About this Blog

The Curmudgeon's Office blog is a spin off from my personal blog, Too Young To Be A Curmudgeon, which is full of random rants and thoughts I have on a whole host of topics. In an effort to be more organized, and also to attract a specific niche of followers, I decided to start a separate blog for my professional postings. At this blog, I'll post my tips, rants, and random thoughts on a host of professional topics from setting up a home office & office gadgets to 5S practices & time management.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Quick Tip #2: Multiple Profiles

If you're like me and have a home office; it can be hard to keep your professional and personal time separate. One way to help reduce personal distractions from your work time (and vise versa) is to have two profiles on your computer. Business stuff on one profile, life on the other.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Quick Tip #1: White Board Makers

Quick Tip: White Board Makers

Ever been in a meeting when someone attempts to write something on a whiteboard, but can't find a marker that will work? You can save the presenter while looking like a rock star, if you hand them the marker you brought with.

Just keep a white board maker in your laptop bag, brief case or back pack.When the need arises, you can save the day, wow a customer and impress the boss. Co-workers will think you're a dork.

Stuck in the ISO Rut

Below was originally posted on my personal blog on 11/28/2012 

Having company standards and following industry standards, such as AS 9100 or ISO 9000 are a great thing. In today's market they are pretty much mandatory in order to be competitive, or even to be considered by a top tier company as a potential vendor. The benefits are many; consistency of process and product, increased efficiency, higher maintainable quality, etc. It is easy to see how these benefits are achievable. By creating standard work instructions and following a set of predefined "if than" options, re-thinking the same processes over an over can be eliminated.

But unfortunately, standards can be a double edged sword. I have had the opportunity to work for a defense contractor that is heavily involved with ISO 900 and AS 9100 procedures. A major problem with creating detailed work instructions and following a strict set of standard procedures is: when a situation arrases that does not meet those exact standard procedures, some people just stop dead in their tracks. I call it being stuck in the "ISO rut."

The ruts are extremely deep at this defense contractor, so deep progress on a project is often stopped dead in it's tracks. For one project I worked on for close to two years, the customer required all test assets, components and assemblies be shipped to their location via Fed Ex. The contractor's standard carrier is UPS. Every time I wanted to ship something, I had to walk the shipping department through the process.

"Do you really want this shipped Fed Ex? Normally we use UPS, because they stop here everyday. If I ship Fed Ex, I have to call them and sometimes it takes an extra day." is the response I got EVERY TIME I shipped something. I would respond "Yes, the customer requires Fed Ex and they are fine with the shipment taking an extra day." Instead of an "okay" or something similar the shipping person's response was usually "But, per our work instructions we ship UPS. If I ship Fed EX, I have to call them."

I got to the point I would leave the box on her desk with a note that said: "Please ship to the customer via Fed Ex. The customer requires shipments via Fed Ex and they are okay with the shipment taking an extra day, due to you having to schedule a pick up." Even with this note, about half the time I would get an email or a phone call asking if I was positive the parcel couldn't be shipped UPS. Stuck in the ISO rut.

This problem was not isolated to the shipping department. On another occasion, a part that needed to be shipped soon, was held in the inspection department. When I asked why the part was not moving on to it's next operation, they told me they couldn't inspect it. The work instruction for that part stated to use the Ziess CMM. Unfortunately the Ziess was off line for repairs and not available for use. I asked if there was a reason why the part couldn't inspected using other equipment. I asked if there was a feature that could only be inspected by the Ziess. The inspector said no, the part could easily be checked by other means, but the work instruction clearly says to use the Ziess. I told him to please inspect the part by any means possible, for we would miss our delivery date if we wait for the Ziess to be repaired. In a state of disbelief he say "But what about the work instruction? It clearly says use the Ziess." Stuck in the ISO rut.

I could bore you with other examples from engineering, purchasing, machining and assembly departments from this company of people, normally smart people, being stuck in the ISO rut. The downside with a system that is reliant on standards and procedures is if you're not careful, people will no longer trust their common sense and be lost without specific directions.

There needs to be a constant effort to make sure people will use there best judgment when a situation arises that does not meet the standards. That, after all is the very reason to adopt a ISO 9000 style standard. Originize your work and operations, create a maintainable order out of the chaos. That way you can spot potential problems before they become problems, giving you time to react.

People should keep vigilant and make sure company policies or procedures (ISO 9000 or otherwise) are not only being followed, but are helping bring the most out of the company, not limiting it inadvertently.

Saying No to a Customer is Never Fun

Below was originally posted on my personal blog on 09/22/2012 

Recently I had to "no quote" a project. I can not stand doing that. Work is work and I like to take on as much as I can, but sometimes you just have to say no.

The project was designing a plastic injection mold that produces three different medical instruments. It really looked like a fun project, but a very time consuming one. Unfortunately with my current and projected schedule, I would not be able to devote the amount of time required for it's complexity. I'll spare you the details, but it would have been a pretty wild and challenging project. A project that I would have enjoyed being a part of.

I will regret turning this one down for a long time. Not only is it work I'm walking away from, but a chance to build on a relationship with a new customer. A customer that I've only done a few projects with and would like to do more work for. That was also a strong deciding factor on way I turned it down.

If I decided to chance it and take on more than I could handle, the quality of this project (and everything else I'm currently working on) would suffer. A good way to loose the confidence of a new customer is to turn away challenging work.

A better way to loose the confidence of a customer is to take on challenging work and fail miserably by making preventable mistakes. Mistakes that can ruin the whole project before the customer even cuts the first piece of steel. Simple mistakes that normally I wouldn't have made or didn't find while reviewing my work, because I was rushed.

Two things has remained constant in the mold making trade since I got into it during the mid nineties: it has to be right, and it has to be done on time. Missing a deadline is not acceptable. Missing one delivery date can mean loosing a steady long term customer. I will put in long days that leave me with 3 or 4 hours of sleep. I will work through weekends and miss family events to meet a dead line. But I will not take on more than I know I can handle, because nobody wins. Quality and productivity is lost. I suffer and so does my work. That means my customers start off with a sub par design that may cause them problems, long days, working through weekends and possibly disappointing their customers. Both my and my customer's professional reputation can be negatively impacted.

No quoting a customer is never fun and I despise doing it. Personally it feels like I'm saying "No thanks, I don't want your business. It's not important enough for me or my company." But taking on something while knowing I can not deliver the product correct and on time is worse. The customer may see it as me saying "Here you go. It should be good... maybe. Sorry it's so late. Good luck getting the job done on time. Please give me your money, net 30 days."

First Impressions: Parking

Below was originally posted on my personal blog on 09/14/2012 

It can not be overstated how important first impressions can be. They can make or break a job interview, a business meeting, a first date, and any other imaginable personal and professional meeting. Despite what we tell ourselves, humans are very judgmental creatures and first impressions are critical.

It recently accrued to me of one first impression I have overlooked in the past. Parking.

Lately when I walk across a certain company's parking lot, one vehicle instantly stands out and annoys me. There is a  truck that is always backed into a spot in the back row of the lot. Well, I should say spots. Every time I go by that parking lot I can't help but look at this truck that is taking up two spots. Sometime by a tire width, sometime the white strip on the pavement goes smack dab down the centerline of the truck. I think to myself "what an ass" every time I stroll by. The reason is I think this is because there are only three reasons someone parks like that.

1. They we're in a hurry or distracted and didn't realize they did it. We've all seen the car at the grocery store or shopping mall that was just over the line or not quite all the way into the spot. We've all done it once or twice too. It happens, we are all in a hurry these days.
2. They feel that they and their vehicle is more important than everybody else. They don't want a ding in the door, plus it's their way of saying "Hey everyone, look at my car! It's why I'm better than you!" What makes this worse is usually the car is not worth looking at. Half the time it's like a 2001 Chevy Cavalier with a homemade spoiler on the back of it.
3. They simply don't care to put enough effort into parking correctly. The stop the car and say "eh, close enough."

I had an almost "light shining on my from heaven" like moment when I walked past that truck in the company's parking lot the other day. The way the owner of that truck parks really represent him. He parks like this everyday, so reason number 1 can be ruled out. He's personality matches  reason number 2 for bad parking to a tee. He is extremely arrogant and proud of himself. He is not a team player at all, quick to say "that's not my job" or "I'll get to that later" or "It may not be 'the company way', but that's how I always do it." Plus his work matches reason number 3; sloppy, incomplete, inaccurate and late. Just like his parking; sometimes the back tires are off the pavement and in the grass, sometimes the front end is sticking out into the traffic lane by two feet.       Eh, close enough.

The thought that stopped me in my tracks, as I was walking by his truck, was "if I was the manager of the department that he works for, and the guy parked like that when he came here for he's first interview, I never would have hired him."

I challenge you to take a look at your work's parking lot. Think about the difficult employees you have, or your pain in the ass boss, or your annoying co-worker. Now look at how that person or those people park. Keep that in mind when you interview people to fill an opening. Keep that in mind when you go to interview for a new job.  Keep that in mind when you park at a vendor's, customer's place of business. Not only make sure how you park in the visitor place, but how others park. Pay extra close attention to the owner's or manager's reserved spot.

First impressions can make or break many things. First impressions say a lot. Remember that before you take the keys out of your ignition.