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18 Feb 2012

Bring In The New

The company was replacing an old piece of machinery with not a new piece of the same machine but a whole new deal. It meant that the staff who knew the operations of the current machine had to start at the beginning of the learning curve when the new one comes in. Needless to say, there was a fair amount of resistance to the change. The management won the argument, if there ever was one, and the shipment arrived at the door one fine morning.

As production had to go on, the old working systems were kept running while the new one was being installed. It took twice as much space to run the factory this way and slightly more expensive but the deal had been signed. The traders from the supplier's factory arrived with boxes of the various parts of equipment, expecting help from us to configure it according to our needs. Some experienced workers were yanked off the floor to assist with setting up the system. The less experienced staff were left fiddling with running the operations of the shop.

The old men did not want to leave their familiar environment and the young boys, excited about the new toy, were not allowed anywhere near it. "You lack the skills to help with the fitting", they were told. Hanging about the older rusty tools made the young crowd restless while their counterparts poking around with the mass of shiny metal parts upstairs were wavering. For a while, everyone on both floors was an unhappy person. Everyone felt like an apprentice.

In time, people accepted their roles grudgingly and the noise from the two systems banging about became the way of life. Occasionally, one of the newbies downstairs would be called upstairs, to move something here or explain something there and they would go back. The couple of times I went upstairs, I came down charged up.

The big machine came with a lot of little attachments on the side. None of it was free but, for some reason, the management had decided that it would be useful to buy the extra stuff too. As they were fitted, which was rather quick, they were brought downstairs to start operations. They came with the promise to function without any hitches, hence not in need of much attention. In reality, that was not the case and before long, we were juggling too many things on our floor. The people that were upstairs were not coming back.

One day, the area I was working in got called to bring a box back from upstairs. It was acknowledged that it would be heavy and clunky but also came with the promise of easy maintenance and a possible upgrade. We were sceptical but also eager to see what it was like.

The first thing we learned, upon opening the box, was that it was not going to plug into our existing set-up. It had to sit by the side and drone on by itself. Considering that we merely had to keep an eye on it to make sure it was picking up the right materials and thrashing out the stuff that we could sell, we were not too concerned.

The next morning, two technicians and two negotiators were sent to acquire the working knowledge of the new box from the suppliers. The surprises never seemed to end. The training was much harder than we anticipated. As one of our trainers constantly repeated, the devil was in the details. There were more details than we could assimilate each day. While the sellers knew their product very well, they had no idea about what we were doing. Trying to understand their apparatus in our environment was a Herculean task, made harder by the differences between the two parties. We spoke different languages and lived in different cultures. Not literally, of course, but it might as well have been.

We flung balls at them from all sides and they batted as best as they could. A few words were exchanged in frustration, when things didn't go very well. Eventually, the handover was complete and we went back to our respective offices. The new machine was placed in a little corner, eating away resources and churning out objects that we never had time to look at. The marketing guys would pick it up and sort it out. Many days went by before any one of us had a chance to see what was going on there.

This morning, the thing started to splutter and cough, all of us crowded around it, adding our two pennies worth of knowledge from the handover. None of us knew exactly what to do. Within the next couple of hours, shit hit the fan and everyone was yelling at each other. Some bright kids ran to the store to bring the operations manuals. This is just the beginning.

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