Saturday, March 4, 2023

Random Story

There I was, working at a factory 94 miles from the end of my driveway in a job that was a "musical chairs" selection. That is the nature of job placement in an organization that is swirling the drain and imploding. You jump on any job that is offered when your plant is a casualty of "rationalizing production".

I was responsible for supervising a swath of factory floor that was approximately 50 yards in one direction and 200 yards in the other with about 300 welding robots and about twenty production employees.

It was not obvious to me that there was a major hate-war going on within one group of technical people responsible for keeping the equipment running to spec.

A "golden-haired child" had been moved into the position of the boss of that group of technical people and the people under her hated her with the heat and passion of a thousand dying suns. It was clear that she would get credit for anything good that happened and they would be thrown under the bus for anything that was suboptimal.

Being close to the company Headquarters, this was not the first rodeo for the guys on the floor. They understood it was all about the metrics and they knew how to throw turds into the punch-bowl.

One of those "metrics" was the level of "common cause" dimensional variation of the product being produced. That was reported out on the company's internal website on a daily basis. Specifically, every critical dimension on the product was measured on the every product, the standard deviation for the day's production was calculated for each attribute. The attributes were rank-ordered from high variation to low variation and the 5th percentile from the left was reported as the single metric.

"My" new plant was in the toilet while one of our sister plants (same product) was the star.

My crew of employees were a seasoned crew and needed little direction. They told me to sit in the office (a phone booth) and play on the computer. So I did.

If you knew where to look, the company website had sub-modules that allowed the diligent digger to analyze the data. So I did. One of those modules performed Principal Component Analysis and animated the results on a stick-figure of the product we produced.

It became clear that the dominant cause of dimensional variation was "rigid body" chucking from side-to-side and that it was coming out of the part of the factory I was responsible for.

---An Aside---

Rigid body, side-to-side chucking is not a customer issue. As a customer, if you walked up to our product in a parking lot, the fact that a vehicle was "parked" 1.5mm to the right or left would be totally invisible to you as long as the doors were correct to the openings, the fenders to the hood and so on.

If I were compelled to make my boss look bad, it would be a simple matter to not replace a worn pin in the measurement station and then to adjust the carrier guides so the job was transferred into the measurement station biased to the left from one half of the line and to the right from the mirror image.

If the pin was not worn enough and I had a loyal minion, it would be a simple matter to swap-out the main locating pin in the measurement station with a worn or undersized one that had not been thrown out. One could even step-down with a more worn-down pin every few weeks...or gently breath on the existing one with a grinder.

The metric would gently slide into the septic tank during the bad-boss's tenure and the customers would not be hurt.

---End Aside---

Under the rules-of-engagement in my new job, I could request electrician work but no other skilled trades.

I had the electricians "touch up" the welder robot programming in the last station of the two processes feeding into the measurement station but there was no impact on the metric or the Principal Components when we fired back up on Monday morning.

Either the robot programming was not a major contributor or the person who was responsible for the sabotage let the electricians earn their over-time over the weekend and then directed them to download the previous, production programs over the top of the work they (or the previous shift) had done.

Did I raise the issue with my management?


94 miles is a long way to walk home. One of the loyal minions popped into the phone-booth and reminded me of that fact on Monday morning.

Who won; the boss or the angry worker?

The boss won. She got a series of promotions afterward and now works at HQ. Her performance was never a factor beyond being able to impress her bosses. She was in the factory getting her ticket-punched.

One would hope that she learned that getting into a war with the people you must rely on to perform their work in a professional manner is not a good plan.

The last time I visited that plant it had been turned into a 3,000,000 square-foot slab of concrete. The Corporation had closed it as not economical to run.

How bad was the boss?

I was car-pooling with one of my buddies who also had a +90 mile commute. He had 18 years in with the company.

The bad-boss demanded that he come to work every Saturday and Sunday but refused to pay him. She told him to direct the hourly skilled trades to disassemble the production tools and for him to carefully note what he saw and then he was to have the skilled trades reassemble the tools without fixing anything.

He was required to verbally report out what he saw and SHE would decide what to address. Unbelievably, he was not allowed to take photos (i.e. create evidence) of what he saw but had to render what he saw into simple one and two syllable words that she, a business major, could understand.

He tendered his resignation after fifty weeks of not getting paid (nominally time-and-a-half on Saturday and double-time on Sunday) for a single weekend AND because he was not trusted to fix the problems he encountered.


  1. “If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders - What would you tell him?"

    I…don't know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?"

    To shrug.”
    ― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

    I need to re-read Atlas Shrugged again to see what chapter we are in now.

  2. I'm surprised he lasted that long, or didn't reach out to a 'rabbi' to help him with that boss.

    1. Interesting comment about the rabbi. Corporate America is much less mobile than the military and the rabbi(s) got left behind in the post plant-closing diaspora.

      My perception of the military is that the constant mixing and moving makes it more homogeneous than assembly plants AND the idea of calling somebody on the other side of the world to ask advice isn't outlandish.

      And the rabbi might have advised Wes to bail out. Every open job had many, many applicants as the corporation continued to trim so transferring away from the problem was not a viable option.

  3. Thanks for the insight ERJ. I have worked for some bosses that were very difficult to work for and did not want to hear any opinions contrary to theirs, but that is a new level of unpleasantness.

  4. As a former QA, I totally understand the measuring pin issue. Thank goodness I have never worked for anyone quite as bad as that boss you wrote about here. A couple have been somewhat close, though. The bigger the company, the worse it usually is, especially if corporate management wants to micromanage.

    1. There are times and places where one's opinions of one's own people skills is not enough to carry the day. Sometimes, a "manager" must learn the technical side of the job.

      If I could find and use the Plant's own data, then why couldn't she?

    2. Often such is a case of willful ignorance. One of the worst General Managers I worked for was a one trick pony. He thought Lean and 5S would solve everything. It doesn't do squat when you don't have a solid business plan that adapts with the market (small ammunition manufacturer) and you are wasting people's time doing mandatory 5S busywork just for the numbers with no tangible gains. He was also indecisive and arrogant. He nearly killed the company before they finally got rid of him and started trying to rehire the people he had gotten rid of, like myself.

  5. On the flip side, I worked with a guy who back in the 1960's was a night shift manager at a local bottling plant when soda was still put up in glass bottles. He barely had an 8th grade education but he knew machinery, and people. He told me he would walk the lines with a couple of wrenches in hand and gradually turn up the speed of the equipment until things were really flying, run it that way, and toward end of shift slow everything back down to "normal" speed. He said they smoked day shift production consistently and he never let the "office" know what was happening. He gave all credit to the crew.
    From what he told me, after he left the plant, production never equaled what his crew could put out, and I believe him.


  6. Anybody with any actual skills that puts up with such shitty management deserves whatever they suffer. And waiting nearly a year to quit after not getting overtime pay...something the State would have happily forced the company to the sign of a fool. Only minimum wage unskilled labor is normally in a position to get ass reamed by brain dead managers. Anyone with knowledge and skills can always find a greener pasture if they look hard enough.

    1. He was hanging on for the retirement plan. He had to put in ten more years....

      The net-present value of the "bridge benefit" for 30-and-out was about $120k

      It was cheaper to lose the retirement and stay married, I am thinking.

    2. Overtime pay might be dictated at the State level.

      Salary means "straight pay" and there are professional expectations to "give" some hours to the company. Those expectations vary by company and community.

      However, if the organization chart says you are directing hourly, contract covered employees then you are a "Supervisor" and the company is legally required pay.

  7. Her name wouldn't be Mary Barra, would it?

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