Friday, March 03, 2006

Checklists and Caffeine

Shortly after I left active duty, my son and his boss asked me to come help them with organizing the operations of their fast-growing construction supply business. I started out part-time at first--I had a lot of hunting and fishing to catch up on. As time went by, I spent more and more time and eventually became the full-time operations manager.

From long training in the Marine Corps, I had learned that the first one to arrive on the battlefield had the advantage. This advantage applies whether the battlefield is an actual fight or a business venture. Getting in to work before everyone else allowed me to be organized and ready to get everyone else organized and ready. I also found, as I got more senior in rank, that my subordinates drew a certain degree of comfort from my predictability, and from the fact that I was ready with a plan for the day when they arrived.

Of course, the first to arrive at the office also had the responsibility for making the coffee. I am a prodigious consumer of coffee. If caffeine is ever out-lawed, I'm changing my name to Jesse James. I took great pleasure in having that first bitter taste of the bean, at my desk, in the quiet before the arrival of the rest of the gang.

Besides making the coffee, my more visible duties as operations manager were generally to issue orders for the day's and week's deliveries and installation jobs, and then record all of the activities accomplished at the end of the day in a series of reports. Although there was a lot to do, my routine and the relative simplicity of the tasks, made it look fairly easy. I also made checklists for everyone else to help keep them on task.

When I left that job last year, the guys presented me with a coffee mug. They told me that, through close observation, they had figured out my duties, and they pointed out the checklist printed on the side of the coffee mug.

1. Make the coffee.
2. Drink the coffee.
3. Tell people what to do.
4. Write it down.

That about sums it up.
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