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.