Micro Management

"How interactive do you think this meeting's going to be?"

I really really hate anything *remotely* like roleplay. It's as common an element in a teaching situation as multichoice questions are in online learning. They are both valuable, and I hate them equally.

Today I, along with other members of my extended team, had been invited to an afternoon meeting to find out about an important project pilot, it's metrics and results, and how it impacted us in the Learning division of the company. Four hours had been set aside for this meeting and that was a pretty safe bet it had been structured with interactivity.

The Dart Game was an activity set around a fictious company that made paper aeroplanes. They utilised a production-line set up, with workers, management and "observers" to measure processes and suggest efficiencies to see how we can utilise the philosophies of Jack Welsh and Six Sigma to become the best darn paperdart making company in the World. The long table had six chairs - not really to signify the SIX in Six Sigma but spooky none-the-less. I was a worker as were five of my colleagues - mostly our hands shot up so fast for the worker slots because none of us wanted to Manage at.all.

I could have sat in any seat. Any seat. But I sat in the seat second from the left. After we'd all settled, a folded label was placed in front of each of us. Starting from the right working left, the labels read: Marker, Cutter, Folder 1, Folder 2, Logo sticker and Gauger, and Tester. I was "Logo sticker and gauger" dammit Janet a) two jobs and b) I was the Art Department. Talk about Like-attracting-Like. I whispered to my colleague to my right, Sarah: Folder2 "I feel I might be a bottleneck". We volunteered Jack as our Manager and he quickly found a clipboard and an official tone, full of middle-management cliché which was scary and funny in turns. I have to say, it was noted that our *actual* manager seemed a bit miffed that he wasn't managing us, but he felt somewhat better upon finding his own clipboard and looked like he might manage Jack.

The rules for Round One: The Marker must mark the paper into four equal squares and hand off to the Cutter, who cut the paper into four pieces as marked. The Cutter then handed Folder 1 who completed the first half of the folds. She then handed off to Folder 2 who completed the folding of the paperdart and passed the dart to the Logo Sticker and Gauger (art department). As the Art Department I had to cut out the logos, glue one to each wing of each dart, then measure the dart to see it fitted within "design paramaters" ie: it could fit inside a pre-drawn rectangular guide, then I would hand the dart off to the Tester, who would throw the dart at least four metres for it to pass as an "acceptable" dart. Unfortunately, there were a couple of extra rules for Round One:

  • Darts must be passed from one stage to the next in batches of four. Folder 1 couldn't pass darts to Folder 2 until there were four darts to pass.
  • There was to be no talking.
  • We had to follow the rules of production and not modify them nor prepare anything such as cutting the logos from their A1 sheet before the first batch arrived.
  • 24 paperdarts in 10 minutes was the goal

Yes, we all know what Art Departments are like and I knew I was in trouble.

Rpt was one of the observers so he counted down - from 10 strangely enough. And we were off.

  1. The paper Marker marked the paper with ruled pencil and passed it to the Cutter.
  2. The Cutter cut the paper, passing the four pieces of paper to the first Folder while the paper Marker marked up another piece.
  3. Folder 1 folded while the Cutter cut another piece of paper into four while the Marker marked up another sheet of paper.
  4. Folder 1 passed her four half folded darts onto Folder 2 who began completing the folding, Jack the Manager spurred Folder 2 on "You're a star Sarah!" while Folder 1 folded the next four pieces of paper,"great work there Alvina" Jack enthused to Folder 1, the Cutter cut paper, and the Marker marked "nice straight lines Marker, keep it up!" Jack was not only looked the part with his clipboard and pen, but provided an encouraging, supportive workspace.
  5. Folder 2 passed her four folded darts to the Art Department for their "logo treatment".
    I picked up the paper and the larger scissors Jack the manager had found to replace the safe kindergarten scissors I'd been supplied and cut out the 8 tiny logo squares from the page. Taking the lid off the glue stick and brushing a swipe over each wing, my less than dainty fingers placed the stickers on the first dart. Swiping the second dart's wings and placing the second lot of logos. The Marker still marking, the Cutter still cutting, Folder 1 folding furiously and Folder 2 on her third of four darts. I swiped the third dart, applied logos, then the fourth just as the next "batch" was ready to go. I "gauged" each of the planes and passed them off for Testing.
  6. The Marker marking, me swiping glue on the first wing, the Cutter cutting, me swiping glue on the second wing, "nice sticking action, Michelle" encouraged the Manager, Folder 1 folding, me applying the fiddly logos to the wings, Folder 2 folding faster than anyone has ever folded before, me guaging, Folder 2 pushing another "batch" my way,
  7. The Observers noticing where the bottleneck was beginning to appear (oh I could've told you THAT) encouraging "c'mon Michelle, speed it up!" the Marker marking, the Cutter cutting, Folder 1 folding, "stop throwing darts at me!" my stress was showing as the Testing seemed to include firing right over my shoulder, Folder 2 now officially the Worlds Fastest Folder and my bottleneck of darts piling up to great proportions. God knows what the tester was doing and TIME WAS UP.

raw paper darts

Could we see where the inefficiencies of this process lay? Hell Yes, bloody Michelle, you're gonna have to work faster!

"I knew I'd be the bottleneck" I sulked. Sarah, now World Folding Contender was laugh, laughing. It was time to discuss where our inefficencies lay, and what cuts/enhancements to the process we could make to reach our goal of 24 Flight tested darts in 10 minutes. Unfortunately, "Fire michelle" was the first suggestion ruled out. I wouldn't have minded, really. Would've made me eligible for the Dole!

So we all talked, and processes were suggested and new guidelines were decided.

  • No batch processing. All darts would be handed on when they were ready and not held up waiting for a complete set of four
  • the Marker wouldn't rule the lines for the Cutter, but simply fold the paper into four
  • The Art Department would second the Tester to cut the logos and guage
  • The Manager would put down his clipboard, roll his sleeves up and Test the darts.

Nothing quite like a bit of interactive role-play to bring out your true colours. The paper folders and cutters seemed to be in their elements, while the folders were both increasing their skillsets and Jack was positively shining in his role as Manager. I was feeling vaguely sick that my job had been downgraded because I had failed so visibly in Round One. I didn't want to share my job, from what I could see the Tester turned Logo Cutter hadn't done a very good job of cutting the logos, and there were very few actually ready to go. I mentioned to Management that I was feeling low, and that I was feeling discomfort from repetitive strain in the fine logo-sticking work and a bad workstation environment. I don't then he even noted my complaint. He was too busy rallying the rest of the team; the Stars. But I had my gluestick lid off and ready for whatever Folder 2 passed to me. I was nothing if not a Team Player.

Manager Jack over my shoulder "Michelle, could you please refrain from texting on work time."

Rpt counted down... from 10, again. That's quite a long way to count down for a small team of dart makers. "Go!"

  1. The Marker folded her paper in four. The Cutter cut the paper into four pieces. The Seconded Tester cut logos.
  2. The Marker folded paper into four. The Cutter cut the paper into four pieces. Folder 1 folded the first half of the dart folding.
  3. The Marker folded her paper into four. The Manager encouraged "great work people, keep up the pace!" The Cutter cut the paper into four pieces. Folder 1 folded the pieces. Folder 2 completed the folding.
  4. The Marker folded the paper into four. The Cutter cut the paper along the folds, passing the pieces to Folder 1 who folded then handed off to Folder 2, I swiped glue on one wing then the other, the Tester stuck one logo on one wing - precisely, and carefully, positioning it perfectly.
  5. The Marker folded the paper into four "I hate RAP music, that Eminem is immoral, he wrote a song about his OWN mother!" the Cutter cut along the folded lines. Folder 1 folded quickly, second only in speed to Folder 2 who was now undisputed Paperdart Folding Champion of the World. I wielded my glue stick with an accuracy seldom seen outside an operating theatre. The Tester stuck logos, precisely and accurately to each wing of the paper dart. The Manager threw the completed darts and piled them into GO and NOGO piles. The bottleneck was appearing between the swiping and the sticking. Logos were running out, not enough had been cut and the glue on the stockpiling planes was drying up causing rework. I switched my priorities to cutting more logos, deftly slicing tiny logos into a pile, before reswiping the wings of the already glued planes. arg.. rework.. I was doing rework!
  6. The Marker folded the paper into four "He was alright til he got famous now he's just disgusting" Our production-line's conversation had more in common with Coronation Street's seamstresses than it did with the aeroindustry. Rpt told us we had 2 minutes left. The Cutter cut along the folded lines. Folder 1 creased and passed, Folder 2's hand were a blur. My glue stick needed winding out more as I used more and more glue. The Tester seemed to think quality was important and caused the bottleneck to choke even more. The Manager turned tester threw darts. "I'll be your Wingman anytime, Maverick!" One dart flew over my right shoulder as it failed it's test. I switched again, this time sticking logos to three darts to every one the Tester was managing.
  7. The Marker folded, "I hate RAP music like Eminem and the D4" the Cutter cut along the folded lines. Rpt said we had just over a minute left. Folder 1 folded. Jack the Manager threw a dart and called for us to keep up the good work! Folder 2 was now folding with one arm behind her back. I glued and stuck logos and called for more logos as we only had a few left. The Tester stuck, repositioned, accurately placed each logo completing one dart for every three off mine. The Manager kept testing. He flew more like Goose than Maverick - another dart whizzed over my shoulder "STOP THROWING DARTS AT ME!"
  8. The Marker folded, the Cutter cut along the folded lines. Folder 1 was looking at a solid Silver medal pacement to Folder 2's Gold. Rpt called 15 seconds. I was swiping, gluing, reswiping, cutting logos. The Tester carefully placed a logo, then another. A dart hit me in the back of my head.


Thank God for that.

We achieved our goal, but had had to make 30% more darts to meet standard of 4m Flight. There was a lot of waste - in time and materials, not to mention patience from the artistic members of the team. And while the morale of the Team was good overall, there were signs of stress and depression in the Art Department and no sense of job security or satisfaction whatsoever.

Cutter and Folder 1

PS: My Manager now decided, based on observing this activity, the best way to get my Project done faster was to remove me from it and replace me with Folder 2.