Friday, August 9, 2013

Part 3: I choose to Zig

See Part 1 here
See Part 2 here

As for myself, I am back in the 'What if this is your last job?' mindset. Perhaps one might think this is a pessimistic statement, but I think it is the key to why I developed a reputation and resume that were strong enough to elicit high interest in a tight job market. It may be counter-intuitive, but here is my rationale:

We are all taught that as soon as we move into one role, we should pick the next one and begin working towards it. That's how my father coached me, and that's how career coaches the world over develop their clients.

But, if you behave the same way as your competitors, what makes you stand out? Besides performance. We all know great performers that end up collecting unemployment. I was one of those myself, in the past.

Game Theory makes my head hurt. I am sure the game theorists have catchy ways to describe beahvior in a competitive market. But, I prefer a couple simple maxims to describe my behavior. In poker, you are taught to play loose when the other players are tight, and play tight when the other players are loose. That may not mean much to most readers, but to poker players it is the short route to win the most money. So, for the non-poker aficianados, there is this:

Zig when others Zag.

Applying this to the workplace, if everyone around is positioning themselves for the next raise, then you would just be another competitor playing the same game the same way as everyone else. In this situation, everyone behaves rationally, there is a modicum of equilibrium among competitors, and you may as well pick names out of a hat for the next promotion.

So, I Zig. I spend more time making my team successful as individuals than I spend promting myself. By growing them, I increase their capacity and performance, gaining economies of scale and force multipliers. By expressing true interest in them as individuals rather than employees, I gain a shared commitment to the team. By working to develop scalable processes, waste is reduced and eliminated. By taking the time to get to true root causes so corrective actions reduce variability, we make our lives easier and enjoy better work-life balance. These are all investments; by building strong people and strong processes so my last job could become one I could enjoy with equal parts of work-life balance for the next 20 years, I end up generating attractive results.

And by promoting team accomplishments, I end up promoting myself. Figuratively and literally.

So, as long as my competitors continue to focus on the next job, I'll be happy keeping my head in my own house, making it a showplace. If I do that, I am sure the right people will take notice and clamor to join my team. And there are enough other "right people" who will want me to do the same with larger teams. So,  I won't have to be a victim of circumstance, wishing things were better but accepting that "it is what it is".

I choose to Zig.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Part 2: I hate the phrase "It is what it is"

See Part 1 here

Of course, all good things come to an end, and the market conditions I mentioned earlier forced organizational changes that permitted the seeding of related functional departments with these strong key players. I was asked to manage one of these departments based on my performance as a team manager. However, I just could not put my heart into it for some reason. Many times every day I heard the phrase "It is what it is" coming out of my mouth and the mouths of those around me, as though we were all powerless, victims to circumstance.

Regardless of why, I found myself trolling LinkedIn and going back to reading my long-neglected job alerts that kept hitting my inbox. I receive regular inquiries from recruiters, both internal and external, and usually try to provide a contact to them when I can. Now, I was listening for myself. I declined to interview with one company after being contacted by someone I'd met at business meetings with whom I shared strong networking connections due to same-company employment. I even submitted my resume for a few jobs, including one to a company that I discovered later hired a former 2nd-level manager of mine in a VP role.

After a couple weeks of discussions with a number of recruiters, I accepted an invitation to interview out-of-town. At that point I thought I was only 75% ready to leave my job, but during the interview something just clicked and I knew it was time to leave. I can't pinpoint the moment, but I left knowing my days in my current role were numbered.

Whether you believe in God, karma, or a universe filled with coincidence and wonder, the world of competing job offers opened up to me. I made a firm decision in my own mind that I needed to leave. Twenty-four hours later, the company I interviewed with asked for background references, a pretty good sign I would be receiving an offer. The same afternoon, the person with whom I shared a common employment background contacted me again, this time providing a strong salary number designed to get me on a plane to interview (it worked). Finally, while playing phone tag with both companies, my former 2nd-level manager called to discuss an opportunity she though was right for me.

Three hot jobs, all in the same afternoon, all serious and very, very real.

What followed was about 10 days of physical and emotional exhaustion as I went through my process. I knew I wanted it to be fast, because I'd already made the decision to leave my existing job and didn't want to let my performance lag over weeks or months if I began to mentally detach ahead of actually leaving. Plus, I didn't want to be forced to make the 'bird-in-the-hand' decision as someone ran into delays. So, I pushed to get it done quickly. One company ended up running into a delay, but I had two very strong offers to choose from, along with the opportunity to work with great people at either company. As a result, I have a new role with a local company working for my former 2nd-level manager (now my direct manager), 5 minutes from house. The company is considerably smaller and my responsibilities are broader in terms of functional management. I am already feeling excited about the opportunities for the company, and see a lot of potential for team-building and skill development for myself and my team.

Next: Part 3: I choose to Zig

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Part 1: My Favorite Team

So a year ago, which is another way of saying 'In my last post', I wrote What if this is the last job you ever have? Written at a point in time when I was about 6 weeks into managing a hand-picked team that was the strongest top-to-bottom of my career, and I asked myself the question in the title of the post. How should I conduct myself as a manager so that my legacy was one of which I could be proud?

Short answer: I wanted to be known as a developer of great people and great teams. I wanted people fighting to be on my teams.

That goal was achieved. I had the most outstanding experience of my professional career over the past year, but it was also mixed with moments of sadness, frustration, and even anger. There were times I was so exhausted I had to be sent home by my manager. But through industry and market developments, I found that this wasn't my last job.

I started with 6 team members. By November, one left the company to return to school for her degree in supply chain management. A second team member had expressed a greater career interest in becoming a data analyst and I was able to accommodate him by providing him with opportunities to automate a number of functions, freeing the rest of the team to focus on core activities.

Two other team members made the decision to voluntarily leave the company. Our markets and sales were in contraction and there had been a number of layoffs throughout the year and it was known there were more to come. Even in a tight a job market, however, both were able to land better jobs with a more stable company and left on their own terms.

And the final two are key people in the supply chain organization. They have a much stronger and broader set of skills in procurement and planning than they did a year before, and over many of their internal competitors. Both are in strong positions with a good deal of responsibility.

Along the way, this team coalesced and became a family, but the individuals still felt free to explore and expand their horizons into areas where they had an interest. Additionally, my next goal of attracting top-talent that wanted to work with this team was realized as well, as each person was replaced by other strong individuals who bought into the team mentality. I couldn't have been more proud.

Finally, we achieved the results for which we'd been tasked - much-improved alignment between supply and demand, and significant reductions in inventory investments. So much so, that i can safely say it would NOT have been possible without the exceptional teamwork demonstrated on a day-to-day basis by this team.
Be sure to come back in a couple days for Part 2: I hate the phrase "It is what it is"

Friday, June 29, 2012

What if this is the last job you ever have?


I figure I have 20 good years left in the workforce, for a variety of reasons: Social security, paltry retirement savings, and costs associated with my children's upcoming college education that will start in about 4 years and continue at least 7 more years beyond that.

Fortunately, after extended unemployment that began in 2005 and resulted in rebuilding my career over the past 7 years, things are going pretty darn well. I work like a dog, but I wake up every day happy to do so. I work with good people that treat me well, and have the strongest team working for me in my entire career.

But what if this is it? What if this is the only job I have for the next 20 years?

How will I be remembered - what will my legacy be?

Today, I am no longer a very good material planner/master scheduler, I am a manager. But, what if I can't move up, and can't move back? This is it, the last job I'll ever have.

In that case, I don't want to be known as technically competent or someone that kept the lines running. Yeah, all that is part of the job and goes without saying. But, is there anyone out there that wants the best thing anyone says about him at his retirement is "he was a good worker"?

I want to be known as someone that developed great people and built great teams. I want the people I work for to see my teams as the pool of candidates for the next generation of managers within the company. I want my team to outgrow their roles, even if it means they have to move out to move up. I want every smart, ambitious person in the company fighting to be selected for the next opening on my team.

Plus, I have a feeling that if I approach my job with this mindset, it won't be the last job I ever have.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Would it be appropriate to add "Producer of Great DNA" to my linkedin profile?

Anne, Second place, student competition, Melbourne Art Festival, 2012 

Emily, Winner, Long Doggers Beach-Cleanup Poster Contest, 2012

Straight-A students & award-winning artists. Plus, cute as a couple of buttons!

Anne will be receiving an award next month from the Duke TIP program. She took the SAT with 75,000 other gifted 7th graders this past year, and scored in the top 5%. We'll be attending an award ceremony in May in Gainesville. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Improving the world one chart at a time

Really? Almost 2 years since I last posted?

Since I started a new job 2 weeks after my last post, let's blame that, ok?


I was sent an Excel chart a couple days ago with a simple request: How do I get the chart to update automatically when a new days' production numbers are entered?

Here's the chart:

Yeah, pretty much unreadable, right? I knew if I didn't address this right away I would be kicked out the "Just Say No To Bad Charts" club.

My solution is to create multiple charts in a dashboard layout, with Total Production at the top, and drilldowns to the types of equipment used. This allows the reader to track overall performance, then drill down to individual workstation performance, using the same data. Clean, easy to understand, easy to compare like-pieces of equipment.

Because I created it, I obviously think it is superior to the original. :-)

As for the answer to the original question, it is easy enough:

When you click in a chart, a couple things happen:

1. A "Chart Menu" appears above the tool bar. You can click the "Design" tab and select the button for "Select Data", and

2. A couple of boxes will appear around the source data table. You can click the bottom right corner of the blue box and drag it to cover the are you expect to use for future data.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Business lessons from Pawn Stars

From time to time I like to watch Pawn Stars on the History Channel. After watching a few episodes, a couple of clear business lessons emerge:

When in doubt, call in the expert

Every episode has the staff relying on the expertise of outsiders. Given the variety of objects they handle its impossible for any one person to know everything they need to know to make good decisions on a consistent basis. Takeaway from this that as your responsibilities increase in breadth and depth, get good people and rely on their expertise.

Let the other guy reveal his expectations first

Every job hunter has been told not to initiate the salary discussion. You don't want to leave money on the table, and you just might pay more or receive less if you break first. The Pawn Stars always ask, "So, what are you looking to get from this?"

Never take the first offer

You have the money. Someone wants the money. Chances are pretty good they want to get your money way than you want what they're selling. Use that. Find out just how badly they want or need your money by bargaining hard.

A good deal is a profitable deal - for you

For all the "training" we receive as business professionals about "yes-yes" deals, it's great when that can happen, but it doesn't NEED to happen. You're in business to make a profit, and there's nothing shameful about it. If you can't make a profit on the deal, deliver the news in a straightforward way and if the other party can't help you get to "YES", walk away.

Don't forget your manners

When these guys can't make a good deal, they shake the other party's hand, thank them, and part on friendly terms. Just because this deal didn't work, you never know if they'll come back tomorrow with a better deal. Or maybe they just have second thoughts and come back to you because you treated them with respect. No need to be a dick.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My first-dibs-on-bestselling-books-at-the-library strategy

I love thriller, adventure, and mystery novels, and I don't like paying for them, so here is what I do to get to the top of the library's "Hold" list. Like everything else in life, it involves preparation, research, and an occasional sneaky-trick:

They track an awesome number of authors, including every popular current author you can think of, so you'll always know in advance of the publishing date for new books. I bet Amazon has a similar feature tied into their "recommendations" feature that will do the same. I don't know if it pushes you the recommendations, though. But, I love that SYKM publishes 2 newsletters/month - not too many, not too few... just right...

Get a library card


Nearly every library system of any substance has the ability to place holds on books over the internet

Policies on newly-published books may vary, but I've done this with three different systems and the only restriction was shorter borrowing time than standard checkouts. Many libraries use library software systems and already have catalog records established well in advance of publication dates. Read your newsletter, place holds on all the new books of interest.

You don't have to be the first hold, just in the first batch of holds

By the time the publication date rolls around, your hold has probably been queued for several months. Most libraries, when they see demand for a book in the form of a long queue, will buy additional copies. Once you've placed your hold, don't hesitate to suggest the same to friends, family, and your book club - generate demand so the library buys more books.

Don't forget to check the large-print holdings!

If the occasional title slips past you until its too late to get first dibs, or you discover an author that is new to you and you want to catch up on his or her past books and there are lengthy queues, check to see if there are large-print editions available (save the flame-comments and emails, AARP and vision-impaired: if there were a heavy demand for large-print books, it wouldn't be so easy to get them). Seriously, it works. Just a little nugget I learned from my sister-in-law librarian.

Enjoy your next book!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The fastest way to reduce on-hand inventory balances is to ship it

Seeing more supply chain writers commenting on how JIT and Lean don't coexist well in a world where supply chains are growing increasingly longer geographically, and they do a better job than I did 2 years when I wrote that Cycle time is undervalued in offshore manufacturing decisions. I started noticing this a couple weeks ago when I noted more commentary on total cost of ownership in outsourced manufacturing.

In the last week or so, a couple more articles popped up thanks to the magic elves in the Twitter Box.

From DemandCaster: Whatever happened to JIT?
...The dominant term was JIT. But, JIT and Lean were bandied about interchangeably. There was no different save for the marketing spin of one author or consulting firm over another. But that has changed. The change resulted because the manufacturing base moved, mostly, to Asia. This was contrary to the principle of reducing lead times so central to JIT. The lead time for goods from Asia dramatically increased to four, five, six, or more weeks. Just-in-Time simply did not fit.No matter what the lead times, one could be “lean” by taking the slack out of the lead times. But as the overall lead times increased so much that planning was once again based on forecasts.

Not to mention the additional inventory in the supply chain pipeline thanks to the longer lead times.

From @chrischip: Just in Time Just Isn’t
...But don’t pull your hair out over inventory. Your customers won’t wait for you to ramp up to fulfill their order, and your forecast won’t save you because it isn’t correct. The answer is a buffer. What I hear time and time again is that the cost of a buffer is well worth eating when you can promise delivery from stock. Without that assurance, you may well lose the order, and that’s a heavier price to pay in terms of dollars and reputation.

Buffers are consistent with, and I would argue REQUIRED, to lower inventory investment. Several weeks ago I revealed my personal view with regard to maximizing inventory turnover:
The secret: The fastest way to reduce  on-hand inventory balances is to ship it.
Many supply chain professionals are penny-wise and pound-foolish: They focus on reducing inventory investment by slowing the delivery of component inventory and insist on sticking to corporate strategies, goals, and metrics with regard to ordering and stocking policies. This is the domain of ivory tower academics and corporate theorists. I work in a Manufacturing Plant, where we Build Things Customers Pay For.
It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
~ Carl Sagan

If the sales exist to consume the finished goods, the proper strategy is to ensure 100% order fulfillment. Unless your forecast is perfect (it's not), your inventory accuracy is 100% (it's not), your suppliers deliver exactly what you need exactly when you need it with no quality rejects (they don't), your machines have 100% up-time (they don't), and you have 100% yield (you don't), then you have to be honest with yourself as a material planning professional and do the right thing: Buffer.
Better never than late.
~ George Bernard Shaw

That doesn't mean you start writing blank checks, however. At the risk of sounding arrogant (too late, I know! ;-) ), this is the domain of Smart People. Data-oriented decision-making. Bounded risk. Iterative modeling. Yeah, I can spew the buzzwords with the best corporate policy wonk. If you don't have robust simulation tools, buy them. If you can't buy them, build them. They won't be perfect starting out. Probably won't be right, either. But the second iteration will be better than the first. You'll do it faster, too. Same with the third, fourth, fifth, sixth... Models will never be perfect, but like a good spouse they get better with age.

When strategies, tactics, and actions are set, execute in the real world using proven, time-tested material management techniques.


Use inventory stratification and manage by exception. Remember ABCs? Remember Exception Reports? Classical stuff. Material Planning 101. APICS Basics of Supply Chain Management.

I don't worry about C-items. Period. I want tons of C-items. If I go line-down because a penny-part wasn't in stock, that's not the cost of doing business - that's a DISASTER: Shipments are missed, Revenue goals aren't met, and all of the on-hand inventory associated with the assemblies that now can't be built will just sit on your books, festering. I watch B-items to the extent that I don't buy excess but I try to buffer with time; instead of coming in just-in-time, I try to pick up extra days/weeks whenever I can. Finally, I focus completely on A-items. I have a number of homegrown tools I developed to track the supply/demand of A-items over time and any volatility is ruthlessly drilled to root cause and strategies developed to balance the supply with the demand.
Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.
~ William Shakespeare

Most importantly, I am disciplined about reviewing data versus plan and taking action with a sense of urgency. You can't set up your plans and walk away expecting your great plan will be executed flawlessly. You have to constantly check, double-check, triple-check. Plan and re-plan. This is where Exception Reports are worth their weight in gold. In most companies where bills-of-material are complex and just plain LONG, it's impossible to do a top-down or bottom-up material analysis on any kind of cycle that permits rapid decision-making. Exception reports separate the wheat from the chaff. By definition, the A-items consist of ~80-90% of your inventory investment dollars. Planning and re-planning ~5-10% of your components offers an increased likelihood of successfully managing 80% of the dollars, rather than attempting to manage 100% of the component investment with no likelihood of success.
A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
~ George S. Patton

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dashboarding the program in #Excel well underway

Down to 2 Excel worksheet tabs, from well over a dozen. Goal is to get to a single sheet, but the volume of data, screen real estate, and the fact that it is reviewed in a conference room rather than printed all factor it. I'll get there, but I like the progress so far.

I have a tab with a dynamic chart to review planned orders by assy (over 50 assemblies). Another tab to review upcoming total production volumes by type/workcenter. Need to add demand management and WIP data, then scale it all down to a single sheet.