Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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We are sorry for the delay to this weeks BoyOnTop Blog. This is caused by train overcrowding and no available seats for the Boy to blog from. SouthCrap Trains appologises for this delay to your blogging pleasure.

Normal Service will resume shortly (he hopes... he hates standing on the train, hurts his back it does)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ding Dong

I’ve written about the cottage before. It’s a lovely place and is where LL’s maternal grandparents finally retired to. Recently the local church did a drive to raise funds to purchase 4 second hand bells and to caste 2 new ones to take them from a peel of 3 to a peel of nine. In quintessential british fashion LL’s family clubbed together to pay for one of the new bells (the grandparents are buried in the church graveyard).

The casting was two days ago. In equally quintessentially british fashion (well, perhaps quintessentially family fashion, such disorganisation is a family standard throughout the world I think) we didn’t find out about it until two days in advance (even though LL’s parents came down to stay with us to be closer to the foundry, we thought they were coming down for completely different reasons).

I couldn’t get the time off on such short notice, but LL did and the boy’s schools enthusiastically supported them being pulled out for the day. Ali Baba’s teacher even wailed more than we had at the short notice. She would have brought the whole class along.

Needless to say, the kids loved it. They were well behaved which pleased their mother and grandmother to no end. Maternal pride swells big time when receiving compliments from the other ladies of the church on delightfully well behaved children. Plus, they frankly learned loads. I received a detailed enthusiastic lecture on how a bell is cast, what proportion of which metals is used, how they get tuned, and so on and so on.

What really made me proud though (as if I could get any more proud of my kids), was that my painfully shy little Ali Baba got up in front of his whole school at assembly and did an impromptu speech. Confidence is such a precious thing, it’s a joy to see it sparkle.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Corporate Trough

Business Diners.

They conjure up a mood of back room deals over £1,000 bottles of wine. Of smug corporate with belly’s spilling over their belts, chowing down while the little guy eats bread. As in any stereotype there is grains of truth, and bucket loads of untruth based on mostly what people would like to believe.

I’ve done lots of them. To be honest I’ve had some truly amazing meals in some of the best restaurants going. At its best, it can be a highly civilised, jovial affair with people you like and respect. Two of my top five most memorable meals have been corporate funded. I have many many fond memories of being taken by locals around the world taking me out to their dearest and favourite restaurants.

A lot though, are not so fun. The joviality is forced, the mood dire and their can be painful silences as everyone around the table thinks hard of something to say. You can be sitting across the table with people you dislike, or even loath. Some of the conversations can be cringingly bad. Boasting seems a necessary part of such events.

Last night I had one of the meals that tended towards the later. My core team, and the leadership team from our key supplier on the big mysterious project went out to have a celebratory meal. We went to what is normally a truly fine Italian restaurant, but the service was appalling, and the food mediocre last night.

I had to sit next to a man I’d been angrily arguing fault and cost with earlier in the day. He’s OK, really, but one of those corporate men who refuses to admit fault on his own companies behalf, but is happy to ladle blame in your direction. A nice enough guy, but not someone I’d invite over for Sunday lunch.

So I put a smile on my face for everyone else around us, who really deserved a good night out for a hard won and successful project. We talked and chatted and there were a few painful silences, but not many. It was, at best, an all right evening.

However, it won’t be entering the list of my top five most memorable meals. It won’t even be entering the top one hundred.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

All Consuming Fire

The problem with big projects is they can get pretty all consuming. That has its pleasures, there is a burning focus that has an endorphin high all of its own. You also can get staff to drive themselves up and beyond normal limits. Its quite enjoyable in a perverse masochistic sense. It also has its downsides. A few balls in the juggling act not related to the all consuming focus, tend to get dropped.

I’m now in sweep up mode. There are balls strewn about me and the last couple days has been spent picking them up, figuring out if its still an important ball, and then throwing it up back into the juggling pattern. Some of the balls have been damaged, so there’s a fair bit of fixing and sorting to do.

One of my key suppliers has suffered the same problem. In their drive to work with us on the big project, they ignored the small. Problem is they seem to expect us to pay extra for their inattention. I was a right angry bear yesterday, and likely will remain so for the rest of the week.

There are other distractions, like making sure I rotate a lot of staff who deferred holidays to get a rest. I’m a firm believer in holidays, but the needs of the projects meant a lot of people not taking them. I had a couple people even working on Christmas day. I don’t ask for that sort of devotion to the job, but its great to see when you get it. Now the thing is making sure they do take some time.

I’m also still arguing with facilities to get some new space. I have teams spread across three buildings in seven locations. Despite our CEO repeatedly promising to sort it, our facilities department is lost in the ‘70s and seems to take direction from no one. Last week, despite my banging the walls for months, ten desks suddenly appeared in an empty space that had been reserved for me for ages, and where magically filled with another department. I suspect a dinner or two, or conservatory appeared where it shouldn’t have.

Damn good thing its interesting work.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


So I had a week off, and there where a few calls and emails every day, but frankly, I didn’t do much. Oh, a few odd jobs, got the kids new computer in order and up to snuff. They’re rather taken with Lego Star Wars (talk about two brands combining in an odd offspring), so I hooked up two joysticks to let the boys play at the same time. I did a little gardening work, changed a few light bulbs that require getting the ladder out, fixed a curtain rail, little odd jobs.

Mostly though I did not much, or played with the kids. Both are good therapy. Playing with the kids requires a shutting down of some functions and letting other ones run rampant. Bringing too much logic to bear when you are having a tea party with your three year old daughter just won’t do. Arguing with your seven year old that he should put his lego blocks this way instead of that to make a stronger base is a bit fruitless. There is learning there, but he’ll figure it out himself when it falls apart, and in the mean time he’s having fun.

There is likely some health benefit in going swimming, and we did a lot of trips to the swimming pool, but I don’t think whooping loudly as you slide down the water flume counts much. The therapy is just being with the kids, being a bit of a kid. It did my soul good.

Then there’s the benefits of sloth. I actually consider myself a lazy person. I mean, I do a lot, get a lot done, but I always look to how to minimise the work, make sure I’m doing no more than I absolutely have to. Whenever I get the chance I like to not do very much at all. This does cause some household conflict as LL is most definitely not a lazy person. She was brought up with healthy doses of protestant guilt, and can’t stand there not being something purposeful done.

I, however, am perfectly happy to put my feet up sometimes. If I can find the moments, just stopping and not doing anything other than let my mind drift, is heaven. It doesn’t hurt if there’s a book present, but it doesn’t hurt if there isn’t either. My mind goes on little journeys, hopping from this idea to that, often with no connection. I do some of my best (or worst depending on the point of view) thinking when its unrelated to anything at all.

So here’s to playing, and here’s to a bit of sloth, and oh when is that next holiday?

Monday, February 19, 2007


So, first day back at work. Train delayed by 5 minutes and no seats (therefor no lengthy diabtribe on the worth of sloth as no chance to sit and type), tills at Starbucks broken, so no necessary coffee (you'd think they'd be wise enough to offer it free), come in to find my printer has been stolen from my desk whilst away, there are at least 400 unread emails in my in basket, and in ten minutes I start a day of back to back meetings that stretch from now to 6pm.

Isn't work grand?

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I wook up with the most curious sensation this morning. I still felt tired, and could quite happily have slept longer, but I suddenly relaised I had nothing more arduous planned than a swimming expidition with number two son. I was relaxed.

True enough, it hasn't been much of a holiday week, in that I've had phone calls every day. Lots of loose ends to tie up. A bit of a shame I'm not taking more than a week, as by next week I wouldn't be needed so much (I'm not fool enough to think I'm indispensible). But the kids would be back at school next week, so there's not quite the incentive.

We've got a holiday planned for around Easter, going away to somewhere warm with a beach, so that's something to look forward to. We should have gone skiing this week, but didn't get ourselves organised enough, and LL couldn't arrange cover at work.

Still, its nice to have the pressure lifted a bit. I'm getting lots of small chores done (replaced a light bulb this morning, and patched a bit of fence that some rabbits nipped through). I'm also quite enjoying having an evening meal every day en famile. If I could change one thing about my life, it would be to get home to have dinner with my family every day. I really miss that, though we make up for it at the weekends.

Any way, no real point to this post, other than to say I'm relaxed.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Science and Myth

So my big old project is complete, and life is returning back to normal. The world is looking at my baby, and generally the feedback is good. I'm sort of taking this week off. Its the kids half term, and though I have one day in the office, mostly I'm taking it off (LL couldn't get the week off, so we're staying at home) to catch up on a bit of time with them. I'll blog intermitently, but mostly I'll be with my kids.

A nice social weekend, some friends dropped by for a cup of tea on Saturday, then Sunday we had a family we hadn't seen in a while over. Very nice indeed. I did the boys beoef bourgenoine, and a pear frangipane.

A side line is I get to do a bit more reading than normal. Came across this article on global warming that I quite liked. Its radical and pushes back at the current accepted thinking which I like. Is global warming really global warming, or is it something else?

The truth is we just don't know. People keep talking about England becoming balmy and tropical, but the truth could be completely different. Due to ice sheet melting in the Artic, the North Atlantic Drift may shut down putting Europe into an ice age. There's good evidence this MAY happen, contrary to what the Global Warming pundits claim.

So, the quest for truth goes on. We shall just have to see what happens in the next 20 years. Just remember, it may not be what you think.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Self Flagellation

I’m back

One project launched and in mad and busy use. It has been a hectic week, far too much so. I’ve spent the last days with little sleep and lots of adrenalin. In between re-prioritising my teams and fighting all the fires I have kept asking myself what did I miss?

When I did my MBA I learned a lot which is frankly, pretty useless. Some things though dropped into my mind as core truths and drive how I work, how I behave. One was a bit of old quality theory. Deming was an American academic who wasn’t paid attention to in America. So he went to where he was listened to, Japan. There he spent the later part of his life developing a pretty solid base of manufacturing and management theory.

In his early studies he examined factory work lines. When something went wrong, he spent a lot of time tracing it back to root cause. His result was a view that 98% of all errors could be put down to management. Yes, Joe Blogs might have fumbled putting a bolt in poorly, but he may have fumbled because the bolt he was given was the wrong size, or the last bolt he had to put in made him move 20 feet to put this one in, or he had too many bolts to put in at once.

Interestingly, what I liked about his theories was that he didn’t remove individual responsibility for error, what he was saying is that often management decision removes the ability of an individual to work in a quality way. His theories where the basis of Kaizen workforce management and transformed manufacturing. It’s a rare factory you go into today that doesn’t use small workforce teams to monitor their own quality, and use continuous improvement to improve quality.

Another of his theories was to bust the previous thinking that quality product cost more to produce. Curiously, if you reduce the number of errors in production, if you build a better product, it costs less.

So, I’ve spent the last few days cogitating at what went wrong. I can point to the mistakes. Yes, some of our team made a few real grade A f*&% ups, but if I trace back, if we’d done just a couple things differently they wouldn’t have made those mistakes.

Ah well, we’re over the hump. Our product is now humming smoothly, and in general impressions are good. Now a bit of a breather, then its time to catch up on all the other work we’ve ignored and get a couple of other projects back on track.