Rendered Fat Content


"The enduring question remains whether
we'll amplify our initial naivety or learn from it …"

Late in his life, after spending decades crafting schedules for The Father of Scientific Management Frederick Winslow Taylor, Henry L. Gantt (yes, the inventor of THAT charting technique) broke with his once mentor. Taylor had preached his way into an almost notorious position, like an earlier times Billy Graham, having promised with veiled threats before repeatedly failing to fully deliver. Taylor capped his professional career by assuming the role of President of the then most prominent Engineering society, where he quickly tangled up daily operations by insisting that they be run according to his rather whacky principles. He retired without shame to his estate he had purchased by swindling Bethlehem Steel out of a significant patent he'd developed when a contractor there, dying shortly thereafter. A few years before Taylor's demise, he and Gantt has "a falling out" when Gantt, a gentile North Carolinian family man, began to speak out about the inhuman tyranny of the then much-touted emerging science of Scientific Management.

Of course, subsequent generations forgot the lessons Taylor so ably exhibited in his behavior
. Gantt, for his part, spent the final years of his life failing to set the record straight. A group of industry executives, after Gantt's death, started bestowing an annual Henry L. Gantt award to members who, as near as I can tell, serially violated, with evident glee, every principle Gantt stood for. Gantt insisted that each worker should properly be consulted about their individual contribution to any collective effort. No Talyor-ish commanding allowed. He has probably spun himself into ghee in his grave.

The Soviets became preternaturally enamored with Gantt's now infamous charting technique, and hired a small army of so-called Scientific Management Engineers, actually a loosely-associated cadre of competing wannabes, to transfer this curious technology for their use in the disastrous early five year plans. Rapid industrialization then began to coexist with rampant starvation, but the hired gun public relations campaign insisted that a revolutionary improvement had occurred. This came about after Gantt's time and long before MicroSoft incorporated his charting format into their MSProject® software, and the misuse, rather than a noble set of concepts, became widely institutionalized. Schedules, or so-called schedules, now inhabit a throne historically reserved for sole use by the more useful and revered gods.

Now, it's become fashionable for people to become slaves to their original schedule, with management firmly believing that they're responsibly holding people responsible for their personal commitments rather than merely cruelly lording over relatively powerless subordinates. I suppose this mindset leaves at least the managers feeling more powerful, at least until their project blows up from the effect of accumulated unspeakables and humiliates everyone involved, just like old F. W. Taylor's projects used to. The trick, as near as Gantt could tell from his study of Taylor's approach from his perspective as a close associate, was to be on the train to the next sucker's plant with a fat check held tight in hand before the newly implemented "improvement" completely blew up the operation.

Our massive remodeling project could fall prey to these same forces, for we started with a schedule, one we believed to be properly prescient and mindful. Of course it was just as delusion as most every schedule before it has proven to be. Lacking the resources for an effective public relations campaign and facing the prospect of living with and even passing on the results of our efforts, we're hardly in any position to lord over the contractor, who's family, let alone ourselves. We maintain the power to work ourselves until after dark, but not the power to maintain expected quality while very frequently repeating the performance. We have not committed to the schedule, but to the outcome. We employ the schedule more as Gantt suggested one be used, as a means for foreseeing complications and remaining mindful of unintended discoveries and consequences, of which the typical project encounters many. We manage this project the same way we lay underfloor, by careful measurement and painstaking placement. Discretion seems as necessary as an abiding acknowledgement that we're humans engaging and not notional Soviet machinery.

I figure we'll bring the project in at something exceeding our anticipated quality and close-enough to on-time. The weather has been determining my progress preparing wainscoting boards. The price of plywood is the price of plywood, not negotiable. The unexpected surprises, even when tempered with the surprises we explicitly understood we'd find, continue to surprise us and impact the schedule, which remains in our minds not lording over our lives like some misguided godhead leering down upon us from above. Of course the initial schedule proved naive. The enduring question remains whether we'll amplify our initial naivety or learn from it, whether we're engaged to make each other miserable to produce lasting delight. As Gantt insisted, delight always remains possible unless the schedule assumes more authority than it ever deserves.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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