Living by Deadlines

Turning Point


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I’d say everyone involved in business, with a few exceptions, is under the gun in one way or another. Take my business, publishing, as an example. We are so deadline driven that it makes me ache.

To describe the feeling magazine deadlines engender in me, I use an analogy from the first Indiana Jones movie when he’s running from the big stone ball. The ball represents deadlines. While Indy gets away from it in the movie, in my reality it feels like an endless chase.
But deadlines do serve a purpose. They are a counter balance to the inherent human tendency toward procrastination—why do today what can be put off until tomorrow?
It’s interesting for those of us heavily in the grip of deadlines to look out at people, businesses and entities that don’t seem to have a clue about timeliness. Most local, state and federal governmental institutions seem infected with an attitude of “it’ll get done when it gets done regardless of our promise.” My deadline focused brain makes me feel like jumping the counter and throttling someone when I encounter this, but my cooler brain hemisphere prevails.  
Airlines also make my “who gives a darn” list. In their defense, I do understand that there are often things out of their control that can impact a posted departure time. But, when I walk down a concourse and see ten flights scheduled to leave at 9:15 a.m., and I know there are only four runways, somebody is going to be late. To me, that’s just dumb scheduling and only helps feed customer frustration at a seeming unconcerned airline industry. And not to mention the fees: Try charging your customer a fee for using the shop’s bathroom.  
My list could go on and on—cable companies, delivery people, home repair folks, doctor’s offices—I think you get my drift. So often these and other so called “service” industries really have the customer under the barrel because deadlines are generally not a part of their culture.
It seems to me that real competition for timeliness in many of these service-type businesses simply doesn’t exist almost as if by design. Imagine if the cable guy said he’ll be at the house at 10 a.m. prompt instead of giving us a window between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Imagine telling your customer, that even though he ordered 5,000 parts, you only made between 2,000 and 5,000. The cable guy isn’t prompt because he doesn’t have to be. Well my dear readers, we have to be. If I, for some reason, failed to put out an issue of Production Machining, I’m gone.
Likewise, the precision machined parts industry that we call home is today totally customer driven. Here, deadlines translate into delivery dates and increasingly the ability to hit these dates is a critical metric to determine if a customer is going to be a repeat customer.
Your shops are in competition with shops locally, regionally, nationally and globally. A good customer relationship is simply too precious to endanger because, unlike our service friends, your customers have a choice.
However, I can remember when there was so much demand for the work metalworking shops could provide that, in effect, these shops could get away with somewhat shoddy work, a percentage of scrap per shipment and delivery slippages simply because the customer needed parts that badly.
I do find it a bit ironic that back in the day when manufacturing shops ruled because of high demand, airlines were wonderful, government seemed to be responsive, and most service was prompt and polite. For sure, that worm has turned on manufacturing.
I submit that any shop that has not transitioned from the old demand-based model to the supply-based model we now have is either out of business or soon will be. Unlike our service industry and governmental brethren who seem immune to keeping their customers happy, in the industry of precision machined parts, our customers are king. While many wish to be treated as such, as their suppliers we must deliver what they want on time. Here’s a deal between us deadline dependents: I’ll keep supplying PM every month and you continue keeping your customers happy. 