Well Done

June 28th, 2007

We have thus far been allowed to retain our temp workers, and even (of a sudden, at least to me) were granted interns. This has been helpful in two areas that critically needed attention, inter-company orders and customer complaints. After the insanity that traditionally ends the month, I will have to start planning their time in a way to build evidence for their replacement when they leave at the end of the summer.

The end of June is also the end of a quarter and the end of the first half of the year. There is always pressure to meet the shipping goals set at the beginning of the month, goals set based on forecasts that are not particularly accurate. The pressure goes up about 50% for end of quarter, and for half-way through the year and doing poorly, the pressure is about double what it normally is.

Fortunately the shipping department is not wholly responsible to meet the goal. This year the production schedule has not failed to fail, so regardless of whether the sales force is holding up its end, shipping still has to conjure up enough to ship without a full compliment of ordered product. This requires massaging orders to get loose those that are technically allowed to ship, even if they wouldn’t ordinarily drop for shipment. Interns have helped here a great deal as well.

In the midst of this fussing and fretting, we were also told to complete our mid-year self evaluations. No kidding around here–failure to at least seem to fill out an evaluation will be reported quickly up the ladder. We have a new on-line form that is standardized across the entire global company, so that it suits nobody and is hard to use. I managed to hack my way through it, realizing as I did so that although I have participated in some nicely sensational programs and meetings to Fix Problems, the actual problems that I have fixed are few and meager. Personally depressing, but professionally quite beside the point–I made up my evaulation, got a quick approval from my boss, and then his boss also gave it the nod.

My compatriot/psuedo-supervisor, P. B., also filled out his self-evaluation. He has been involved in a lot of actual make-change projects since he got here, a few by choice and more by necessity. He is highly competent and is making real progress toward current industry best-practices. He is pushing the envelope for the whole factory as far as Lean processes. I don’t review his evaluation, but he said he graded himself conservatively. I believe him; he’s that kind of guy.

His boss–our boss–rated him lower, not because anything P. B. did was done poorly, or was the wrong thing to do, or was in any way less than P. B. claimed, but just because one must leave room to improve. P. B.’s participation in 5 “improvement projects” so far exceeded the mandated 2 per year. Which was good. But unfortunate, because his boss can really only afford to evaluate him as if he has done two; there has to be room to improve.

Hm. I used to work in the process improvement department, the department that has most cause to be in tune with best-practices, and one of our common despairs was that people didn’t seem to understand the concept of setting a goal, meeting the goal, and then setting a new goal–that any goal is not the end-state, but a way-point to give direction and focus and, most importantly, achievement, during the endless journey toward Better.

Still, coporation-wide forms with coporation-wide standards and gimmicks and politics is an annoyance that can be shrugged off. The real slapdown followed shortly after: Don’t continue your process improvements. Your analysis of the problem is correct, your vision of the solution is correct, your implementation is effective, and the current situation is harmful to the company; but you must stop your improving, because the rest of the factory is not ready to keep up. Continue to do your job poorly until the others are ready to do their jobs well.

“Well done,” then, is not what your supervisor tells you for exceeding expectations, but rather is the degree to which the life-juices are cooked out of your morale during your mid-year evaluation.

Scare Crows

June 11th, 2007

The cynic gives with eyes averted, and doubts when he hopes, because most of all he fears disappointment–that is loss of control.

I think I made it clear, when I presented to you the sprouting change, that danger threatened the sprout from every side. I intimated the militant ranks of people who would not take a risk to save their jobs by changing the way they do business.

I did not remark on the policy of Acme to employ temporary workers, to retain the option of cutting payroll at a moment’s notice. Of course there is no free lunch, so this costs the company in quality of employees (temps have a lower average job competence, since they are perpetually new on the job). One of those extraneous details of Lean production states that employees must have a vested interest in their job, an interest which they can protect and even benefit by participating in Lean transformation, or the transformation will never transpire. But that’s an aside–enough with the principles, on with real life!

Yes, the same plant manager who has pledged to make the planners build only what the customers want came out with a requirement that we reduce–all but eliminate, really–our temp worker force, because absorbtion (money spent that did not translate into product sold) is out of control. I suspect this dictate came from higher up than our plant manager, but I don’t know if it did.

About one-half of our key workforce in the shipping, receiving, and storing work area is provided by temps. We have been trying unsuccessfully to balance their time so that internal customers (assembly lines) and external customers (other Acme facilities) are fully serviced, as well as end customers buying spare parts.

We as a factory have also been trying to understand and control the purchasing that has resulted in massive inventories at the same time as idle production. In other words, we are buying parts that we are not putting into built tools–that is absorbtion. The effort to rationalize purchasing, when graphed, shows almost a flat line: no change.

It escapes me how it then became even an entertainable notion that we in our area need to reduce our workforce. We cannot meet our current actual customer demand, while we are buying all kinds of product that nobody presently needs.

It was a tense week, and a lesson in never giving up. The rhetoric sounded quite firm: you must choose which pound of flesh to forfeit, or I will choose for you. But P. B. stood his ground, gathered his data, and insisted that everyone was needed. The deadline has passed. Our people remain.

But terms were given, and our parley not formally acknowledged, so we are still subject to decimation without notice.