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Just another typical meeting

Just another typical meeting

I attended a business meeting last week, but my role was that of a spectator, not a participant. This perspective enabled me to take a cool hard look at the various types of personnel working on our current programs, and to see how this closely integrated team helped make us the company we are today. There was a considerable mix of people attending the meeting with representatives from engineering, quality, manufacturing, contracts, and the program office (invited because they always bring coffee and donuts). On the other side of the table were our customers, with their technical support and financial teams. It certainly looked like this was going to be another long, drag-out fight to see who could avoid taking any hits on the day's agenda.

The program manager started the discussion with a review of his most recent project schedule, the one that already incorporated a three-month slide to the right. The customer's team members suddenly started shuffling their papers and asked, "Where'd that schedule come from? Our schedule shows that you're supposed to be entering the second phase of testing next month, yet you've barely begun prototype assembly." The program manager's typical response was that engineering had taken too long in finalizing the design and getting all of the drawings and specifications approved and routed to the suppliers.

With this first attack, the chief engineer took the podium and announced that the design had been completed months earlier, but that quality and manufacturing had refused to sign off on the drawings. It seems that QA and manufacturing had some critical questions dealing with the use of commercial versus special application specifications, and they were looking into any possible production impacts. Engineering retorted, "But we're in a proof-of-principle program, and your unwarranted production issues need to wait until after demonstration testing has been completed."

A second attack, now the meeting was getting interesting! Quality took exception to the claim that they were holding up the design and checked their review sheets. "It says here that we approved the revision D drawings six weeks ago, and the design was ready to be sent to company XYZ for fabrication. You need to check with Purchasing to see why the work hasn't been done."

At this point, the temperature in the room was rising. Purchasing jumped into the fray with their simple statement that company XYZ failed the quality audit we'd made so they're no longer qualified to manufacture the part, and it was subsequently contracted out to another firm. "They've prepared a formal contract scope of work for this effort, but our contracts department hasn't approved the terms-and-conditions yet so they've put our parts on hold," they explained.

With the direction now focused on the contracts guy, he produced a copy of our customer's contract and read aloud, "The contractor shall obtain customer approval for each subcontract in excess of $50,000." He followed that up with, "We submitted the formal request for customer approval for this subcontract to the Program Manager three weeks ago, but he indicated this could wait until the customer visit."

With that, the Program Manager turned to our customer, "Please review the hand-out and we'll go over the request. If you'll approve this subcontract, we can have these parts ready for testing in just three short months. That'll put us into test by the end of the year, as this schedule shows. Are there any questions?"

"Just one," replied the customer, "Does your team ever meet and discuss these issues without us here, or do you save all the bad news so we can all hear it together for the first time?" ZING! I'm just glad to have been a spectator at this meeting-too bad I didn't get to see our new team dynamics in action though.

This report is one of a series of occasional columns exploring the not-altogether-serious side of engineering by Ken Foote, a mechanical engineer at GDLS. You can reach Ken at [email protected] or e-mail your comments to us at [email protected]. Let us know if you have a humorous situation relating to a meeting you've attended.

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