a few that have some good, accurate information if your guys are good technical writers.

Note apps that come with your phone

So if you're not using paper, maybe you're using your phone's note app like Apple Notes or Samsung Notes, whatever comes on your operating system inside of your mobile phone.

Pros, you probably already had this uploaded onto your phone and it works pretty good.

Cons, no video, no photo markup, limited sharing.

I'm not an Apple guy, so I don't use Apple too much, but my company did make me use an Apple phone and I hated it. And the notes function was not too impressive.

Google Keep

So Google Keep is pretty well organized. You can search and tag your notes to help keep them organized. You can share, but everybody has to have a Google account. And you can't take videos.

Tulli

Not all of these solutions that we're talking about actually have everything that you want, but that's what we're trying to build out with Tulli, and we're focusing on wind technicians who have a really hard job and know that they have so much to do within the day, and they're being asked to do so many things that they need to have great notes.

So in Tulli, you can make a video, an audio recording. You can do photos, you can mark up the photos. You can make checklists, you can make certain categories for each tower or day or whatever it is, and then later go back to that and even search it.

The future

And then later as we get even better at this and your hardware catches up, we can talk to Tulli and tell it what to take a note about.

So you got your hands full with the essentials (like a salami sandwich and Redbull), and how are you going to take a note? I guess I can fumble through some paper, maybe take an audio note or maybe you just say, "Hey Tulli, I just saw a cracked gearbox on tower 222." Seems pretty simple to me. Get back to your lunch.

How do you like taking notes? Let me know in the YouTube comments or Facebook.

If you do try out Tulli, let me know how you like it. Let me know if it works well for you taking notes throughout the day and making your job a little bit easier.

-- Neal Gyngard

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