Lunch -- the hard way

This systems analyst pilot fish is trying to keep things working at a manufacturing plant in the southern U.S. -- and management isn't making it easy.

"I was told to keep the homegrown manufacturing system running as long as possible without rewriting it, as they were going to be installing SAP to replace it," says fish.

He tells his bosses he can do that if they don't add more manufacturing lines onto the system. Don't worry, he's told, that won't happen.

But a year into the SAP project, there's a delay -- and the bosses tell fish to add another manufacturing line onto the system. It's going to crash without a major rewrite, fish warns. "Try it anyway," they say. Fish does. It crashes.

The bosses call an all-hands meeting to discuss the problem. Fish gets there ten minutes early, and the only other guy in the room is Fred, the manager for the manufacturing line that was added.

"The managers consisted primarily of Northerners who had a problem fitting into Southern culture," fish says. "Fred was a black man who was born in the South but moved up North in his teens and got his degree there.

"Fred greeted me cheerfully and asked what had happened. I gave a brief explanation and told him that the data his line added had pushed the system beyond its design specs. He laughed and said, 'Yeah, that's right. Blame the black kid!'"

Fish laughs and replies, "Oh no, I didn't say that!" But Fred counters, "I will buy you lunch if you say that during this meeting. I want to shake these guys up!" Fish: "No way! I like my job!" Fred: "Look, I'll back you up if you get called to HR. Let's just do it!"

The meeting starts. Fish gives his analysis and recommendations, ending with: "So, in summary, the problems occurred because we put the black kid's line on the system."

Fish's boss chokes on his sip of coffee. Everyone else gasps. Fred gives fish a hard look, stands up slowly -- and then begins laughing loudly. "Look, everyone," he says, "I told him to say that. I just wanted to inject a little humor into this, because it's not a problem!"

Reports fish, "With that, he began giving a brilliant analysis of how things were structured on the floor and what the lines really needed. He suggested that, instead of waiting for the SAP system, I be given permission to make the changes I had requested.

"Management agreed, and within a few months I'd made changes that kept it going for another two years without a problem.

"And Fred did buy me a great lunch!"

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