Friday, February 21, 2003

So another good man was in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the wrong job ...a BAE SYSTEMS commercial guy got shot in Riyadh. It's true he was a commercial chap, and they are so nit-picky they might just as well be quality people, but it's very important to realise that just because a company is not to everyone's taste, the people who work there do have lives, and mortgages and opinions of their own.

Another good man just happened to be in possession of the murder weapon - it's presented very coyly in the UK press. Just because someone happens to be holding the alleged murder weapon, does that make him the definitive murderer? OK, this guy is alleged to be a Toyota car salesman, but he must have some good points as well.

There's too much allegation here. The only fact everyone can be sure of is that this BAE guy was alive this morning and he's not now and the only assumption which can be drawn is that he probably did nothing to deserve being shot dead.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Have been having far too close a look at stress for my liking. Examples I've come across include naps at lunchtime, laying one's head on the desk until being interrupted by a fresh crisis, self mutilation ... and taking a half day's holiday. I've been working such long hours, it was difficult to unwind, I even felt guilty at wandering around when everyone else was so busy. On the other hand, I used to work with someone who would defuse tension by hobbling along the corridor, flapping his arms and clucking like a hen. And the huge amount of stress floating around may include the fondness for heading off to the gym. Or standing on the third floor balcony, silent, observing the sun rise.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

I swear one day I'll write a book on bad management. Here's a hypothetical fable. There is a project: difficult specification, difficult customer who insists (why?) on adhering exactly to specification and adding in facts which were assumptions when the drawings were originally constructed, all sorts of patriotic politics, deadlines far too close for comfort.One strategy for management could be to throw all the available resources at it, remembering, in case people felt isolated or deprived of their usual comfortable jobs, to ensure that this as done in addition to normal routine. If this was an exam question, or even a case study, two questions would be asked immediately. First would be whether these people were given a briefing, an overview, even a "Hi, welcome to the project". The second would be to consider how transferable people's skills were in that particular company.

Of course, the empowered worker would take this as a warning to ensure that transferable skills were as flexible as they are supposed to be and learn on the job, effortlessly absorbing all this alien knowledge. Not so empowered workers will wander round, like blind mice, hoping that the farmer's wife's knife will hit some other poor mouse. Here endeth the fable.

Question: does being in a national quality organisation have a direct impact on work of the quality department? I went to a talk recently - more of a question and answer, I suppose - from one of the Institute of Quality Assurance Operations directors. It was very interesting. But it left me wondering just what I get out of being a member? And, next year, when I'm no longer a student and the annual subscription will rise sharply, will I rejoin? At present, the answer isn't an automatic positive. This makes me very sad.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Poka-yokes are not scrambled eggs. Though they sound like them, says a still, small voice in my ear. I've always used them, but now I'm just so continually tired that I'm devising and depending on them. Or should I start all this again with a definition. Mistake proofing devices - automatic ways of ensuring a 100% inspection without having to depend on the human element. To take a grossly simplified example, suppose you were making a box which had to be 25 cm wide, plus or minus 1 cm. If there was a gateway at some essential stage of the process which was, say, 26.1 cm wide, then it would prevent any boxes 26.1cm or wider getting through and ultimately ending up as waste. In manufacturing, they tend to be buzzers, mechanical devices, switches, disconnectors, sensors ... in the office, they tend more to be checklists.

So the option with equipment is either to go round in circles until I'm so paralysed by indecision that I don't even remember what I've done and what I haven't - or to use a checklist and get a kick out of being able to put ticks in bright red ink. I found, to my horror, that for every delivery, each item needs fifteen different actions and my boss has decided that nothing can go unless I'm happy with it. This is great for the ego, but now I have the support engineers coming round to see me every five minutes. Am I happy with the equipment? When will I be happy with it?

And the other gripe of the day is white coats. I don't belong to the department containing the clean room, though I'm down there every couple of hours or so. So I don't have my own white coat. It's very like that problem of a goat, a tiger and a man trying to cross a river, given that two of the group can't cross together or they'll eat each other. There are three exits where white coats can be left, two of which I can get into, the third of which I have to stand, nose pressed against the glass, until someone will let me in - assuming there's someone in there in the first place. One exit goes out into the cold, wet Scottish weather. So I use the other one. For three days last week, there were no white coats. I had to try the other exits and then - because my work involved going into the clean room for something, coming out briefly and then going in again, I found myself walking around with the white coat under my arm, just so that I'd have one around when I needed to get back in. Also, the white coats are cleaned over the weekend, which is all very nice on Monday, and perhaps Tuesday, but engineers have this deeply-rooted feeling that they are not macho men unless they sweat - profusely - and the only thing worse than that is wearing the "one size fits all" coat which is XXL. Which I'm not.

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