What I’ve been up to lately

Last week was a very busy week for me.  It was a good week, but it was very busy.  And actually, it wasn’t just last week because the week before it was pretty crazy, too.  And really, “busy” isn’t exactly the right word for it.  “Full” covers it better.

Last week, I was out of the office all week.  I’ll get into that in a little bit, but the point was that I wasn’t going to be in the office to handle my normal work.  And, as it turns out, I had a lot of work that was due last week.  And I had considerably less time to complete it in than I would have normally.  So I was insanely busy trying to get everything accomplished on time.  I was honestly a little impressed with how much I was able to get done.  I didn’t finish everything, but I was able to leave it for other people to finish without too much trouble, I hope.  I have to check in with those people on Monday.  And some things that I did, I did poorly and I’ve been apologizing for them already.  I learned some important lessons through those mistakes so I can hopefully avoid those again in the future.  But I might be picking up the pieces on some of those for a while.

So I was out of the office all last week.  I was in Lean Specialist training at a campus located nearby work.  If you type “Lean Specialist” into Google, the top results you get will probably all be job listings looking for people to fill positions with that job title.  This wasn’t why I took the class, but I find it very interesting.

Lean Specialists are part of Lean Manufacturing.  If you’re not familiar with that, it’s taking a look a processes and ideas in the production of a product and making it work better—more efficiently, more productively, with less waste, and less effort.  “Work smarter, not harder,” right?  It’s looking at how things are done and thinking, “How can we do this better?”  Yeah, there’s actually a whole school of knowledge and resources that looks just at that.  And Lean Specialists are trained in how to take tools that help look at these processes and figure out where exactly the problem is coming from, how to quantify it, how to measure it, and how to pinpoint the problem and figure out how to fix it.

Lean Specialists work with a team of other Lean people—champions and process owners and lots of other people, so it’s not like they do it all on their own.  But they’re the people who have a great deal of knowledge about how to work on the problem.  I wanted to have that knowledge, so I volunteered to take the class.  Most people in my workplace are ordered to take it, but a small handful of us are crazy enough that this stuff interests us.  Plus, I’ll get a nifty little plaque to hang on my wall once I’m certified.

Anyway, it was a whole-week class.  13 of us, at the start of the week, all listening to a set of instructors and working our way though different processes and tools and learning how to work both with the tools but with the team dynamic.  We were given a production process (fold, staple, and write on a piece of paper) and worked our way through the tools so we were able to go from a beginning production of 11 units in 3 minutes to exactly 30 in that same amount of time (no more and no less was the key).  We learned how to use DMAIC, SIPOC, FMEA, VSMs, and lots of other acronyms.  And we worked as a team.

And that last part was what made me so unbelievably tired by the end of every day.  I’m not used to dealing with so many people so constantly for such a long amount of the day.  All day long, we were either learning about different tools or we were problem solving and negotiating and resolving conflicts and working out process steps and . . . it was hard.  Generally, I don’t consider myself to be someone who stands up as a leader.  But when it comes to this sort of thing, in this type of environment, then my brain just starts to go and I can’t help but stand up.

It’s something I’m learning about myself.  When it comes to organizing and working on things like this, I get downright bossy.  I don’t mean to be, but I have an idea in my head and I’m so sure that it’s going to work and that it’s what we should do, that I forget to take that step back and listen a little more.  It’s one of the most significant things I did poorly before I was gone for the week.

So every day for the last week, I would go to class, be jazzed up about what I was learning, discuss and learn and work with my teammates, and go home at the end of the day absolutely exhausted.  It was great, it was fun, I got to eat my lunch outside every day of the week, but it was so very hard.  I went into the office Friday afternoon for the first day all week to see what had happened on my desk while I was out.  I had a lot of email, a few phone calls, a whole lot of scanning and schedule work, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be.

Moving slightly off topic, the lay-offs happened on Thursday.  It was a difficult day to be in class, everyone wondering all day how things were going in our departments.  We didn’t lose anyone from my department, but several people who I knew in passing were walked off company grounds.  One of the guys from the class was included in that count.  It was a difficult day all around.

And the thing I was bossy about to the people in my department was about the 5S clean-up and when I got back to my area, it was unbelievable the difference that they were able to make in one week.  5S is all about office organization—getting a workspace clean and tidy and looking really pretty.  We’d been doing really poorly about that and the audit we’d had recently graded us obscenely poor.  We were charged with the task of cleaning up for a re-audit in two weeks.  So I went around and gave suggestions on how to improve their space, emailing people who were out on Friday when I went around.  Lesson #1:  I am not allowed to email people when I’m (a) tired, (b) in a rush, and, most importantly, (c) dealing with 5S in their office space.  I learned that some people are very particular about me going into their cube when they’re not there and under those conditions, I really don’t communicate well.  At.  All.  I’m not allowed to do that anymore.  I’ve emailed a few apologies out to people who I know were upset at me.  And I’m going to approach those people in person on Monday.  And hopefully 2 gallons of Chex mix with an apology note will help, too.

But they really did some amazing work last week!  Most of the suggestions I emailed out where taken care of and even more!  I know it has a lot more to do with our lead actually stepping up and telling everybody to get their butt into gear than my awful little emails.  But it was still really, really impressive to walk about the area Friday afternoon and see the transformation that went on while I was out.

Anyway.  Enough retrospection.  Before I close this, this is an overview of my next 6 weeks or so.

This coming week, I’m working 10-hour days Monday through Thursday so I can take off Friday to go see my parents in north-east Georgia.  Long hours, but not too bad, really, because I have a lot that I’m going to be trying to get done.  We’re still not sure when we’re leaving for the trip north because Justin’s boss is being a jerk (again) and saying that he doesn’t know if he’s going to be able to let Justin have the time off.  Right.  Like work has been so steady and like anything that would need to get done couldn’t wait until after we got back from a short trip up to see my parents, who, just a note, we haven’t seen SINCE THE WEDDING.  Oh!  And it’s not like he gets paid vacation EVER anyway!  Ugh.

But we’re going to get up there.  We’re just not sure exactly when.

After that trip, either the week after or two weeks after, so either May 26-29 or June 1-5, I am taking a business trip up to Atlanta to help 5S the desks of a few people who receive paperwork from my company.  They’re an oversight corporation over my business and if I named it, you’d know what I was talking about.  But I don’t think I should name it for ethical reasons.  It’s an incredible opportunity for me, though.  It’s going to be difficult, I’m sure, and I have to remember not to get bossy.  And I’m going to be away from Justin for a long time, longer than we’ve been apart for over a year.  But I get to organize the offices of people who have really important jobs!  I have to talk with a few people yet to figure out when exactly I’m going and then were I’m going to be staying and all of that.  There are a lot of details really up in the air still, but I’m excited about the opportunity.  It’s really a big thing for me.  And I really hope they let me borrow a laptop from somewhere because it’ll be a long week sitting in a hotel room by myself with a handful of books and a tv remote.  Ugh.

Either one or two weeks after that trip, depending on which week I end up going, Justin and I are flying up to Vermont to go to his sister’s high-school graduation.  We’ll be up there from June 11-15.

And then I’ll be back at work for 2 weeks before being on furlough for four weeks.

Kind of crazy, huh?  I’m definitely staying busy!