So where was I last night, [Peach] asks, when he tried to call me at home? Under the circumstances, I can’t tell him I have a personal life. I can’t tell him that the first two times the phone rang, I let it ring because I was in the middle of a fight with my wife, which, oddly enough, was about how little attention I’ve been giving her. And the third time, I didn’t answer it because we were making up.
When I came back to manage this plant, the Bearington Herald did a story on me. I know, big deal. But I was kind of a minor celebrity for a while. The local boy had made it big. It was sort of a high-school fantasy come true. I hate to think that the next time my name is in the paper, the story might be about the plant closing. I’m starting to feel like a traitor to everybody.
Halfway to the city, the sun rises. By then, I’m too busy thinking to notice it at first. I glance to the side and it’s floating out there beyond the trees. What makes me mad sometimes is that I’m always running so hard that—like most other people, I guess—I don’t have time to pay attention to all the daily miracles going on around me. Instead of letting my eyes drink in the dawn, I’m watching the road and worrying about Peach.
“…consistent parameters…essential to gain…matrix of advantage…extensive pre-profit recovery…operational indices…provide tangential proof…”
I have no idea what’s going on. Their words sound like a different language to me—not a foreign language, exactly, but a language I once knew and only vaguely now recall. The terms seem familiar to me, but now I’m not sure what they really mean. They’re just words.
You’re just playing a lot of games with numbers and words.
Can I assume that making people work and making money are the same thing? We’ve tended to do that in the past. The basic rule has just been to keep everybody and everything out here working all the time; keep pushing that product out the door. And when there isn’t any work to do, make some. And when we can’t make them work, lay them off.
“Everything is for your job,” she says. “It’s all you think about. I can’t even count on you for dinner. And the kids are asking me why you’re like this—”
There is a tear forming in the corner of her eye. I reach to wipe it away, but she brushes my hand aside.
“No!” she says. Just go catch your plane to wherever it is you’re going.”
She walks past me.
“Julie, this is not fair!” I yell at her.
She turns to me.
“That’s right. You are not being fair. To me or to your children.”
Our hike is a set of dependent events…in combination with statistical fluctuations. Each of us is fluctuating in speed, faster and slower. But the ability to go faster than average is restricted. It depends upon all the others ahead of me in line. So even if I could walk five miles per hour, I couldn’t do it if the boy in front of me could only walk two miles per hour. And even if the kid directly in front of me could walk that fast, neither of us could do it unless all the boys in the line were moving at five miles per hour at the same time.
“This much is clear to me. We have to change the way we think about production capacity. We cannot measure the capacity of a resource in isolation. Its true productive capacity depends upon where it is in the plant. And trying to level capacity with demand to minimize expenses has really screwed us up. We shouldn’t be trying to do that at all.”
“A bottleneck […] is any resource whose capacity is qual to or less than the demand placed upon it. And a non-bottleneck is any resource whose capacity is greater than the demand placed upon it.”
“Alex, tell your children what’s bothering you,” my mother says, “It affects them too.”
I look at the kids and realize my mother’s right.
“Look, I’m convinced you did the right thing back there. Aren’t you?”
“Maybe I did the right thing,” [Bob] says, “but I had to break all the rules to do it.”
“I’m going to have Bob Donovan put together an I.E. to write up [your new] procedures formally, so we can start using them round the clock. […] You keep that mind of yours working. We need it.”
“But what are we supposed to do?” asks Bob. “If we don’t keep our people working, we’ll have idle time, and idle time will lower our efficiencies.”
“So what?” asks Jonah. […] “Take a look at the monster you’ve made. It did not create itself. You have created this mountain of inventory with your own decisions. And why? Because of the wrong assumption that you must make the workers produce 100 percent of the time, or else get rid of them to ‘save’ money.”
“I’m working.” I tell her.
“Can I help?” [Sharon] asks.
“Well…I don’t know,” I say. “It’s kind of technical. I think you’ll probably be bored by it.”
“Oh,” she says. “does that mean you want me to leave?”
“No, not if you want to stay,” I tell her. “Do you want to try to solve a problem?”
“Okay,” she says, brightening.
“If we don’t go ahead with a system to withhold inventory and release it according to the bottlenecks, we’ll be missing a major opportunity to improve performance and save the plant. And I’m not about to stand by and let that happen just to maintain a standard that obviously has more impact on middle management politics than it does on the bottom line. I say we go ahead with this. And if efficiencies drop, let them.”
“It’s perfectly okay to have more setups on non-bottlenecks, because all we’re doing is cutting into time the machines would spend being idle. Saving setups at a non-bottleneck doesn’t make the system one bit more productive.”
Living and breathing within range of my sight are 30,000 people who have no idea that one small but important part of the town’s economic future will be decided tomorrow. Most of them haven’t the slightest interest in the plant or what we’ve done here—except if UniWare closes us, they’ll be mad and scared. And if we stay open? Nobody will care. Nobody will even know what we went through.
I start to speak, but Hilton Smyth raises his voice and talks over me.
“The fact of the matter is that your cost-of-products measurements increased,” says Hilton. “And when costs go up, profits have to go down. It’s that simple. And that’s the basis of what I’ll be putting into my report to Bill Peach.”
“Hilton, this morning I asked you to sit in for me because we were meeting with Granby. Two months from now the three of us are moving up the ladder, to head the group. Granby left it to us to decide who will be the next manager of the division. I think that the three of us have decided. Congratulations Alex; you will be the one to replace me.”
A chill goes down my back as I remember it. I was in deep trouble. My plant was under a real threat of being closed down; over 600 people were about to join the already long unemployment lines; my career was one inch from being kissed by limbo; and on top of all that, the unbelievable hours I was putting in at work had pushed our marriage to the brink of going down the tube. In short, I was about to change from a bright, rising star to an ordinary bum.
“[Jonah’s] solutions look trivial, but the fact is that for years we’ve done the exact opposite. Moreover, the other plants insist on sticking to the old, devastating ways. Probably Mark Twain was right saying that ‘common sense is not common at all’ or something similar.”
“Everywhere, improvement was interpreted as almost synonymous to cost savings. People are concentrating on reducing operating expenses as if it’s the most important measurement.”
“Not even that,” Bob interrupts. “We were busy reducing costs that didn’t have any impact on reducing operating expenses.”
“Correct,” Lou continues. “But the important thing is that we, in our plant, have switched to regard throughput as the most important measurement. Improvement for us is not so much to reduce costs but to increase throughput.”
“Things start to be connected to each other. Things that we never thought were related start to be strongly connected to each other. One single common cause is the reason for a very large spectrum of different effects. You know Julie, it’s like order is built out of chaos. What can be more beautiful than that?”