Monday, May 5, 2008

Learning From Our Mistakes

What ever happened to “learning from our mistakes?” Is this time-tested precept of the higher apes also passing away as a distant memory of a few elders in the clan of mankind?

One of our “experienced,” albeit newer, employees was hired to lead some teams and sort of take care of the newbies and the dolts, thereby avoiding losses, embarrassments or accidents. To hear this guy’s personal testimony, he’s waged wars, fought fights, conquered countries and validated virgins from Timbuktu to infinity and beyond. One would think that there had been a few teensy mistakes along the way and our hero, who I call “Slinky,” should have learned a thing or two.


Many weeks ago, my company mobilized large machines, portable control rooms and gobs of tools to rig out an offshore demolition boat. (Our parent company manufactures machinery that cuts apart pipe and steel structurals, under the sea.)

A critical little tool – a cutter – is terribly expensive for its size so we don’t keep hundreds of them on the shelf. We don’t have to. One of these palm sized little cutters will zip a 3-inch diameter hole through a sunken deck plate in minutes and keep on “punching” more holes all day. At almost $500.00 each, they better. So, we had only about 20 of them in stock.

Slinky supervised the load-out of the equipment for this boat, knowing full well that this would be only one of many boats to be equipped from our inventory. But, a couple of days after everything was shipped out, the boss, Tree Tall, went looking for a few of these cutters to be used in a demonstration. The shelves were empty.

“Where’d they go?” he wanted to know.

“Well, I sent them all out to the boat,” said Slinky, lamely.

With no love in his voice, Tree asked, “So what were you planning to send out on the next boat?”

No answer.

That’s when I got sucked into the fray.

Tree wanted at least two (preferably 3 or 4) cutters for his demonstration; and, he knew that another boat was coming up for outfitting in a couple more weeks. He turned to me to locate more cutters.

I contacted all the vendors and discovered that our normal cutters were 4 to 6 weeks delivery. Another vendor proposed an alternate cutter design which we accepted out of dire need. We cleaned that guy’s inventory out, bringing all 10 of the available alternate cutters into Houston on Fedex Next Day. I also promptly put in an order for 10 more from the usual vendor who would build them to our regular specifications.

I sort of lost track/interest in the cutters after that, although I did notice that “da boyz” were doing several extra demonstrations that might eat into the cutter supply. No worries, I thought. These guys have just been through the wringer over these things and they’ll tell me when they need more cutters. Besides, in about a week we should have the second order of ten pieces.

Then came an order for a third boat.

And in came an order for a training demo.

Both used these hard to find cutters.

But, I’m not aware of these events, so I don’t bump up the inbound order quantity.

This immediately past Saturday, Slinky and da boyz worked like maniacs to get everything out the door for boats two and three. The training demo is tomorrow (for divers who will eventually work from one or more of the boats we’d outfitted.)

Today, Tree wandered out into the Houston shop to grab cutters for the training demo.

“Who moved the 3-inch cutters?” he said. He probably had a knot in his stomach, fearing that he knew the awful answer. He dialed Slinky’s cell phone. “Where are the 3” cutters, Slink?”

“Why? I sent them to the boat.”

Worst fears confirmed.

“All of them,” said Tree, more as a statement of resignation than a question. He looked at me. I shrugged. He shook his head. The same stupid move had been made again.

The 6-week-delivery cutters aren’t due in for another couple of days. I found one dusty old cutter on a vendor’s back shelf and that’s the best we can hope for.

Do I think that there’s a possibility that Slinky and his team learned anything this time?

What do you think?

No comments: