When Did Your Project Become My Project?

I’m not bragging but I have been married three times. In each case there is a single action that breaks me up. It hasn’t seemed to matter which wife it was but there is always something she has wanted to do which I totally agree she should do. Then, she sweet talks me into getting involved with her. Is this something in the DNA of a woman? It never seems to work tin the other direction. My projects almost always stay my projects and if they don’t it is because I have given it up.

This afternoon, I was on my project to find out which password I use to link my email to Google. Google has so many different divisions and they all require a password. Remembering them all is a problem and to complicate things more. When I finally give up and hit the “forgot my password” button I have to invent a new password. Usually, I record the new one. Lately, that record doesn’t do me any good. Why? It beats the heck out of me, I just can’t figure out which PW is used for a given user name for a given application. Calling for help doesn’t work because the helper always points at someone else.

Getting back to my original thought. Lovely interrupted me with a question, “where do I plant these seeds?” “You are the farmer” I reply, “find a suitable spot and plant them.” That was not a smart answer. I wound up leaving my desk and my project to assist with her project. The two of us went into the yard, seeds in hand, to spread the joy. She had three packages of flower seeds. One for full sun, (6 hours), two for medium sun, (4 hrs). None of the sun requirements matched the locations she desired. We toured the yard and and I pointed at a spot. Then I pulled the seed pack that would work in that location from her hand, “But, that’s not where I want to see these flowers.” She points to where she can visualize the plants in bloom.

“That is a the shadiest spot in the yard and doesn’t receive any sunlight until 4:30 each afternoon.”

“So where can we plant this flower?” I show her another spot and finally she relents, but it borders on minimum sun. “This plant will flower in 2.5 months in this spot.”

“Okay,” she says. By this time, I started to get agitated and take the spade from her hand and start digging. The spot is over-run with wild strawberry and has to be cleared, I dig and pull roots from China with my bare hand. She comments, “you are using your bare hand to dig up the dirt?”

“You are the only farmer I know who wears rubber gloves to plant seed,” I reply.

Going to seed pack-two we go through the same process, These seeds will take 200 days to bloom. I figure if we are lucky, I’ll see the flower on the same day I am cleaning the yard for winter. That happened last year when I planted morning glories in my favorite spot. The first flower bloomed three days before the first frost. That happened to be the third packet of seeds to plant, so I chopped up the ground and spread the seeds around the base of the trellis and prayed for success. I told her to sprinkle the three areas with some water, and went in for lunch.

It is funny, how her projects always take this route.

Just In Time = Almost Too Late

Today I am reminded of my training as an engineer in manufacturing about the Just In Time principle. What reminded me? A flower I planted from seed. I have planted this flower every year for the past ten years with good success, that is, until this year. Maybe the seeds were affected by COVID, but the end result didn’t happen as it should have. I planted the seeds in late May and within a few days they germinated and began to grow. They grew, and grew, and grew, but only the foliage. There was not a flower within sight for well over four months. I distinctly remember that the package stated seventy days from germination to flowers. It is now the third week in October and the damned plant finally began to show flowers. It is a simple Morning Glory. My recollection is that in prior years I enjoyed these blooms beginning in August. What happened this year is strange. All I know is that we are about two weeks away from a killing frost and there are still only a few blooms showing in a mass of foliage. Disappointing to say the least. At least the plant met the deadline of blooming before a the frost shuts it down, or Just in Time.

In the manufacturing world of the eighties and nineties Just in Time manufacturing was a system used by the Japanese car companies to streamline their assembly process. The company I worked for was steeped in the study of these concepts. Basically, just in time means that parts arrive at the assembly line minutes before they are needed to put into the unit. Why waste providing warehouse space to hold parts before they are needed. Put that together with the labor required to unload and stock the warehouse and then to unload it again when it is needed. The factory floor is less cluttered with inventory meaning a smaller factory is needed, and the company doesn’t pay for goods to sit around waiting for a time to be used. It works and does save money, but at the price of too many employees’ nervous systems overloading when a car is coming down the line and you still don’t have the next part needed. Therein, we coined the phrase “almost too late.” The Japanese system relies on parts manufacturers being located within a one day drive from the assembly plant. The vision is that raw materials flow from the ground to the steel mill, to the component manufacturer to the assembly plant in a smooth uninterrupted flow, just like water flowing through a pipe from the well into your glass.

Recent headlines during COVID citing the computer chip shortage are prime examples of a just in time system that failed. How any auto company allowed that to happen is beyond me. It is, however, easy to visualize happening when the chips are a part of a JIT system and the company making the chips suddenly has a huge shortage of manpower down with the virus, and it is non-stop for a year, meaning that the shortage continues as more and more employees get the virus as time marches on. Henry Ford’s original idea of building a process that was vertically integrated so that his company made every part of the car, without involving outside suppliers solves this problem. The trouble with vertical integration is that the factory becomes so frickin huge it is impossible to manage. It also means that one company has to be expert at making thousands of discreet components all of which require their own experts. Separate companies specializing in discreet components can become very adept at making starters, radiators, brakes, etc. Even body parts like fenders, and hoods require experts in stamping and processing large sheets of metal.

In a phone discussion with a Ford employee this morning I learned that at this time Ford has more cars to sell than any company on the planet, and Ford is building more cars than any other car company. I can testify that the Ford dealer in my town finally has new cars and trucks on the lot.

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