Lessons from Leaders – How to Get the Iron Out the Door (and not have it come back in!)

This blog starts a series looking at lessons that I learned from Leaders.  In the next 5 weeks, I will deep dive into lessons learned from leaders I have known both within my professional life and out.   From each, I learned lessons that I find applicable to my daily life and hopefully yours.
So, let’s go back to this week’s profile.  The leader that I learned the most from (which is probably similar to a lot of you) was my Dad – Big D.  Yes believe it or not I am Little D or Donnie, Jr. to my family . Here SELRES_685daa2d-0d7f-4e23-9206-3cd7bea08b92SELRES_7fc0f629-707a-4c70-87ba-2d572ceec0b5SELRES_50767d2e-de8b-4c15-82ab-12ff627b7ed6SELRES_a27e4991-615f-43ae-92a0-10c1181a3ac0is SELRES_a27e4991-615f-43ae-92a0-10c1181a3ac0SELRES_50767d2e-de8b-4c15-82ab-12ff627b7ed6SELRES_7fc0f629-707a-4c70-87ba-2d572ceec0b5SELRES_685daa2d-0d7f-4e23-9206-3cd7bea08b92a picture of Big D and Little D.

big-d-300x293

One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was you have to “Get the Iron Out the Door”.  Coincidentally, that is the root of the title of the Quarterly Professional Services newsletter, “Getting the Iron Out the Door” that my team puts out at work.  Two of the lesson I learned from Big D relates to getting the iron the door.
What is the Iron?  Where is the Door?  The iron refers to large turbines that reside in dams to generate electricity.   Big D was a steelworker/machinist and later the manager of Turbocare in Houston, Texas.  These turbines would come in the “door” of Turbocare from all over the world (Columbia, US, India, etc.) for maintenance or emergency repair.

As soon as the turbine came in the door, it was Big D’s responsibility to drive his team to get the repair done as quickly as possible while fixing the root problem and maintaining quality.  You can imagine the pressure to get these turbines back repaired.  They powered cities like Detroit or Bogota.  Every day that the turbine spent being repaired, part of the electrical capacity powering the city was out.  A brownout could occur or even a blackout.  In addition, they could only be carried by a train or ship and for some of these places the ship or train schedules where tight.
Now “Getting the Iron Out the Door” did not mean rushing around and slapping a fix in, as Big D explained to me.   It was too costly to send a half repaired turbine out the door.  The shipping costs alone are enormous.  You first needed to physically and electronically inspect the turbine to determine the root cause of the problem which was usually a blade bent a fraction of an inch. Then and only then you could precision machine or weld the blade or rotor with the problem.  Lastly and most importantly, you needed to test the balance of the turbine to precise specification.  The whole while the clock was ticking and the ship or train was waiting.  If you made the right decisions on balancing speed with quality, the Iron went Out the Door and did not come back.  See the picture of a turbine going out the door of Turbocare below.

turbine

How do I take Big D’s lesson in leadership to my life as in overseeing software engagements?  Our job each day is to “Get the Program Checked In”, so we can meet the deadlines of our client.  In so doing, we cannot sacrifice quality for speed.  The “shipping costs” using our analogy are software users and clients not being served.  How do we like Big D see the clock ticking but not hear it, “Get the Iron Out the Door” without it coming back in.

  1.  Do a careful analysis to find the root cause of the code problem or a careful impact analysis to perform a comprehensive design.  This is analogous to finding the blade bent by a hair or the hair line fracture in the Turbine.
  2. Next follow the design and analysis precisely.  Use precision code and tools to fix the root cause of the problem or make the new functionality first time right!
  3. Lastly, test your application to specification.  A program not to specification will be subject to warranty (come back in the door) or worst yet not meet the needs of clients.

I miss Big D each and every day.  Let us heed his words of leadership well and Get the Iron Out the Door and not allow it back in!

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