Cell Phones and work

“about which more anon”

Then I got distracted.


The cell phone is paid by the company, which means I am theoretically available via said phone to handle business needs. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does…

Last year, we’re on our way to Tulsa for Christmas. I’m driving across I-70 in, IIRC, western central Illinois when the cell rings. It’s the plant manager of one of our plants, and there’s a customer with A Problem That We Must Fix Immediately. Problem is described, I make a quick analysis — all the while keeping on my westward path — and suggest a quick fix and a long-term fix based on the assumption that the problem is, in fact, as described.

I should point out at this stage that this was a potential issue that we had brought to the customer’s attention some 4 years earlier, again 2 years prior, and yet again about a year prior to this incident, and each time, the customer poo-poo’d our concerns, not wanting to spend money to fix it (dancing around the details, it involves a part sized for one version of the engine that would be rather oversize for another version of the engine, and we suggested making a version the right size for the other, lower-production volume version of the engine to avoid this possible issue).

Anyway, that conversation over, about a half-hour later, the phone rings again. My uber-boss (the director). Same situation, relay that I’d already talked to the plant manager and what I’d told him. No big deal, the boss wanted to make sure he had it straight from me for the conference call with the supplier, which he hoped to keep me out of.

Couple hours later, we’ve stopped for lunch and are now on I-44 in Missouri. Phone rings again, boss again, more details from conference call, we work out a plan of attack. Okay, good to go, have a good Christmas…

A few days later, we’re now almost home (I-94 in Michigan), phone rings, it’s my senior technician with test results that confirm what we’ve been saying all along, plus he wants me to talk to the customer people as the boss is now snowmobiling Up North and out of cell coverage (smart man…). Okay, say I, and he gives them my number.

Customer’s “Six Sigma” specialist calls me a short time later. I pull off and Karen takes over the driving…

A side note on “Six Sigma”. It’s ostensibly a problem-solving process. It’s been largely discredited in most industries, but several large automotive enterprises are a bit out of phase and still use it. What happens is they have these “experts” with silly martial-arts titles like “Six-Sigma Green Belt” or the coveted-by-people-who-don’t-know-better “Six-Sigma Black Belt” who are experts at this supposed-problem-solving-process but don’t actually know the products whose problems they’re trying to solve. They just parachute in and throw buzzwords around and browbeat people into submission, declare the problem solved, and then dash off to the next problem they know nothing about. Apparently, one can make a good deal of money off clueless management drones (none of which would last 30 seconds at my employer) as a Six Sigma Consultant, provided one doesn’t mind not being able to look oneself in the mirror every morning and has a large supply of paper towels to mop up the slime trail one leaves behind.

Anyway, the Black Belt has called me. It is clear — CLEAR — that my employer is being thrown under the bus yet again by this customer, as has happened on several other occasions where we are being blamed for something not of our making and not something we can fix. I give the Black Belt the history of this product, including all the times we suggested this needed to be optimized for the specific application, only to have the suggestions rejected out of hand by the customer. Furthermore, it’s also clear that they don’t actually know what’s causing the problem they’re having! They haven’t actually root-caused the problem yet, we’re just getting blamed automatically.

A couple hours later… we’re home, but I’m still on the phone with this guy and a couple others who have joined in — none of whom are the product engineers who know the product; they’re all trouble-shooters who apparently were the only ones who answered their phones… the product engineers are all incommunicado (smart guys…).

More conference calls scheduled for that night, and again the next morning, and the next 2 days after that. It eventually comes out that the problem thought to be due to our product was in fact due to something completely different: an insufficiently-strong mudflap would break in cold conditions when hit with snow/ice/slush, and subsequently whenever the driver turned right, the left front wheel would throw snow & ice into the engine’s air inlet, which would then get blocked, and something bad would then happen to parts of the engine, which looked like it could have been caused by our product, ’cause by the time it got to the shop, the snowball in the air inlet had melted… It also turned out that they’d never actually tested for snow packing on this vehicle, using “surrogate” data from a completely different vehicle with a completely different configuration instead. They reconfigured a few things to eliminate that problem, and lo! no more issues. Imagine that.

Hey, I got a couple of compensatory days off out of it, at least… all because my cell phone is available for work stuff. 🙂


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