The Plan

December 12th, 2009

While I was down in corporate headquarters this week I kept crossing swords with my boss’ boss. That wasn’t my goal. I like the guy and respect his opinion. I couldn’t figure out why he kept contramanding me.

He kept telling me that I was not going to get everything that I want insofar as his management team was not going to be able to tell me everything that was going to happen next year. Some plans had not yet been set and plans could be changed.

I agreed that plans would change and avowed I was only trying to look at things that we did already know and connect some dots. But then he said I should reconsider my statement and that all of the dots had already been connected by the people in his management team. So then I asked him if basically he was saying I was stepping outside of my role by asking big-picture questions, and he said that was incorrect.

Even when I was getting started on what I wanted by getting some input from one of his managers, he stepped in and stopped that discussion. But he is not a power-monger who hoards information to inflate his importance.

I have worked with him long enough that I know something about how he operates. When he starts leading me in circles it is because I am making a withering assault on some person or process in the company that is more important than I am; trying to get myself killed, basically.

So as best I can tell the real problem is I was asking about plans for the next year, and specifically how my work could fit into the big picture. And even though my boss’ boss likes me and supports me he cannot fit me into a big picture if there is no big picture. There is someone higher up on the food chain than himself who is not providing a plan for next year so if I keep asking these kinds of questions I will end up in trouble.

I feel sorry for him. He is trying to keep someone he thinks is a talented employee (in this case, myself) to stay with his company and working for him. But he has to tell me, however indirectly, that there is no plan. And he knows this does not inspire confidence or loyalty in the company.

Priority One

December 7th, 2009

When I walked in this morning, a heated conversation was going on in the nearby manager’s office. It was not an argument since both parties agreed; but it was heated. I stopped in because I had something else to ask the manager and I got to be included in the discourse.

“Right now,” S. B. said to me, “if I had one nuke, just one nuke, and the choice to fire it at Iraq, Afghanistan, or corporate headquarters, do you know where it would go?”

“I have a hunch,” I said.

“It would go right there to the headquarters. Get rid of them all.”

“I would appreciate you waiting until I get back,” I said. This was not a particularly wise thing to say, but nobody has ever accused me of wisdom. S.B. looked at me.

“You’re going there? I can get rid of all my problems at once.” He mimed holding a trembling finger over a button. “Is he there yet? Is he there yet?”

The End of Tuesday

December 4th, 2009

Today I was going to write about the Changes We Are Making, the business going on that we are supposed to believe is for our betterment. I think too much. When they tell me we can save money by making consolidated shipments of product from all factories out of our warehouse, I wonder if we lose all the money by shipping everything down to the warehouse in the first place. I wonder if they are paying any attention to the stuff that is already supposed to be shipping out of the warehouse, but we are shipping direct to the customer because they need it so bad.

When they tell us that we are going to make our vendors deliver smaller quantities more frequently so that we can save on our inventory costs, I wonder if they consider that we will pay for it in our piece costs. When they say that we are going to make infrequent shipments from our plant to our distribution warehouse, I wonder how they can be so two-faced without stammering some kind of rationalization. We, as a plant, are going to do wonderful things by getting more frequent deliveries and giving less frequent deliveries! This will solve all our problems! And help the whole company! And our customers!

Stupid political promises. Like Lower Taxes! And More Federal Assistance!

Well, that’s what I was going to write about. But then a water line broke and sprayed water all over an electrical transformer. And they shut the power off to my office and to shipping. And they said it wasn’t going to come back on at all the whole day, while they waited for the transformer to dry out.

That seemed like a way cooler thing to write about. Only, they turned shipping back on within minutes, and I found a different desk to park my laptop on. And then they turned all the power back on sometime around two o’clock. So nevermind.

I got my last report for the first of the month done today, three minutes after quitting time.

Rung in

December 3rd, 2009

Today I got to work on time. I have been, lately, but recently I was missing by five minutes often. Big picture, no big deal, I often leave 10 minutes late… but.

Today at 7:00 am promptly the plant manager called me. And I was at my desk.

That little problem yesterday with orders? No orders dropped to ship from 12:30 yesterday until the same time today. We were experiencing a major problem with our main database and nobody thought to tell us. So the first call today was from the plant manager asking me who he should call to fix this problem.

The second call today was the plant manager telling me to start dropping orders automatically. This was one of those requests where your life starts flashing before your eyes. It’s easy for me to identify all the sales orders we have on us; it’s hard to pick out of that mountain the ones that are actually eligible to ship. I imagined myself frantically trying to drop hundreds of orders and getting duds.

A long time ago, over the course of a long time, I worked to get myself an Access application that would tell me the ship eligibility of every order on the system. Hardly daring to hope, I tried it out again. Yes, reader, it failed me. It came up blank right where I needed to see the status. Something had failed.

But, the orders from last night had been researched (to find the shipment number) without ever being reset or redropped. I helped get those taken care of, then checked on the problem with my order status queries and was able to quickly resolve the issue and drop more orders.

Then I got the third call of the day. Well, it was an instant-message. My boss’ boss told me to keep track of every single line that I dropped because when IT fixed the problem they might all drop again.

As in, every heroic thing I did to fix the problem would ultimately make the problem worse.

It turned out that they were able to not re-drop our orders so none of the work was in vain. It was hard for the day to get worse from there, so it got better instead. But somehow I still didn’t get done that last first-of-the-month report that, in one giddy moment of optimism, I thought I was going to get done on Tuesday.

On to Friday!


December 2nd, 2009

Today at the end of the day I was just finishing up what I thought I was going to finish at the same time yesterday when I got a call from down in shipping. They were wondering about their lack of work, so someone had run a report (one of my reports, actually) and found that we had more shipments waiting to go than anyone knew. The system thought a number of orders had dropped for pick that nobody had ever seen.

It is possible, once in a while, for the central database to process a batch drop of orders to pick without the papers actually making it out of the printers. In this case the batch of shipments is left as a file on the main database which I know how to re-trigger. It is not a difficult task but it is esoteric, which is why I was called.

But nobody knew which batch had gone missing. I did not know which batch to re-trigger. I made a guess but nothing happened; it was a batch run with no results. So then A.D. down in shipping started looking through the papers he did have to see which batches had run. He found something from all of the earlier batches so I started trying to re-run the later ones.

But then I noticed that all of the later ones had generated the exact same file size, about a tenth of the size of the batches that we knew had gone through. So then I tried to determine where exactly this missing batch was, and if it was only part of a batch of which some had printed. The shipment numbers on the orders to pick are in sequence, and we could look up these shipment numbers using a little known and little used lookup. By checking a few we found that the sequence on the shipments clearly indicated that the missing shipments were generated after the ones we found.

Thus I had a contradiction: I had shipments which existed on the system and had all the characteristics of a valid shipment on the system; but there was no batch run larger than size zero (effectively) for them to belong to. And the papers had never been seen.

I was stumped. I left it with the high-school co-op to look up each individual shipment number, delete the shipment, and retrigger them.

Why do people think manufacturing is for dummys?

December 1st, 2009

We hear a lot about how our country has shifted to a knowledge-based economy where manual, tactile skills are less important. This is based on an idiot’s dichotomy between intelligence and manual work. Because manufacturing inherently hints of manual work, it is never waved about as a career aspiration for our young folks who have evolved beyond manual labor.

But the process of turning material into a useful product is not too easy for a college-educated high-flyer; it is too hard. You are accountable to reality when you are working with physicality.

I got the below sentence in an e-mail today from the guy who runs our heat treat. I don’t think he has a college degree. He is not one of The Engineers. He is just the guy who constantly bails us out when we have a material integrity problem.

“I understand the attached report shows hardness’s of RC 46/47 when checked on the Knoop and converted to the Rockwell scale.”

Note his grammatical errors such as the incorrect possessive apostrophe on the word hardness. Like I said, he is not part of the intellgentsia. However, the point of his e-mail was that by converting from one measurement scale to another, we were getting an inaccurate result. Another dumb desk-jockey mistake. (Remember any stories of metric to English unit conversion?)

Also today: Did you know that by taking a casting and milling off somewhere around a quarter of an inch you will expose porosity within the casting? Did you know that if you are an engineer and you have to make a cast part lighter and you instruct the factory to mill the casting (rather than authorizing a new casting which you would have to pay for from your budget), the cost of poor quality because of the exposed porosity is now a manufacturing problem rather than an engineering problem? Did you know that the correct solution of redesigning the casting mold for a thinner part may not be possible because you might not have a realistic allowance for movement of the mold core without breaking through your thinness completely?

Of course you knew. You’re too smart to work in a factory.

End of the month

November 30th, 2009

End of the month is traditionally a day when we try to ship everything that we possibly can so as to post the highest possible dollar value of shipments for the month. It can be quite hectic. But there is an even stronger tradition in these parts of hunting deer after Thanksgiving–and that’s not limited to men. C.M., the shipping supervisor, is out in those hills, too.

Last week I was asked to help out in shipping today due to C.M.’s absence and I was expecting a horrible day. But it was pretty uneventful. Tomorrow will probably be horrible. Sorry, but it will. The first of the month I have to cram out as many reports as I can, and one of the harder ones to put together requires some input from the people who are off hunting to do properly. Also, something I did today wasn’t documented as desired so they want me to go back and document it tomorrow.

But, today really wasn’t bad, and I am glad for that. There is this one shipment which is not going to be ready to ship until late today which we have instructions to ignore the usual, picky process for this customer and give the shipment to a special pickup late tonight. The trucker who picks up tonight is going to bring the freight to our usual truckers tomorrow. We are doing this hocus-pocus so that we can say we shipped more stuff in November. It’s dumb and it is going to cause us more work. But, today, it was pretty harmless for me.

Another day goes by

November 24th, 2009

I don’t have true self-confidence. Sometimes I swagger, sometimes I boast, but if someone questions my accomplishments I will either get angry or afraid. Or both. Usually I question my own accomplishments.

I am not sure how I am getting so little done these past two days. I mean, I have had pretty good days where I haven’t had many interruptions, I kept a good pace, and I got pretty much nowhere without hitting any roadblocks. I come in, run my morning reports and go to the daily meeting, follow up on a few e-mails, clear out some expedites, go to shipping, and come back to follow up on some earlier e-mails, phone calls, expedites, or other errata.

I do not get around to reviewing the past due orders for our key customer that my boss asked me to take responsibility for. I do not do anything to develop any of the different projects I have promised different people, generally including the operations manager of some facility somewhere.

And another day goes by.

Do not think of elephants

November 23rd, 2009

I woke up this morning and thought of what I had to do today and I got a jolt of cortisol or whatever they are currently calling the stress hormone. Coming off vacation is bad because you notice all the work feelings–they no longer seem normal. At first I tried not to think about all that work I had to do but then I realized trying not to think about it was itself part of what wears me out. So I deliberately thought of as many different things as I could–not a “flinching” thought but a good square look. Then I got up.

When I got to work I wrote down about 15 things that I needed to do. Not all of them had to be done today but they are all things that need to be followed up on sometime. I think I got four done. Maybe five. I know when my boss called me the one thing he asked me about was not one of the things I had gotten done then, nor even began before I left work. He didn’t give me a hard time about it, just asked, but I don’t like it when what he thinks is my top priority isn’t. It took me until 2:15 pm to get to my number one priority because in the morning I had to do a Monday report, follow up on some hot issues from last Wednesday, go to the daily meeting, and spend most of my “free” morning time going over late-shipment analysis because I need input from other people and most of them are going to vanish, what with Thanksgiving and hunting season upon us.

It wasn’t really a bad day but if I can’t relax more than that I am going to need a week off by February.


November 18th, 2009

Today I started my vacation. I have Thursday and Friday off.

We are all supposed to be very careful to use our vacation up before the end of the year and I had scheduled a day in October and an earlier day in November. Both of those days I wound up giving up because of the work going on. But I really hated to let the second one go.

I try not to let things just weigh on my mind but they really do, and I think since I first started planning for my last trip (which was to have been the second week in October) I have been feeling like I have way too much to do, and I won’t make it through a third of it before the load doubles.

There was one scary moment today when I thought I got ahead of myself and it was only Tuesday. That was awful. But the rest of the day was happy! Hahahahahaha!