Getting the Iron Out Door – Lessons from Big D for Developers

This is the first of a series of Father’s day blogs.  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 is a picture of Big D and Little D.

big-d

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”.  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 1

How do I take Big D’s lesson in leadership to my life as in Accenture overseeing IT engagements?  Maybe our systems in Public Service do not power cities but they help feed hungry children (SNAP), keep a family afloat in an emergency (TANF), and help care for people with urgent medical conditions (Medicaid).  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 families not being served.  How do IT developers 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 cause a family to miss the benefits for which they are eligible.

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!

The Lessons I Leaned When Running Away

When I was 16, I made the rash decision to run away.  I was distressed that I was moving away from my home in New Jersey and losing my friends.  It was understandable in some respects.  I was half way through my junior year and was tied to my school and in particular my first girlfriend.  I thought the world was ending but really it was only beginning.

I remember the day as it is almost yesterday.  My Dad was a bit steamed after my Grandpop, Uncle, Aunt and cousins came over to wish us off.  As to be expected, everyone was sad to see us leave and a lot of tears were shed.  I remember my Dad saying something to the effect that he could not take another person crying (my Mom’s family was Irish and as the stereotype goes a bit emotional).  I just got upset and belligerent after hearing that.  I told him “Well, I am half my Mom’s side and I am not crying and promised to take off.”  He half dismissed it but I did not.  At that moment, I decided to run away.

My great idea was I would run as fast as I could the 5 or 6 miles to Yardville to my Uncle Johnny’s house and hide out in the woods.  Then when my family left for Texas heartbroken, I would have my cousin bring me food while I lived out in the woods behind their house (I said the idea was rash!).  Just to show what crazy things teen age love can do, I decided then and there to take off.  I ran with all my might and with the stuffed toy Dog (Little Rascal) my girlfriend gave me.  I set off to Yardville to hide out in the woods.

Back then I could run fast.  I ran out of Crosswicks out past Ocker’s Barrel where my Dad worked when on strike (which you see below).  I got 4 and a half miles and was just about to turn off the main street to my Uncle Johnnie’s house when my Dad in the car caught up to me.

Ocker's Barrel
Ocker’s Barrel as I ran past

I do not know how he knew where I was going.  I will never forget it.  He told me that he was sorry and that I and all of my Mom’s side were tough.  He then explained that we needed to move to Texas to make a better life.  Part of the steel mill was moving down South and as a result he was not reelected as union Vice President.  He got an offer in Texas for his work and we needed to move to make a new life.  He then hugged me and I got in the car.

My brothers and my sister (although she was a bit young) can attest that I was not a happy camper on the way to Texas.  I sat sullen and made sure that I never took a turn in the middle seat.  My brothers adjusted better.  Each chance I could I would either write or try and call my girlfriend.  Let’s just say I was not a happy camper.

But I should have been!  Texas turned out to be a great place to complete my High School years.  And we literally were still in Jersey (not New Jersey but Jersey Village, outside of Houston)!  I learned four valuable lessons on my attempted run away and capture:

  1. I was self-absorbed. Yes, I lived 16+ years in New Jersey but my Mom had lived 38!  She was leaving the family and friends she grew up with for the family she nurtured and loved.  I still remember my Granpop’s hands shaking and my Mom tearing up on the day we left. My Dad, although a Texan by birth, was also leaving behind more. He had lived in New Jersey for 20 years and was now had ties as deep there than in his native state.  Known as Big D, he was leaving his friends, co-workers and the community where he was the coach of the Red Sox, the Cubmaster of Pack 55, and institution at NBC wresting matches and football games.
  2. Moving to a new place meant new friends. After a few months adapting (boy the football coaches had fun with me and my brother’s accents!), I met new friends, dated new girls and created lasting relationships that still endure.
  3. I learned a lesson that I covet as a Father. Sometimes when you are providing for your family you have to make a hard decision.  My Dad would have liked nothing more than to stay in New Jersey where he built so many bonds.  But the steel mills were moving South (and later off shore).
  4. The last lesson from him is the power of apology.  I should have apologized to him not the other way around! I will never forget when he caught up to me in the car and took me home.  It takes a big man to apologize to angst filled son!