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.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More commentary on total cost of ownership in outsourced manufacturing

Eric Miscoll wrote about how the analysis of Total Cost of Ownership of outsourced electronics manufacturing has changed in recent years at EMSNow: EMSNow - Is the Migration of Electronics Manufacturing to Asia Slowing?
In a proper Total Cost of Ownership analysis, direct labor rates are one of many issues considered, and the cost improvement it can offer can be quickly eliminated when considering other important issues like transportation, support, and inventory costs.

More than 2 years ago (pre-my current job), I wrote something similar while arguing that the impact of cycle time in offshore manufacturing is undervalued:
Unless enlighted managers “dollar-ize” the effect of the integrated cycle time – and there are hard- and soft-dollar impacts associated with going from one week to four weeks, or one month to three months – manufacturing will continue to be performed where wages are lowest. It is the challenge of the regional contract manufacturer to educate and inform the customer, and develop financial models to highlight the true bottom-line impact of offshore manufacturing. Global contract manufacturers provide geographic migration plans as a standard piece of their proposals. Regional contract manufacturers must not be afraid to aggressively present these models and make the case for domestic manufacturing.

Lest anyone think I have an opinion one way or the other and that my represents the opinion of my employer (and, allow me to say right now, NOTHING I write here represents the opinion or policy of my employer! ;-) ), I will say that I am in agreement with Miscoll's final paragraph:
CBA's recommendation has been and continues to be that no two engagements are alike, and lemming-like behavior in search of 'low cost labor' can lead to expensive mistakes in outsourcing. OEMs should consider a proper 'FIT' – flexibility, integration, and timing – when designing a supply solution for their electronic products.

Finally, be sure to read the feedback I received from my father, a retired EMS CEO: Good piece, as far as it goes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Please God, make the productivity "experts" stop promoting "to-do apps"

Seriously, if all it does it make a list of tasks then what's the point? Let's face it, I can do that right here, or in a notebook, or on a post-it for crying out loud!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Simple MRP Model Using OFFSET Function in Excel

While I do quite a bit of data analysis and manipulation in Excel using pivot tables, logical functions, lookup functions, and statistical functions, I haven't spent much time learning Reference Functions in Excel.

Given that my day job is centered around production schedules and materials requirements planning (MRP), I wanted to try to create a simple MRP model that utilized reference functions. The new function for me is the OFFSET function. After using it I can certainly recommend it, although if anyone knows a better way to accomplish the same thing in a more elegant fashion please leave a comment below and I'll give it a shot in the next iteration. No matter how much I already know, I'm always trying to improve my Excel skills.

I am assuming you have an idea how MRP works in materials management or you wouldn't have read this far, but if you need a tutorial Wikipedia is a decent place to start. In simplest terms, it is the recipe for building a product; it calculates how many components it takes to build a quantity of end-items, and when the components need to be ordered.

Download the [download id="3"]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The 21st Century Supply Chain » Six tips for supply chain job seekers from @Kinaxis

  • I think it is important for candidates to list specific business accomplishments at each job and not just general job duties.

  • I also find it helpful to have the candidates list which business problems/processes they have been working on. It is easy to say inventory reduction of X, but how did you accomplish it (VMI, supplier visibility, etc.)?

I already do the first, and I think I do it well. Judge for yourself. As for the second, I "sort of" do it in my blog posts, but I should probably look at a way to link my resume to supporting blog posts that go into depth. For the HTML resume, at least.

Check out the rest of the tips at The 21st Century Supply Chain » Blog Archive » Six tips for supply chain job seekers.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Created a LinkedIn landing page

Created the landing page above thanks to a suggestion I discussed over the weekend.

I placed the link prominently on my LinkedIn profile, using the anchor text "LinkedIn Recruiters Click Here"

I would appreciate hearing your impressions and suggestions for improvement.

Saturday, December 5, 2009 ranks Huntsville AL #9 on World's Smartest Cities List

So says Forbes in ranking Huntsville, AL (where I live and work) #9 on their list of World's Smartest Cities:
Huntsville, Ala., has long had a "smart" core to its economy--a legacy of its critical role in the NASA ballistic missile program. Today the area's traditional emphasis on aerospace has been joined by bold moves into such fields as biotechnology. Kiplinger recently ranked the area's economy No. 1 in the nation.

As if I don't already have enough to do this weekend

I could say "pssshhhhhhh!", but this is a really good idea for any social networking site where you're looking to either grow the network or convert visitors from that site. My Linkedin profile currently links to the home page of this blog, and a .pdf of my resume. I can probably eliminate both links with a landing page and reduce confusion for visitors:

Develop a Twitter Landing Page « Social networking let me help you.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I state in my resume that I have a strong bias for data-oriented decision-making. A perfect opportunity arose to prove it-

Resumes of Tim Lovelock | Supply Chain Management, Master Scheduling, Materials Management. | Tim Lovelock.

-again. No, I can't go into it publicly. But most supply chain professionals will understand when I say it has to do with achieving the balance between what management says they want and what they say they need.

Yeah, that.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Glass half-full perspective

Times like this, I can appreciate the intellectual challenge of my work. About 3000 unique parts on a BOM 5 levels deep on 58 assemblies and a dozen end-items, with a ton of commonality at the component AND subassembly level, with non-linear independent demands, with on-hand quantities located in 20 subinventory locations in about 300,000 sq ft.

Oh yeah, all the work is done inside lead time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I can handle variance when I have the right tools to quickly see the impact

One of the parts of material planning that can be frustrating is dealing with imperfect information. There can so many variables it can be impossible to stop variance, but it is possible to control and reduce  variation.

Developing rough-cut planning models helps me do this. I need to quickly meld ERP data with observed data and enable intelligent decision-making, so that is the focus of the tools. Once I can model the data, I can drill into the causes of the variance and start down the path toward control.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

There's a reason fundamental skills are called "Fundamental"

Just proved the wisdom of data tracking and trend analysis again.
Variation isn’t something that can be avoided, however, but as a professional I need to be diligent about controlling those factors under my control... Primarily, I use pivot tables in MSExcel in this process. I track demands over time, supply exceptions over time, excess/obsolete over time… well, you notice “over time” is the critical factor.

Ghandi was half right | Tim Lovelock.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Excel functions I use daily


  • IF



  • YEAR



My favorite function mashup is to combine IF, ISERROR, and VLOOKUP to return either a value from another table, or 0 (or blank, if you prefer). Here's how to do it:

=IF(ISERROR(VLOOKUP([Std vlookup formula])),0,(VLOOKUP([Std vlookup formula])))

Here's the logic: If the Vlookup returns an error (i.e., the value of the referenced cell does not exist in the lookup range), then return a value of Zero, else return the value found in the lookup range.

Why? It gets rid of those nasty "#N/A" errors.

Maybe if I try this: #fb

Microblogging | Tim Lovelock.

Wonder if I can push it to Facebook?

Microblogging | Tim Lovelock.


I don't tweet a whole lot because it irks me to create content for someone else when I already have my own blog. I get the value of Twitter in bringing people to my site that would not otherwise find me, but I wanted to store my content on my domain in a way that permitted it to indexed and found more directly than having a searcher go through Google. But I also recognize that a lot of people aren't going to be interested in consuming more Tim, so I wanted to keep the quick-hitter stuff off the home page so it doesn't bury the more valuable posts that I work for many hours to craft.

So, I thought I'd try an experiment after reading this article:
How to Create Micro Blogs Within WordPress « Weblog Tools Collection.

This post is the first big test.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Master Scheduler's Role in Maximizing Inventory Turns

Just taking a break from the drama surrounding my new program to report that I was informed my old program hit 12 inventory turns before I left. Combined with 100% on time delivery and excess & obsolete  below 0.5% of material cost of goods sold, I'm going out on a limb and claiming it as a textbook performance.

Which is funny because oftentimes when management makes a push to improve metrics there are always a cadre of homegrown materials people armed with excuses why the textbook approach won't work in the real world.

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

maximize inventory turns
With regard to production scheduling, it is critical to know capacity and lead time. Many companies simply schedule to maximize revenue or achieve the customer's need date regardless of what it means for operational excellence. Knowing capacity means you can assess and manage risk when outside forces require production schedules in excess of capacity. Contingency plans can be made to increase capacity and buy material inside lead time. With regard to our schedule, we were several months late starting due to redesigns from our customer. This required our manufacturing and test engineers to get creative and solve some capacity issues.

As far as material availability, I managed my "A" items tightly - super-tight. But I didn't worry about the "B" and "C" items beyond ensuring I had enough on hand to build the schedule. That's the whole point of inventory stratification: focus where the dollars lie. After that, it's all about execution from the team: purchasing managing the supplier deliveries, and production control getting the material to manufacturing with enough lead time to build and ship quality product. In a prior post I stated:

As a Master Scheduler, I control much of the front-end of the manufacturing process – any variation on my part bullwhips through the organization. Variation isn’t something that can be avoided, however, but as a professional I need to be diligent about controlling those factors under my control... I track demands over time, supply exceptions over time, excess/obsolete over time… well, you notice “over time” is the critical factor. After each MRP run (we run weekly), I export all of my data and review several critical factors: has my backlog changed, is my planned order report correct, has my excess/obsolete moved unexpectedly in either direction, and has the exception report changed positively or negatively. There are many other items I track, but I start with these and use them to uncover issues and troubleshoot them prior to someone else asking me that dreaded question, “What happened?

So, by focusing on demand stability and material availability over time in a structured and disciplined manner, I did my part as Master Scheduler to maximize inventory turnover. When a team maximizes the inventory going out the front door, good things happen.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The best laid plans of mice & men: Putting the challenge into perspective

I know I said I would "live-blog" the process I go through when taking responsibility for materials management on a program, but I took a detour that will wind up being incredibly valuable. Someday.

Among my career experiences I was fortunate to work in marketing for a period of time when a new VP was hired to bring organizational leadership to the business development process. The first thing he did was hunker down in his office with several members of his staff, dissecting the business development status of the company. After a couple weeks he emerged from his office to give a presentation to the staff, explaining that the first thing he does when he takes on new responsibilities is to put the challenge into perspective.

As I mentioned, this is a mature program with significant challenges. Taking my cue from this former manager, I pulled my usual post-MRP-run reports: Backlog, Planned Orders, Open Orders, On-Hand Inventory. I normally lay the data out in Excel and do the math: how many units have to be built, how many units are on-hand, how many units are being built in the open orders, and how many units remain to be built. Simply put, the way production scheduling and MRP work is:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Taking Responsibility for Materials Management on a Mature Program or Product

I've already given an overview of the process I go through when doing material planning for a new product. This was based on successfully launching multiple new programs simultaneously, and I absolutely loved being involved at the early stage of a program or product. Being there in the beginning, a master scheduler or production planner has the opportunity to influence the way bills of material are configured, demand is loaded, and planning factors are set.

In contrast to this is planning for a mature product or program. I am taking over a mature program with a family of very complex assemblies on Monday, and this weekend will be spent preparing. Except for when I'll be watching the Florida-Georgia game. I do have my priorities, after all.

I plan to "live-blog" the process as much as I can without giving away any proprietary information. To set the groundwork, the program is very important to my company's current and future business and is generally considered a cash-cow. It is not without challenges however; inside lead-time demands, material shortages, and the sub-optimal impacts these have on inventory, operations, and profitability.

Step one in this effort:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Product & Start-up Material Planning is really simple, I swear

JTAG board 1I'm not giving away any secrets in this post. Material Planning professionals all know that the key to on-time delivery performance is to extend supply chain visibility as far as possible. This is the key to Sales & Operations Planning, but if your company does not have a robust S&OP process, you can still close this loop by inserting yourself and the planning organization in the sales pursuit.

I've been involved early in the sales pursuit process several times, as well as had products/programs "thrown over the transom" as they say. I have a simple process I follow to manage the material planning function on those programs where I've been involved early. I follow the same process on those "over the transom" programs to place the challenge into perspective for management and the program team so recovery decisions can be made as appropriate. Here it is in a simplified flow chart:

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Logical Approach to Safety Stock, Without Statistics

dandoodlescan065-inventory is wasteIn it's entry on Safety Stock, Wikipedia states that some of the more common reasons for safety stock include:
# Supplier may deliver their product late or not at all
# The warehouse may be on strike
# A number of items at the warehouse may be of poor quality and replacements are still on order
# A competitor may be sold out on a product, which is increasing the demand for your products
# Random demand (in reality, random events occur)
# Machinery Breakdown
# Unexpected increase in demand

There are many reasons and methods for calculating safety stock,

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How to grill a steak to a perfect medium

hangar steak
The following is a re-post originally written by me for another blog. I am in the process of streamlining my portfolio and moving the greatest posts to this site. Hope you enjoy.

Everyone has a secret way of timing the grilling of a steak to perfectly pink medium. Some use a timer, or a meat thermometer, or can tell by pressing on the steak with a thumb and feeling the resistance.

I have a different way, one that involves a ritual appreciated by every man and woman I've allowed to witness.

Years ago, I found that the time it takes to grill a steak to a perfect medium equals the time it takes me to drink an ice-cold beer.

"But, what about the thickness of the cut?"

I drink faster or slower, as thickness dictates.

"What about temperature variations?"

What variations? Pre-heat the gas grill on high, place the meat on the grill, drop the temp to low, and take a sip. When you get halfway through the bottle, flip the steak.

Is this science? Is it art?

I have no idea. But I sure like grilling, and my steak comes off the grill perfect every time.

Creative Commons License photo credit: stu_spivack

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Are social order and individualism mutually exclusive?

Singapore Street Art
Like many parents, I dream of my children attending highly-regarded universities whose graduates go on to fascinating careers and change the world. But then, I realize they will be taught by people that write and publish the following:
Singapore is tiny compared to the United States (and most other countries, for that matter), but that doesn't mean it can't be a model. Barack Obama keeps saying that we need to buckle down and work hard to build an economy based on real production, not hollow financial chicanery. We need a little more social order, and a little less individualism [emphasis mine]. Singapore has already pulled off both objectives, and continues to provide a good example of good judgment for the United States and the rest of the world. Singapore: A Model of Judgment for the United States?

Actually, the article is pretty good and resonates perfectly with conversations I've had with colleagues overseas. Singapore is a fascinating place. But, that last paragraph sure did leave a bad taste in my mouth. I would argue we need more individualism, more of the thinkers, creators, and builders that will create The Next Big Thing and solve The Big Problems. I'm not so sure that Singapore doesn't encourage individualism; I suspect the author may be mistaken. I also don't agree that social order and individualism are mutually exclusive.

Your thoughts?

Creative Commons License photo credit: koalazymonkey

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ghandi was half right

Ghandi once remarked that there are two kinds of people: Those that do the work and those that worry about getting the credit, and he advised that one should try to be in the first group. A noble sentiment, but in the real world I find such a person does not exist. I include myself in this analysis.

For each of us, there is a lifetime work-credit graph similar to a supply-demand market equilibrium graph in economics; ideally, we want to be working at equilibrium with the credit we receive. But, there are times where we work harder than we get credit for, and times where we get credit we don't necessarily deserve. Human nature being what it is, we often put our efforts into those things that will maximize the credit we receive, regardless of the actual amount of work (or value!) we bring to our jobs.

Additionally, I've often complained that there is a reason that people who are good crisis managers got that way. In my experience, they experience an abnormally high number of crises, and then are congratulated for solving their own problems. I don't appreciate these people the way others might. I believe a professional works to minimize their problems and variability, and understands their issues without needing to "go get their arms around it".

So, I spend time every week developing tools at work that I hope will increase the value I bring to my job. It is an iterative process, always looking for that perfect tool that gives me perfect visibility. I'll never find perfection, but the search gets me closer with every iteration.

I use most of these tools to analyze MY own performance and those things under MY control. I work in an extremely complex, dynamic environment, but the optimal work model in my industry is to minimize variation and maximize repeatability. As a Master Scheduler, I control much of the front-end of the manufacturing process - any variation on my part bullwhips through the organization. Variation isn't something that can be avoided, however, but as a professional I need to be diligent about controlling those factors under my control.

Primarily, I use pivot tables in MSExcel in this process. I track demands over time, supply exceptions over time, excess/obsolete over time... well, you notice "over time" is the critical factor. After each MRP run (we run weekly), I export all of my data and review several critical factors: has my backlog changed, is my planned order report correct, has my excess/obsolete moved unexpectedly in either direction, and has the exception report changed positively or negatively. There are many other items I track, but I start with these and use them to uncover issues and troubleshoot them prior to someone else asking me that dreaded question, "What happened?"

I paste the data into spreadsheets and add a column for the date, then run a pivot table with the date across the top and the data being measured in the vertical column(s). Now I have a neat, easily-built, easily-understood trend analysis showing how the data changes over time. From here, I look for exceptions, troubleshoot, pareto, and start working to resolve as quickly as possible.

At this point, I am out in front of the rest of organization. No one is coming to me with a problem, asking how it occurred, and wanting to know how it will be fixed. The problem didn't cascade or mushroom through the rest of the organization; most people never know the problem exists unless they're involved in the resolution or I choose to tell them. The discipline with which I maintain and work this data provides me the opportunity to show my work in it's best light. Ghandi was half right; There are two kinds of people, but I try to be in both groups.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Where's the manners, Huntsville?

Living and working in Alabama, you expect good manners and polite behavior. Southern hospitality and all that.

Except on the roads of Huntsville.

Question for Huntsvillians: Why no thank-you waves in traffic? I slow down, let you merger easily, you just drive on like I HAD to do it. I didn't. So, give me the wave, huh?

jr44714-hand-n-smile-cropBack in Jax, a full-blown NFL city with 1M+ residents, thank-you waves were taken for granted; you let someone in, you get the wave, you give a you're-welcome wave back, and we all go on our merry way. Here in this less-congested, more laid-back small city, it's bad enough we all drive like we're at Talledega but the lack of common courtesy is disconcerting. Think of my blood pressure, will ya'?

Personally, I blame it on the Yankees that move here. They're a rude people. So let's do what we can to educate them, shall we?

Give us a wave!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Work - Life Balance isn't always possible, so suck it up

There is an old joke that goes something like this:

Two guys were hiking in the woods when they startled a bear. They took off running, and one guy said to the other "We're never going to outrun this bear".

The second said, "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you."

For years, people in my post-baby-boom generation have been told that the secret to success and happiness is work-life balance. They rank their priorities and consistently (and rightly) place family above work, then interpret "balance" and "priorities" to mean they should be spending as much TIME with their family as they do at work. They make it a point to be at every soccer practice, PTA meeting, and handle their share of the pick-up duties. I myself believed this for many years, right up until I was laid off several years ago.

This is when I learned an important lesson: Placing your family ahead of work in order of importance doesn't necessarily mean you devote the same amount of TIME and ENERGY to being WITH your family; it means you place your family's welfare and well-being ahead of work. Believe it or not, your family doesn't ALWAYS need you around. But, they do need you to provide a home and food and health care and the other necessities of life. And then they need your time. It is work, your job, that provides these things.

Like it or not, there are going to be people that are as good or better than you. There can only be one #1, and if you want to be that star performer, the one that is still around when the layoffs are done, you will have to work harder. Don't give me that tired old mantra "Work smarter, not harder". Today it is "Work smarter AND harder".

There are going to be great periods at work where everything runs smoothly and you're out of work on time and you're able to coach the t-ball team. But there are also going to be periods where the challenges are huge, and the winners at work will be the ones that step up and do what is necessary to overcome the challenges. These periods don't last forever, although sometimes it can feel like they will. So, explain to your family that for the next few months you're going to miss dinner twice a week, then stick around and take care of that last meeting at 6 pm.

In my current position, I recently transitioned what I do to another plant in my company located in Asia. At the time, I was working my way out of a job but I embraced this and I worked the long hours and made the tough decisions. Late-night conference calls and 4 a.m. email checks, with a ton of complex, difficult work in-between were the norm for several months.  Now, I've been entrusted with several programs that have been deemed critical to the future of our business unit in Huntsville, all because I made the choice to work harder and smarter. This is paying off by providing the security my family needs right now, and the opportunity to improve our financial situation despite the worst economic times in our lives.

Lest you think this is a self-congratulating post, allow me to point out that my counterparts in Asia that now work my old program are 12 timezones ahead of me. When I arrive at 7 a.m., I have a full inbox of complex communications, and these continue to come well into my morning. When I leave between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., I've already received the first of the emails for the following day. Remember this the next time you wonder why manufacturers build everything they can overseas.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Twitter as a tool

Jeremiah Owyang has a post where he thinks ahead to how the emergence of Twitter in the mainstream is going to change the nature of Twitter.

Among the insights aboout celebs will use and be able to monetize Twitter, and how the early-adopters are beginning to react, was this nugget:
More Hay and less Needles
This increase in people, and brands of all sorts joining Twitter will cause more noise and content to be created. We haven’t even seen the half of it, as devices like your car, laptop, can start auto-emitting signals that could become tweets. As a result, expect more filtering tools and analysis by humans to matter more and more.

To me, these would be needles, not hay. I've heard of the emergence of technologies that would permit a refrigerator, for instance, to send a signal to the owner and the warranty-repair facility when it senses a component failing. Adding this capability to to electronic and mechanical devices in the home, utilizing Wi-Fi as the signal transport, and Twitter (or Facebook or just plain old e-mail) would be a killer-app for someone like me.

For instance, my car, sitting in garage, would be within my wireless network and would send a tweet saying "Time to change the oil (or brakepads or transmission fluid...)". If the car had the ability to sense critical failures and notify me: "I am sensing a loss of radiator fluid in excess of normal usage", it would trigger me to search out a leak in a hose before I wind up on the side of the highway with a looming tow and expensive repair bill.

Would I pay more for a car/refrigerator/washing machine/dishwahser/TV with this feature? Sure, depending on the product and its tendency to fail. A car is easy; repairs are expensive and I am not a car-guy. I need prompting of this sort. Household appliances? Depends. Most of mine last years and years and years, so the value I would perceive for this technology would not be as great as with a car.

Like any option on any product, there will be a market for this technology that will depend on the relative value of the technology versus the price of the product (easier sell on more expensive products) and the perceived value to the user. Do I see making twitter a utilitarian tool, in addition to a social networking tool, a good thing?

You bet.

Oh yeah, Tweet me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Still in Exile

I wrote this post a year ago on a florida-related blog, shortly after moving alone to Huntsville, AL.

"The only thing wrong with Huntsville is that it is surrounded by Alabama"

- Something I read in some newspaper

I'm missing my kids. You never realize how much you need physical contact like a hug until there's no one around to give you one.

Ah well, slowly but surely I'm getting back in my routines. Spending the weekend doing laundry and cleaning and organizing and getting set to move into a real apartment at the end of the month was a big weight off my shoulders.

Some observations about Huntsville;

  • The worst. drivers. ever. And I've lived in Orlando, with tourists. I mean, I'm a guy that drives 80 mph as a rule, but this place is like the training grounds for Talledega. And everyone has a cell phone in their ear while driving. The faster they drive, the more they talk. Weird. But it's not just the speed, it's the weaving and cutting in and out. If there ain't rubbing, it ain't racin' right?

  • There's a morning news anchor that holds up various local and national newspapers and reads from them. WTF? I could do THAT.

  • I ate breakfast at a restaurant called "Waffle King". It's exactly like Waffle House, but cleaner. I mean, every single bit is exactly like Waffle House. The whole time all I could think of was Coming to America.

"Look... me and the McDonald's people got this little misunderstanding. See, they're McDonald's... I'm McDowell's. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds."
-Cleo McDowell

  • Being in the Central Time Zone sucks. Who wants to watch Lost at 8 p.m.?

  • Oh, the big news on the morning and evening news today is there's a Bass Pro Shop being built over in Decatur!

  • Old-school Publix, a mile away. Floridians know what I'm talking about.

  • I've been watching way too much TMZ.

  • I'm pretty sure Huntsville has the most Walmarts per capita in the world.

  • I saw Bill Clinton having breakfast with a Brunette at the Waffle King yesterday. I think.

  • The number of Meth-Treatment billboards around town was unexpected.

  • But, in the ten days I've been here, I haven't seen a single report of a murder. Jacksonville can't made it 24 hrs without one.

  • For someone that once owned a 4 bedroom home, it's shocking to see how little of what I own is actually mine, and how little of my "things" I really need. It's all here in one room.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Annie Goes to Space Camp for Free

annie-the-astronautSo, right when I post about republishing content from my other sites, I wind up with some news that deserves an original post.

My oldest daughter just won a full scholarship to Space Camp! She has wanted to go since we moved to Huntsville a year ago, and even started a website to beg for money from the friends and relatives raise the funds to go.

We've been on vacation in Florida all week and arrived home to find the message on the answering machine. We'll get more details this week, hopefully, but what we know is that this is a competitive, merit-based award, and it is good for one year. She had to write an essay about an astronaut she would like to meet and what she would ask them (answer: Buzz Aldrin), design a mission patch that reflected her personality, and get letters of recommendation. Her teacher and gifted instructor provided letters, and the principal from her last school in Florida wrote the best letter of recommendation I've ever seen, which I am sure put her over the top.

Exciting times, indeed!

Recycling and Repurposing

recycleSo what do you do when you've been a blogger for about 5 years and you have thousands of words written and spread across a couple dozen blogs?

Well, following the 80/20 rule, most of what you've written is crap, but there are always a few nuggets that have come out along the way. I've heard that you can sit a monkey at a typewriter and it is statistically possible he will eventually write a novel just by pressing random keys. So, that's me. I'm a monkey.

Anyway, I've decided that the few nuggets I've produced will be republished here. Just the stuff to which I don't mind attaching my name. The crap can stay where it lies.

So, look for more frequent updates (yeah, yeah, I know) that start with the tag line "Originally published...". I warn you, my interests are pretty broad and the posts will range from how to present a forecast to management, to eating grouper bits in the Sea World employee cafeteria, to how to run a semi-bluff in a medium-stakes poker tournament.

What can I say, I'm a renassaince man.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Paying it forward

I've been on both sides of this - a son whose father was looking for a job, and as a father with kids that just want to help. Check it out and pass it on:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Pro's and Con's of Being a Sole-Breadwinner

When my first child was born in 1999, my wife and I made the decision that she would stay home from work, at least for a while. My wife worked for a major bank of America (ahem), working in human resources. When the layoff notices associated with a merger came out, she volunteered to go on the list. With almost 15 years service, her severance package was really nice. At the same time, she had a network of consultants that hired her to do a couple projects that kept a nice side income running.

But life being what it is, the side jobs petered out and the lion's share of our income soon came from my job. In the intervening years, a second child was born and my wife has decided to work a variety of work-from-home jobs for a little extra money. We've also experienced a nice run in my career that was followed by a dramatic layoff and career-renassaince (you can't keep a good man down!).

So, we've EXPERIENCED life on a single-income and I thought you might be interested to hear a few thoughts aboout it if you're considering the same:

Pro: My wife is always there for anything the kids need.

Con: There is no money for extras, most of the time.

Pro: I never have to take time off for things like taking the car to the mechanic or meeting the cable guy.

Con: There is no money for extras, most of the time.

Pro: When my daughters are sick, they stay home and go the doctor rather than go to school and day care where they will infect everyone else because there was no adult in the house ablt to take time off from work.

Con: There is no money for extras, most of the time.

Pro: My kids are able to participate in any and all after-school activities that we can afford.

Con: There is no money for extras, most of the time.

Pro: I have had the opportunity to explore a variety of ways to earn a side income and enriched my life in more ways than just monetary.

Con: There is no money for extras, most of the time.

Pro: I'm the guy that people at work can count on to stay late and do the work that needs to be done because someone I love is taking care of other people I love, freeing me to do what I need to do to get ahead.

Con: There is NO MONEY for extras, MOST OF THE TIME!

The tradeoffs are different for every family. What is right for mine may not be right for yours. But, as hard as it is (and it is HARD!), I sleep well at night knowing that my wife and I prioritized our children over money and material items.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Working out writing less

Don't worry, this isn't one of those "I'm such a bad blogger, I promise to write more" posts. I'm just trying to work through some motivation/writer's block issues and figured, yeah, writing about it might help.

The past 4 or 5 years I'd wager I've written on a couple dozen blogs, several hundred thousand words on topics as varied as how to cook a fried egg to understanding explicit and implicit pot odds in limit poker. Don't worry, I'm a terrible poker player; perhaps one day we can play so you can see just how bad. Ahem.

I've written love letters to my children. I've written modestly funny posts about Corbin Bleu's hair, and I've written about my frustrations with the Catholic Church (Oh yeah, I used to be an alter boy, and the answer is "No"). I've written things for which people I care about applauded me, and things that embarrassed me so much I destroyed them. That last part is inevitable when you mostly write but are too lazy to edit.

I enjoy writing, and express myself better in print than in person. Sometimes, I get too wordy and I remind myself that the secret to good writing is this:
"Eliminate unnecessary words"

I think the world would be infinitely better if people took this approach to their verbal interactions. But, what do I know? I'm an INTJ. We aren't known for our social skills.

I do know real-life is making huge demands right now. Like most people, nothing at work is guaranteed and I've been given an opportunity to succeed greatly or flame out brilliantly. It seems as though every waking moment is consumed with thoughts of the job. But, at this middle-aged, mid-career stage of life I know these things are cyclical.

Soon, things will break one way or the other and I'll have the time to exercise the right side of my brain... or is it the left side? I can never keep 'em straight. Anyway, for work, I stay buried in spreadsheets; for fun, word processors.

I don't know that I've resolved my issues, but I do feel better confirming for myself that time will fix this. I don't need to push.