When a factory comes to a screeching halt and the collected team managers start pointing fingers at team members and ducking blame, one manager sets a valuable example by offering up a name--his own.
"Ants and firecrackers!"
Charles "Chomp" Lewis' metaphor expressed his frustration. As AutoPlus Parts' new vice president of operations, he needed to know immediately why the bug-shield factory's production line was as dead as an insect hitting a bug-shield at seventy miles per hour.
"Did any of you ever shove a firecracker down an ant hole as a kid?" he asked the assembled division managers, and a few nodded. "After it blew up, they'd run all over the place. They would be completely confused and not get their work done. Right now, I feel like someone just shoved a firecracker in our hole. How do we suddenly stop ordering parts we always need?"
Chomp's bottom-line style had been honed by his twenty-five years as a logistics officer in the U.S. Army. (The "Chomp" appellation was rooted in his tendency to chomp on his cigar when working through a problem.) He joined AutoPlus Parts soon after his military retirement.
Chomp worked his question around the table. He shot an inquisitive look to Jim Kiszup, the purchasing manager.
"It wasn't my folks," Jim said. "Don and Carol know they're accountable for anything that goes wrong. They checked everything they did last week. They did exactly what the purchasing software told them to do."
"Didn't you walk out to the warehouse and see we were running out of supplies?" Chomp replied.
"That would be a bit difficult. There's a lot of inventory out there. Besides, Don and Carol normally don't do that because they depend on the data's accuracy," Jim said.
Chomp redirected his sights to Pat Dodge, whose team supported accounting and purchasing software. "So, Pat, did what's-her-name commit another act of incompetence?"
"You mean Sue?" Pat asked, and Chomp acknowledged the name of the "one remaining software engineer on Pat's team. "No way! She hasn't touched that purchasing software in months. Besides, I told her she was on thin ice after that last incident."
Chomp continued shifting his stern countenance, accentuated by his large jaw and heavy brow. His unlit Havana cigar was held dead center to his lips by the clasp of his index finger and supporting fist. That-and his broad shoulders and his head topped with the dark circle of a crew cut-made him look like a tank with its turret aimed at you. As he looked at the managers, they instinctively took cover by reporting to Chomp that no staff member in their areas had done anything wrong.
"So nobody did anything wrong?" Chomp challenged.
"We found the problem," a voice announced.
"Who's 'we'?" Chomp glanced left and right repeatedly, searching for a target.
"It was my team," said Mike Holt, who had stepped in late to the meeting. His team provided software support for manufacturing and inventory. Chomp knew him to be a quiet sort of person and was somewhat surprised to hear him speak up.
"So what happened?"
"To make a long story short," Mike said, "we misused a third-party library call. When getting data from the database, the code didn't check for what's called a null value flag. Unfortunately, the thirdparty software doesn't change the value member of the object from a previous read when the new row's value is null,
Chomp looked confused.
"Let me rephrase that," Mike said. "We screwed up."
Chomp nodded. "Is it fixable?"
"Yes. We just did the fix and are testing it right now. We should have it in place by this afternoon. We'll also have someone here through the night to monitor everything."
"So, who did this?"
"Well," Mike said, looking a little nervous, "as I said, it