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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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Six months ago, I had occasion to go inside the plant. At the time, we were just looking for some cheap warehouse space nearby. Not that it was my job, but I went over with some other people just to look the place over. (Dreamer that I was when I first got here, I thought maybe someday we'd need more space to expand. What a laugh that is now.) It was the silence that really got to me. Everything was so quiet. Your footsteps echoed. It was weird. All the machines had been removed. It was just a huge empty place.

Driving by it now, I can't help thinking, that's going to be us in three months. It gives me a sick feeling.

I hate to see this stuff happening. The town has been losing major employers at the rate of about one a year ever since the mid-1970s. They fold completely, or they pull out and go else- where. There doesn't seem to be any end to it. And now it may be our turn.

When I came back to manage this plant, the Bearington Her- ald 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

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my name is in the paper, the story might be about the plant closing. I'm starting to feel like a traitor to everybody.

Donovan looks like a nervous gorilla when I get back to the plant. With all the running around he's done today, he must have lost five pounds. As I walk up the aisle toward the NCX-10, I watch him shifting his weight from one leg to the other. Then he paces for a few seconds and stops. Suddenly he darts across the aisle to talk to someone. And then he takes off to check on some- thing. I give him a shrill, two-finger whistle, but he doesn't hear it. I have to follow him through two departments before I can catch up with him-back at the NCX-10. He looks surprised to see me.

"We going to make it?" I ask him.

"We're trying," he says.

"Yeah, but can we do it?"

"We're doing our best," he says.

"Bob, are we going to ship the order tonight or not?"

"Maybe."

I turn away and stand there looking at the NCX-10. Which is a lot to look at. It's a big hunk of equipment, our most expensive n/c machine. And it's painted a glossy, distinctive lavender. (Don't ask me why.) On one side is a control board filled with red, green, and amber lights, shiny toggle switches, a jet black keyboard, tape drives, and a computer display. It's a sexy-looking machine. And the focus of it all is the metal-working being done in the middle of it, where a vise holds a piece of steel. Shavings of metal are being sliced away by a cutting tool. A steady wash of turquoise lubricant splashes over the work and carries away the chips. At least the damn thing is working again.

We were lucky today. The damage wasn't as bad as we had first thought. But the service technician didn't start packing his tools until 4:30. By then, it was already second shift.

We held everybody in assembly on overtime, even though overtime is against current division policy. I don't know where we'll bury the expense, but we've to go get this order shipped tonight. I got four phone calls today just from our marketing manager, Johnny Jons. He too has been getting his ear chewed- from Peach, from his own sales people, and from the customer. We absolutely must ship this order tonight.

So I'm hoping nothing else goes wrong. As soon as each part

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is finished, it's individually carried over to where it's fitted into the subassembly. And as soon as that happens, the foreman over there is having each subassembly carted down to final assembly. You want to talk about efficiency? People hand-carrying things one at a time, back and forth... our output of parts per em- ployee must be ridiculous. It's crazy. In fact, I'm wondering, where did Bob get all the people?

I take a slow look around. There is hardly anybody working in the departments that don't have something to do with 41427. Donovan has stolen every body he could grab and put them all to work on this order. This is not the way it's supposed to be done.

But the order ships.

I glance at my watch. It's a few minutes past 11:00 P.M. We're on the shipping dock. The doors on the back of the tractor-trailer are being closed. The driver is climbing up into his seat. He revs the engine, releases the brakes, and eases out into the night.

I turn to Donovan. He turns to me.

"Congratulations," I tell him.

"Thanks, but don't ask me how we did it," he says.

"Okay, I won't. What do you say we find ourselves some dinner?"

For the first time all day, Donovan smiles. Way off in the distance, the truck shifts gears.

We take Donovan's car because it's closer. The first two places we try are closed. So then I tell Donovan just to follow my directions. We cross the river at 16th Street and drive down Bes- semer into South Flat until we get to the mill. Then I tell Dono- van to hang a right and we snake our way through the side streets. The houses back in there are built wall to wall, no yards, no grass, no trees. The streets are narrow and everyone parks in the streets, so it makes for some tedious maneuvering. But finally we pull up in front of Sednikk's Bar and Grill.

Donovan takes a look at the place and says, "You sure this is where we want to be?"

"Yeah, yeah. Come on. They've got the best burgers in town," I tell him.

Inside, we take a booth toward the rear. Maxine recognizes me and comes over to make a fuss. We talk for a minute and then Donovan and I order some burgers and fries and beer.

Donovan looks around and says, "How'd you know about this place?"

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I say, "Well, I had my first shot-and-a-beer over there at the bar. I think it was the third stool on the left, but it's been a while."

Donovan asks, "Did you start drinking late in life, or did you grow up in this town?"

"I grew up two blocks from here. My father owned a corner grocery store. My brother runs it today."

"I didn't know you were from Bearington," says Donovan.

"With all the transfers, it's taken me about fifteen years to get back here," I say.

The beers arrive.

Maxine says, "These two are on Joe."

She points to Joe Sednikk who stands behind the bar. Dono- van and I wave out thanks to him.

Donovan raises his glass, and says, "Here's to getting 41427 out the door."

"I'll drink to that," I say and clink my glass against his.

After a few swallows, Donovan looks much more relaxed. But I'm still thinking about what went on tonight.

"You know, we paid a hell of a price for that shipment," I say. "We lost a good machinist. There's the repair bill on the NCX-10. Plus the overtime."

"Plus the time we lost on the NCX-10 while it was down," adds Donovan. Then he says, "But you got to admit that once we got rolling, we really moved. I wish we could do that every day."

I laugh. "No thanks. I don't need days like this one."

"I don't mean we need Bill Peach to walk into the plant every day. But we did ship the order," says Donovan.

"I'm all for shipping orders, Bob, but not the way we did it tonight," I tell him.

"It went out the door, didn't it?"

"Yes, it did. But it was the way that it happened that we can't allow."

"I just saw what had to be done, put everybody to work on it, and the hell with the rules," he says.

"Bob, do you know what our efficiencies would look like if we ran the plant like that every day?" I ask. "We can't just dedi- cate the entire plant to one order at a time. The economies of scale would disappear. Our costs would go-well, they'd be even worse than they are now. We can't run the plant just by the seat- of-the-pants."

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