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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