This is the answer to the question “How could we have caught the problem sooner?” to last week’s story, My favorite lean interview question.
Vicki was taken into the lab manager’s office and interrogated by a lab tech chasing the promotion carrot:
- What are the Lab Rats hiding?
- It’s best for your career if you come clean now.
- Why would the Lab Rats do something like this?
These questions could not be answered. The Lab Rats weren’t hiding anything. Each week, the lab manager received a copy of our meeting minutes. That was our team’s rule, not the plant’s SOP. When Vicki was queried, the lab rats were between projects. The turkey project was over; we had been producing good turkey products for weeks.
After an hour, Vicki left the interrogation room and headed for the parking lot. Thankfully, the lab manager caught up with her and asked her to come back to work. The manager would not tell me why this happened.
Weeks later I learned why the Quality Assurance manager had Vicki interrogated. He taught the low protein supplier how to check the moisture content of the ground turkey before it was shipped to our plant. That was a good idea. If the turkey was out of spec at our plant, the turkey would have to be reloaded on a semi and sent back. Best to make sure it is good before it is unloaded.
The only thing the boss did wrong was not telling his lab techs about his project. “One of our suppliers is now testing the turkey for moisture before it is sent to us. Keep me informed on any problems you find with our turkey products.” The Remarkable Lab Rats were not keeping secrets; lab management was keeping secrets that cost the company a significant amount of money and customer satisfaction. New products were being appraised during the turkey crisis.
When Vicki was cross-examined, Nick, Duane and I were working second shift. We were relieved the long week was almost over. This relief soon turned to mischief. The conversation drifted towards a practical joke.
Lab techs carry radios to keep in contact with production supervisors. We decided to tape down the transmitting button on a radio and hide it in the office area of the lab. Next we moved all the office chairs into one of the instrument rooms. The plan was in place just in time.
Linda was surprised when she saw us sitting in the wrong room. In a panic stricken voice, one of us asked if she saw the Quality Assurance manager in the parking lot. After a negative response, we quietly showed her the rigged walkie-talkie. She took the bait. Linda believed the boss bugged the office and was listening to our conversations.
Vicki would be at work in thirty minutes. We had that much time to convince Linda to tell Vicki about the radio. Nick, Duane and I believed Vicki had been through enough this week. This would put her over the top; she will quit if she knew about the radio. Nobody wanted her to quit.
The four of us left the lab to continue our debate. Everyone, except Linda, was visibly upset. Finally, Linda squared her shoulders and proclaimed Vicki had a right to know and she would tell her. Her body language told us not to get in her way.
We discretely followed Linda back to the lab. Looking through the door’s window, we could see the conversation. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Vicki’s eyes and mouth were wide opened. The kind of look you see in a horror movie when the victim sees the monster. Linda was very determined. We must have watched them for five minutes before they saw us. I never laughed so hard in my life. It was contagious. Soon Linda and Vicki were laughing as hard as we were. Later, when we were all talking, Vicki said all her friends were at a party and she wanted to go there instead of work. As it turned out coming to work was more fun than going to a party.
I loved and hated my job.