Holiday cheer

Instead of the Scary Guy coming back and telling us who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, we are now going to host a newly-formed Acme A-Team. The team will be in our plant starting November till just before Christmas. Officially they are here to jump start our transformation to a modern, Lean factory. Unofficially, they are taking names. Woe to those who do not find favor in the eyes of the Lean team.

These kinds of teams are not unique to Acme by any means. People who now work for Acme have seen, or even been on, such teams operating in other companys. They have seen these teams identify who is hindering progress and who is helping. They have seen the hinderances fired, without warning. They have seen factories truly transformed into more profitable, more efficient, more effective facilities.

I am trying not to let my hopes get up. I can imagine Acme, with its demonstrated level of competence at executing good theory, brining in an A-Team that will fire the wrong people, or slap some hands and let be, or spend the better part of two months constructing grand theories of how things ought to be done right, but not enforcing any of these ideas, so that once again we are abused with a perverse form of a good idea.

But the amount of time they will be in the factory gives me some hope. Can they really spend a month and half in our plant without noticing certain patterns? Can the sycophants really ply their art so long? It’s hard to imagine that high-paid people could waste nearly two months in a place without making a real difference. Maybe they’ll just say that we’re all hopeless and shut the plant down.

I would hope the A-Team notices and deals with events such as this week’s assasination attempt on P.B. To remind you, P.B. is in charge of all material handling, including receving and shipping. Technically he and I work for the same person, the supply chain manager; for the most part, you could say that I work for P.B. At any rate, I think we work well together.

To continue setting the stage, let me also reprise the role of a planner. A planner does not directly oversee the purchasing of parts or materials, nor does a planner directly oversee the application of labor to develop the components into the product. Basically, a planner’s job is to be aware of all the complications, constraints, and problems arising in the areas of supply, demand, and capacity, and manage them to produce the most effective production schedule possible.

Unfortunately in our plant, people (inclusive of the planners but also the production force) are much given to the habit of gaming the system, for instance by printing out paperwork requesting material be moved before it is ready to be moved–to have parts moved from stock to assembly when assembly is not ready to build, or from machining to stock when the parts are not done being machined. Then they sit on the papework until such time as the parts are ready, whereupon they produce the paperwork and complain at the next available opportunity that P.B.’s people aren’t moving the material in a timely manner, and that the paperwork has been sitting around unfulfilled for days.

This kind of basic dishonesty is almost an acknowledged fact. I say “almost” because nobody stands up and says, “I know you all are doing this and, hey–just keep doing it, I don’t care.” Rather you will get wry looks and behind-closed-doors admissions. But the people who ought to say, “I am your boss and if you lie to me I will fire you,” haven’t.

So on one fine morning this week, at our daily finger-pointing blame-shifting meeting, one of the planners says to the collected bunch that he could be building those tools which are so needed, so past-due, if only the material were pulled. Given that we have a 100% Effort project on to reduce that backlog, says this planner, why can’t P.B. pony up and get him the material he needs?

On this particular morning, by the way, the plant manager is in attendence. Usually he is not, and so he misses a lot of the profanity and degredation that goes on there.

P.B. does not argue the details. He happens to check every night and see if there is a backlog of work his people were supposed to do, but he does not mention this. He says only that he has put as much manpower as he can afford to toward helping that line. The planner insists, reiterating that given what a priority this is for the whole plant, P.B. ought to be doing more to help. Can’t give you more help without hurting someone else, says P.B. Take from someone who is lower priority and give to me, says the planner. Someone will have to tell me who the lower priority is, says P.B. So the planner turns to the master planner, P.B.’s nemisis you might say, and says, “Can you please help him figure out his priorities?”

Now after the meeting is officially over, P.B. has a little talk with the planner and explains that there wasn’t any work last night, so if the planner has a sudden crisis it would be much more polite and professional to speak with him about it personally, rather than presenting to everyone as if P.B. is willfully negligent.

Then, after that, P.B. went around and found out that of the 22 orders the planner said were waiting to be pulled from stock, 0 were ready to go. Yes, for every single order there was at least one part which had insufficient stock or a quality problem. P.B. checked with the area leader in the stockroom and at the assembly line. According to them there was no problem and had been no problem.

Next thing you know the plant manager was calling P.B. on the carpet for his uncooperative attitude, and P.B. had to explain to him all those pesky details.

If nobody else can take note of such unethical and unhelpful behaviour, and do something about it, perhaps the A-Team can. We shall see. But it may be a long two months.

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