Are There Alligators In Your Foundry?


Roy Lobenhofer


Some years ago there was a cartoon that showed a man in water up to his waist, and there were alligators swimming around him. The caption read, ďSometimes its hard to remember that the plan is to drain the swamp when youíre up to your knees in alligators.Ē (It didnít really say knees, but I like to keep things ďGĒ rated.)


Needless to say, the cartoon was very popular in foundries because of the ďhow true it isĒ feeling for most foundrymen. Itís very hard to remember that weíre in a program of employee empowerment when weíve got a ladle of metal freezing. And itís easy to forget the policy of not making production runs until weíve received sample approval when our biggest customerís buyer is pressuring us even though his engineers havenít given the approval yet. Of course, a lot of good things arenít remembered when the ink on the bottom line turns very red.


Iíve lived for years believing the truth of this cartoon, and I still do to a certain extent. When crises arrive, you sometimes have to do things that normally you wouldnít want to do. But, I recently got a new perspective on it. I called a foundry owner friend to see how things were going. When I asked, he responded that he was up to his knees in alligators because of a person≠nel problem. That didnít surprise me because he was always fighting alligators. If he didnít have personnel problems, he had quality alligators. If it wasnít either of those, it was production problems or something else.


It was during this latest phone call that I realized my friendís plan for draining the swamp was terrible, if he had a plan at all. In fact, Iíd been trying to get him to do some long term planning for some time. Heíd always respond that he had a plan, but just not down on paper. In reality, I donít think he had a plan. He had some dreams, and then reacted to the latest set of circumstances.


Whatís the difference between plans and dreams? Dreams are great, but far different from plans. To me a plan is what you have when you figure out how you are going to make your dreams come true. When I was a kid, Iíd dream of dating Sophia Loren or Debbie Reynolds (Guess that shows how old I am!), but I certainly didnít have a plan for dating them.


In order to take any action towards a goal, there must be a plan - whether the plan is just in someoneís head or an elaborately mapped out sequence on paper. Since I didnít take any action towards trying to date the stars, I only had dreams. Was my friend taking action towards his dreams and, therefore, had a plan? Or, was he merely reacting to situations as they presented themselves? Only he can answer that question.


What I can say is that if he had a plan, it wasnít a good one. If my plan is to drain a swamp, one of the first steps in the plan is to try to figure out where the alligators are likely to be and get rid of them. There may be some rogues left over, but I certainly shouldnít be up to my knees all of the time. If I find myself spending all of my time fighting the alligators, then I should know that my plan isnít very good.


In a way, being up to your knees can be a blessing. Itís much easier to recognize that a plan is bad when in that situation than in the other common circumstance with poor plans. The other indicator of a poor plan is that it isnít drawing you any closer to the goal.


This is far more subtle than being up to your knees. You just keep working away. There are no big problems. You can go for months, or even years, and not realize that you arenít any closer to the dream. If my planning to drain the swamp was to start at the ocean with a bucket, I bet I could work for a long time without being bothered by any alligators. On the other hand, I bet I wouldnít get much of the swamp drained either.


Okay, thatís the problem, but whatís the remedy? If you think a remedy will lead to the realization of all your dreams, youíre asking the wrong guy. I do have some questions that you might ask yourself that Iíve found helpful.


1)                 Perhaps the most important question you can ask is: What are we trying to do? What is our dream? Are we trying to drain a swamp? Are we trying to improve quality? Are we trying to increase profitability? Without knowing where you want to go, itís real hard to have a plan that works.


2)                 After that the next most important question is: Do I have a plan? Can you tell yourself why what you are doing is going to get you to your goal? Do you know when it will be time to go to the next phase?


3)                 If think you have a plan and you always seem to be up to your knees, ask yourself: Are these just a bunch of rogues, or do I need a better plan. Is what led to the problems something that we couldnít have foreseen? Are the problems coming from our not following our plan?


2)                 Even if you arenít up to your knees, take the time periodically to ask yourself whether the plan is working. Is the water in the swamp getting any lower? Are you getting closer to your goal or are you just working away without really getting anywhere?


Yes, answering these questions will take time, and if youíre up to your knees, you most likely canít afford it. But if you donít take the time, may I suggest that you start looking for books on how to make pets out of alligators.


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