Sunday, June 29, 2008

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute, Part I

Alright, I mentioned it, and some of you have been needling me about it, so here's my essay on the tube system. Pneumatic. Ecstatic. Acrobatic, tube system.

In the world according to Dilbert, I have done my best to transform myself from Dilbert into Wally. Wally - the little bald-headed guy whose raison-de-etre' is to do as little as possible, while maintaining the illusion of work. For me, this has been by focusing my efforts on those systems that are least likely to result in a telephone call in the middle of the night from our latest hire, naturally working the graveyard shift with no experience and a million square feet to take care of. The actual fact is that I am so good at maintaining the things that I'm responsible for (as my friend says, "It ain't rocket surgery"), that I end up looking for things to do. So, into my semi-secure world drops the tube system, as I guess someone noticed that I'd actually been happy at work for 3-4 weeks or so.

I was very angry at the manner in which it came to me. My current supervisor/Manager/Team Leader/I-really-don't-care-what-his-title-is, is a nice-enough guy who was working his way up the ranks while I had crested and fallen. He's actually asked me for some occasional advice, and I've seen him make some real progress, management-wise. His job (which is actually the job I had, reconstituted into something I'd never want to do, again) keeps him up at night at least 2-3 times a week, and his hair is going greyer even faster than mine did. Every morning, we carry on a fine naval tradition called the POD, or Plan of the Day. Sharing info, doling out assignments, finding out where the floods were the night before (It's a 540 bed hospital that's 43 years old, you do the plumbing math). This particular morning, the meeting breaks up, he motions me over, and tells me - in the presence of my co-worker that's being relieved of this burden - that it's now my responsibility. No warm-up, no warning, no smoke signals of any kind. I then get about 90 minutes of "this is where everything is"- "here's the main parts of the tube station" - and I'm left alone, seething with a handful of work orders and a third of the system not working.

Flash back to 1990. I am a "Management Specialist", working for the Director of Engineering. We've just replaced our 25 year-old pneumatic tube system, and the new system's performance is not quite what the brochures and sales pitches told us that it would be, primarily in the form of the amount of daily attention it requires from our service techs. The boss calls about 5 of us into his office, where he places a conference call to the president of the company. He informs him that we're not satisfied at all, and we're going to inform all of the trade publications and medical device newsletters of how incompetent this system is. He wants the president and anyone else he wants to bring to be in our offices tomorrow, for a meeting about how they're going to fix it - or else. It is the age of Total Quality Management. I actually "Facilitated" that meeting - my first one, handed to me, incidentally, three minutes before it started, without warning or preparation (yes, history repeating itself). We came up with an action plan, and basically made them sweat until the warranty was up, or they went out of business - I don't remember which happened first.

Yes, this all went through my mind before that day was over. You bet your sweet bippy, I was mad.

Next: The Five Stages.