My boss, Dr. Christopher Logan, asked me to come to his office at 2pm sharp, and report in detail how come the delivery to MKM did not have all the 100 B12 units. I know how such meetings are conducted: it looks friendly enough, but actually there is nothing friendly in such a meeting. The kind of attitude, “we are nice understanding people” is supposed to hang over, but beneath the politeness you’re on TRIAL – try to prove it is not YOUR incompetence that caused the trouble.
Such a hostile inquiry takes place every two months. Many things go wrong every day, but only few receive this kind of treatment. It is usually because the client is very important, very big or new, and when such a client is making a complaint then the incident becomes critical and somebody has to be blamed and punished.
MKM is both big and new. From whatever reason, getting 97 good units, out of 100, exactly on the formal due-date, was not enough for them. I promised immediately to deliver the missing three units in five business days. Apparently this was not good enough, so a formal complaint was put on Dr. Logan’s desk. I have no idea how come the delivery of all 100 units at the promised day is so sensitive that 3% less is such a disaster.
I’m now preparing my defense, trying not to exaggerate too much the role of Freddy in the blunder. I know that almost every one of my people might have done the same mistake he did, and that mistake only partially led to missing the delivery. As MKM demanded 100 good units that would pass their test in full no later than June 1st, 2018, we decided to produce 120 units, as there is no viable way to identify such quality exceptions in B12 production in an early stage. Freddy mistake was assuming that a temperature of less than 1 degree above the standard is still within the control limits. Usually this is right, but for MKM specifications it is not. That small deviation impacted, at most, five units, because the temperature was fixed very fast. Five out of the extra buffer of twenty cannot be the only reason that only 97 units passed the MKM test. We, by the way, sent 101 units that passed our own test, rejecting 19 due to variety of reasons. How come four units, which passed our test, failed in their similar test is an open question. No one, I repeat, NO ONE, has any explanation for this fact.
This is the situation I face and I just hope it won’t turn out as bad as the blunder of last year, which led to the layoff of two good people. The charge was not paying enough attention to rare and unfortunate incident that caused the breakdown of expensive equipment. In such cases, Dr. Logan is taking the juridical authority to find who to blame. I actually understand him; his superiors would blame him unless he succeeds to find another scapegoat. So, it is now my mission to avoid being the scapegoat. I hope I’d succeed also to prevent Freddy from such undeserved verdict.
Part of the pain we in feel in Operations is that things could have been much better if we would have known more about the clients true needs. We are told not to be in touch with the clients, so all I’m able to know is what is written in the documents submitted by the clients. We only see the name of the client, the name of the responsible product manager and a list of specifications without much detail. The product managers also know very little on the client true needs. I suggested Larry, the product manager responsible for MKM, that we deliver first 50-60 units of the order already in May 16th and two weeks later all the rest. The reason was that we had to split the order into two batches due to some technical difficulties. Larry called them and got a refusal, but no explanations.
Why do I have to function under strict instructions which I fail to see their rational?
Why I meet the executives, to whom Dr. Logan reports, only in special public ceremonies?
All I see above me is Dr. Logan. The rest are located far away and there is no active dialogue between me and them.
I stay in this company, first of all, because I have a wife and two small daughters. I also think I’m doing a very good job. I cannot prove it, but I think that under someone else, with less experience and technical knowledge, the MKM failures would triple. Most of the time the procedures we have, and the willingness of my people to react to any signal pointing that something might be wrong, keep what I consider to be very good overall quality of operations.
But, the ridiculous performance measurements look as if our performance is just moderate. The cost of our operations is, according to the measurements and the funny benchmarking they use, somewhat higher than the “average” of similar facilities. This is so wrong that it is an insult! If you don’t even contemplate to listen to us in order to understand what we do and why we do it this way, how do you expect us to improve?
I feel the situation is “us against them” – the people who do the job against the people who play the role of God and judge our performance, even though in some public speeches they say “we have to do much better”, making the wrong impression that they think they should improve as well. I don’t think Dr. Logan believes he has to improve. He has me and my people to improve, and it is just me who has to learn the lesson and make sure the MKM case would never happen again.
So, here is a potential action plan. I shall argue that the whole incident happened because Sales intentionally concealed part of the detailed specifications of the order, being concerned we’d reject the order, because we don’t have the capability to do it right. Larry, the product manager, told us that the chief salesperson hinted that MKM has the most sophisticated equipment in the world. I didn’t see the implications at the time, but it is evident now that such equipment allows more precise measurements, so it could be that the true specifications were not given to us because our equipment is unable to meet such precise specifications.
Does MKM really needs more precise specifications for their products?
Fact is that 97 units have passed the test. It means that our equipment is able to achieve the required specifications. But how can we test the final quality when our testing equipment is not the same as MKM new testing equipment?
2 thoughts on “The Frustration of a Middle-level Manager – A short story by Eli Schragenheim”
Oh, this is a good one, Eli. We call it the mushroom principle: Keep the employees in the dark and cover them with s**t. You can bet it builds the opposite of love, trust and respect in their minds. Yet, management is not evil, they are stuck in a conflict based on their understanding of the situation.
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Thanks for this small story. Every time I read your blog it offers many hint and questions. Questions that work alone on my mind.
I understand the way of thinking of the company cause when there are only 2 status (dead or alive) you start using run of fight status and in this status is complex to have rational thinking.