Just one bright idea after another

This IT pilot fish writes software for a distribution center that tracks the process of packing customer orders, making sure every item that goes into the box is what's on the invoice.

"The managers at this location are constantly looking for ways to get their names mentioned at meetings, because this translates into a good performance review, which means a better raise," says fish.

"So they come up with either process improvement ideas -- like moving workstations closer to a central printing area to reduce the time it takes for an operator to grab an invoice -- or cost-cutting measures such as setting the power-saving options on all laser printers."

Those are always logical-sounding ideas, but in reality they usually cause issues for other people -- including fish, who has to implement them.

So fish isn't surprised when one manager comes up with the idea of checking whether a component being shipped is supplied by more than one vendor. Manager's proposal: If the component has multiple possible sources, automatically send an email to all the managers showing the part number and the vendors being used.

At a meeting to discuss the idea so fish can make the programming changes, fish asks why the manager doesn't make a simple report to be run from his own system.

"The answer I was given was that this would enable them to see which component was being consumed -- manager-speak for 'I don't want to do the work, I'd rather you make programming changes,'" fish says.

"A purchasing agent was in the meeting, and he offered that a component could have multiple vendors, as his people were always looking for the best price. But if the vendor met their criteria, the component would be the same down to the packaging, with only the vendor number on the package being different."

Wait, says fish. If the component is the same type and it's identical down to the packaging, regardless of the vendor, why is this information on the different vendors needed?

The generic reply: "Quality control."

After a week of arguing against the proposal, fish throws in the towel and makes the change, updates the production software -- and then waits.

And a few days later, he's summoned to the meeting room, where the managers begin complaining about all the emails they're now receiving.

"When I explained the system was doing exactly what was requested, they began discussing if the emails were needed," says fish. "And at the end of the day, I received an email instructing me to modify the system to have it quit sending emails."

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