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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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"Until you came along," I say. "But you can't be everywhere, and this same kind of thing is going to happen again. So how do we communicate to everybody in the plant which parts are im- portant?"

"I guess we need some kind of system," says Bob.

"Fine. Let's go work on one right away so we don't have to keep putting up with this crap," I say. "And before we do any- thing else, let's make sure that people at both of the bottlenecks know to keep working on the order with the highest priority number on the list."

Bob has a final chat with Otto to make sure he knows what to do with the parts. Then the two of us head for the bottlenecks.

Finally we're walking back to the office. Glancing at Bob's face, I can tell he's still bothered by what happened.

"What's wrong? You look unconvinced about all this," I say.

"Al, what's going to happen if we repeatedly have people break up process runs to run parts for the bottlenecks?" he asks.

"We should be able to avoid idle time on the bottlenecks," I say.

"But what's going to happen to our costs on the other 98 percent of the work centers we got here?" he asks.

"Right now, don't worry about it. Let's just keep the bottle- necks busy," I say. "Look, I'm convinced you did the right thing back there. Aren't you?"

"Maybe I did the right thing," he says, "but I had to break all the rules to do it."

"Then the rules had to be broken," I say. "And maybe they weren't good rules to begin with. You know we've always had to break up process runs for expediency to get orders shipped. The difference between then and now is that now we know to do it ahead of time, before the external pressure comes. We've got to have faith in what we know."

Bob nods in agreement. But I know he'll only believe the proof. Maybe I'm the same, if I'm honest about it.

A few days pass while we develop a system to cure the prob- lem. But at eight o'clock on Friday morning, at the beginning of first shift, I'm in the cafeteria watching the employees wander in. With me is Bob Donovan.

After our earlier misunderstanding, I decided that the more people who know about the bottlenecks and how important they are, the better off we'll be. We're holding fifteen-minute meetings

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with everyone working in the plant, both foremen and hourly people. This afternoon, we'll do the same thing with people working second shift, and I'll come in late tonight to talk to the third shift as well. When we've got everybody this morning, I get up in front of them and talk.

"All of you know that this plant has been in a downward slide for some time. What you don't know is that we're in the position to begin to change that," I tell them. "You're here in this meeting because we're introducing a new system today... a system which we think will make the plant more productive than it's been in the past. In the next few minutes, I'm going to explain briefly some of the background that made us develop this new system. And then Bob Donovan is going to tell you how it works."

Trying to keep meetings to fifteen minutes doesn't give us the time to tell them very much. But using the analogy of an hourglass, I do explain briefly about the bottlenecks and why we have to give priority to parts on the heat-treat and NCX-10 rout- ings. For the things I can't take time to tell them, there is going to be a newsletter, which will replace the old plant employee paper, and which will report developments and progress in the plant.

Anyway, I turn over the microphone to Donovan and he tells them how we're going to prioritize all materials in the plant so everybody knows what to work on.

"By the end of today, all work-in-process on the floor will be marked by a tag with a number on it," he says and holds up some samples. "The tag will be one of two colors: red or green.

"A red marker means the work attached to it has first prior- ity. The red tags go on any materials needing to be processed by a bottleneck. When a batch of parts with that color marker arrives at your work station, you are to work on them right away."

Bob explains what we mean by "right away." If the employee is working on a different job, it's okay to finish what he's doing, as long as it doesn't take more than half an hour. Before an hour has passed, certainly, the red-tagged parts should be getting at- tention.

"If you are in the middle of a setup, break the setup immedi- ately and get ready for the red parts. When you've finished the bottleneck parts, you can go back to what you were doing before.

"The second color is green. When there is a choice between working on parts with a red marker and parts with a green marker, you work on the parts with the red marker first. So far,

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most of the work-in-process out there will be marked by green. Even so, you work on green orders only if you don't have any red ones in queue.

"That explains the priority of the colors. But what happens when you've got two batches of the same color? Each tag will have a number marked on it. You should always work on the materials with the lowest number."

Donovan explains some of the details and answers a couple of questions, after which I wrap it up.

I tell them, "This meeting was my idea. I decided to take you away from your jobs, mostly because I wanted everyone to hear the same message at the same time, so that-I hope-you'll have a better understanding of what's going on. But another reason is that I know it's been a long time since most of you have heard any good news about the plant. What you've just heard about is a beginning. Even so, the future of this plant and the security of your jobs will only be assured when we start making money again. The most important thing you can do is to work with us... and, together, we'll all be working to keep this plant work- ing."

Late that afternoon, my phone rings.

"Hi, this is O'Donnell. Go ahead with the new policy on lunch and coffee breaks. We won't challenge it."

I relay the news to Donovan. And with these small victories, the week ends.

At 7:29 on Saturday evening, I park the washed, waxed, buffed and vacuumed Mazda in the Barnett driveway. I reach for the bouquet of flowers beside me on the seat, and step out onto the lawn wearing my new courting duds. At 7:30, I ring the door- bell.

Julie opens the door.

"Well, don't you look nice," she says.

"So do you," I tell her.

And she does.

There are a few stiff minutes spent talking with her parents. Mr. Barnett asks how everything is going at the plant. I tell him it looks like we may be on our way to a recovery, and mention the new priority system and what it will do for the NCX-10 and heat- treat. Both of her parents look at me blankly.

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