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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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30

At the beginning of the new month, we have a staff meeting. Everyone is present except Lou. Bob tells me he'll be in shortly. I sit down and fidget. To get the meeting rolling while we're wait- ing for Lou, I ask about shipments.

"How is Burnside's order coming along?" I ask.

"The first shipment went out as scheduled," says Donovan.

"How about the rest of it?" I ask.

"No problems to speak of," says Stacey. "The control boxes were a day late, but there was time enough for us to assemble without delaying the shipment. We got this week's batch from the vendor on time."

I say, "Good. What's the latest on the smaller batches?"

"The flow through the shop is even better now," says Bob.

"Excellent," I say.

Just then Lou comes into the meeting. He's late because he was finishing the figures for this month. He sits down and looks straight at me.

"Well?" I ask. "Did we get our fifteen percent?"

"No," he says, "we got seventeen percent, thanks in part to Burnside. And the coming month looks just fine."

Then he goes into a wrap-up of how we performed through the second quarter. We're now solidly in the black. Inventories are about forty percent of what they were three months ago. Throughput has doubled.

"Well, we've come a long way, haven't we?" I ask.

Sitting on my desk when I get back from lunch the next day are two crisp, white envelopes with the UniWare Division logo in the upper left corner. I open one and unfold the stiff stationery. The body of the letter is only two short paragraphs, with Bill Peach's signature on the bottom. It's congratulating us on the Burnside business. Tearing open the other, I find it too is from Peach. It too is short and to the point. It formally directs me to prepare for a performance review of the plant, which is to be held at headquarters.

The smile I had from reading the first letter broadens. Three

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months ago, that second letter would have dunked me into dread, because although it doesn't say so directly, I presume the review will be the occasion for determining the future of the plant. I was expecting some kind of formal evaluation. And now I am no longer dreading it-on the contrary, I welcome it. What do we have to worry about? Hell, this is an opportunity to show what we've done!

Throughput is going up as marketing spreads the word about us to other customers. Inventories are a fraction of what they were and still falling. With more business and more parts over which to spread the costs, operating expense is down. We're making money.

The following week, I'm away from the plant for two days with my personnel manager, Scott Dolin. We're at an off-site, very confidential meeting in St. Louis with the division's labor rela- tions group and the other plant managers. Most of the discussion is about winning wage concessions from the various unions. It's a frustrating session for me-at Bearington, we don't particularly need to lower wages. So I'm less than enthusiastic about much of the strategy suggested, knowing it could lead to problems with the union, which could lead to a strike, which could kill the prog- ress we've been making with customers. Aside from all that, the meeting is poorly run and ends with very little decided. I return to Bearington.

About four in the afternoon, I walk through the doors of the office building. The receptionist flags me down as I pass. She tells me Bob Donovan has asked to see me the moment I arrive. I have Bob paged and he comes hurrying into my office a few minutes later.

"What's up, Bob?" I ask.

"Hilton Symth," he says. "He was here in the plant today."

"He was here?" I ask. "Why?"

Bob shakes his head and says, "Remember the videotape about robots that was in the works a couple of months ago?"

"That was killed," I say.

"Well, it was reincarnated," says Bob. "Only now it's Hilton, because he's productivity manager for the division, doing the speech instead of Granby. I was having a cup of coffee out of the machine over by C-aisle this morning when I see this T.V. crew

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come trooping along. By the time I found out what they were doing here, Hilton Smyth is standing at my elbow."

"Didn't anybody here know they were coming?" I ask.

He tells me Barbara Penn, our employee communicator, knew about it.

"And she didn't think to tell anybody?" I say.

"See, the whole thing was re-scheduled on short notice," says Bob. "Since you and Scott weren't around, she went ahead on her own, cleared it with the union, and made all the arrange- ments. She sent around a memo, but nobody got a copy until this morning."

"Nothing like initiative," I mutter.

He goes on to tell me about how Hilton's crew proceeded to set up in front of one of the robots-not the welding types, but another kind of robot which stacks materials. It soon became ob- vious there was a problem, however: the robot didn't have any- thing to do. There was no inventory for it, and no work on its way.

In a videotape about productivity, the robot, of course, could not simply sit there in the background and do nothing. It had to be producing. So for an hour, Donovan and a couple of assistants searched every corner of the plant for something the robot could manipulate. Meanwhile, Smyth became bored with the wait, so he started wandering around, and it wasn't long before he noticed a few things.

"When we got back with the materials, Hilton started asking all kinds of things about our batch sizes," says Bob. "I didn't know what to tell him, because I wasn't sure what you've said up at headquarters and, uh... well, I just thought you ought to know."

I feel my stomach twisting. Just then the phone rings. I pick it up at my desk. It's Ethan Frost at headquarters. He tells me he's just had a talk with Hilton Smyth. I excuse myself to Bob, and he leaves. When he's gone and the door is shut, I talk to Frost for a couple of minutes and afterwards go down to see Lou.

I walk though the door and start to tap dance.

Two days later, an audit team from headquarters arrives at the plant. The team is headed by the division's assistant control- ler, Neil Cravitz, a fiftyish man who has the most bone-crushing handshake and the most humorless stare of anyone I've ever met.

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They march in and take over the conference room. In hardly any time at all, they've found we changed the base for determining the cost of products.

"This is highly irregular," says Cravitz, peering at us over the tops of his glasses as he looks up from the spreadsheets.

Lou stammers that, okay, maybe it wasn't exactly according to policy, but we had valid reasons for basing costs on a current two-month period.

I added, "It's actually a more truthful representation this

way,"

"Sorry, Mr. Rogo," says Cravitz. "We have to observe stan- dard policy."

"But the plant is different now!"

Around the table, all five accountants are frowning at Lou and me. I finally shake my head. There is no sense attempting to appeal to them. All they know are their accounting standards.

The audit team recalculates the numbers, and it now looks as if our costs have gone up. When they leave, I try to head them off by calling Peach before they can return, but Peach is unexpect- edly out of town. I try Frost, but he's gone too. One of the secre- taries offers to put me through to Smyth, who seems to be the only manager in the offices, but I ungracefully decline.

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