What better time to talk about schedule slip than at the end of the month. Every place that I have ever worked or worked with has a “month end crisis” over what jobs will ship and what will have to wait for next month. Each company was different in how they dealt with this issue. Some started anticipating it a week or more ahead of time; others acted like some devil stole a week from the calendar and created a never before seen problem — conveniently forgetting the previous crisis.
My instructor at Managing Technical Operations found these predicable problems quite comical, but insisted they were great opportunities as well. His mantra was “problem solvers get promoted,” and he had some simple steps to make sure you were positively viewed.
The first step was being very careful with your promises. “Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself,” he warned. Just because someone in the organization made a promise does not mean you need to buy into it. Consider carefully the obligations already made before signing on to what you have been asked to do. If completing the design on a major project would be delayed by rushing through a quote or a piece of tooling, say so in writing and offer options. Those options might be overtime or asking for more time or using a different process.
The second step is maintaining a running log on what you are working on. If you handle your business quietly and professionally, your boss may not realize that you have ample work already. A daily review of what is in the queue and what is holding it up never hurts.
Schedules do not slip all at once. The third step is keeping a constant vigil on critical milestones in the order process. A one- or two-day delay in material arrival may not seem important at the time, but it can become so if it causes a heat treat furnace opening to be missed. A day late to a five-day heat treat or sub-contracted process quickly becomes a week’s delay in shipment.
The most important advice I took away from that seminar thirty years ago was the need for situational awareness. No matter what your current assignment is within your company, you need to be constantly monitoring incoming quotes, orders received, material flow, and orders shipped. The more you know, the better prepared you are to help when that inevitable crisis occurs. Problem solvers get promoted, and one day those problems might be yours.