Thursday 26 November 2020


Today: Thanksgiving! My mother was a good plain cook. Limited repertoire, nothing fancy, no garlic; but reliable. My father was a naval officer, who ran a tight ship. For him, lunch was at 1 o'clock ± 2 minutes. His wife managed to deliver, every day that he wasn't at sea. For Sunday dinner, you have to work backwards: the chicken, the gravy, the peas, the roast potatoes, the carrots have to be au point at 1255hrs; the table must be laid; the wine, if any, must be chambrĂ©; the troops must be assembled with hands washed. It's not obvious to all thinking people how to achieve this efficiently and on time; it comes with experience. You shouldn't roast the spuds without first par-boiling them for 5 minutes and that must come after "peeling potatoes". Carrots take longer to cook than peas. Where is the blue table-cloth??? You don't need a written SOP, or a flow-diagram but it helps if you have helped a more experienced cook in the process. I too have lunch at 1 o'clock ± 2 minutes [must be genetic] but most days a cheese sandwich will do just fine. 

In my mother's kitchen there was often only a single Effective, so she didn't need a foreman or a line-manager. It's different in a steel foundry will 3,000 employees and a full order-book: 12,000 horse-shoes by Wednesday next; 400 bollards by the end of the month; that cauldron for the brewery. Each product will have different specs for ductility, quality and strength. As well as the delivery date, there will be prior dependencies [like the potatoes above], and a labour-force with varied levels of skill and experience. All these have to be managed efficiently or there will be unhappy customers, unpaid suppliers and revolting workers. 

Henry Gantt was born into good slave-owning farming stock in Maryland in 1861. That all patrimony went up in smoke in the Civil War and he set to work in the steel industry after securing his M.Eng. He is now best know for the eponymous Gantt Chart which forces you to think your project through. It highlights
a) if some of your personnel /tasks are overloaded and others are passengers; and thus allows you to balance your resources /time
b) dependencies: in the picture the bioinformatics doesn't start until some sequence data has been generated.
makes you
c) get real on how long things actually take so you can cut your cloth to fit the time available
allows you in Excel
d) to go mad with your colour palette.
Here's one I did earlier

For the last 25 years the EU has requested-and-required applicants for grants to submit a Gantt Chart with their research proposal. They also formalised the breakdown of the project into Work-packages comprised of Tasks. The Department of Agriculture and SFI, soon slavishly followed Brussels in these requirements. Research proposals are largely aspirational: if we knew how everything would work out we wouldn't be doing science! I doubt if any of the peer-reviewing scientists who vetted the applications looked carefully at the Gantt Chart beyond noting [✓] that there was one. They knew, from their own experience, just how unlikely it was that the project would follow the chart. In my decade working in Comparative Immunology, we applied (not always successfully) for a lot of money. My expertise at Gantting got better as I recycled the basic template, but mine were never as pretty as those of my co-worker Kieran - he has an artistic eye. 

In his day Henry Gantt was equally famous for his management of people - in the interests of efficiency and the pursuit of the almighty dollar. He recognised that you could do better for the share-holders if you did well by the workers; not only in the pay-packet but also in respect and engagement. "I have never had any opposition whatever from the workman that was not immediately overcome as soon as he understood what we are doing".  He advocated giving a bonus to foremen who reached certain standards of quality: to incentivize them to train their team well and deal effectively with any passengers. He was much more about carroting the work along than pacing the hands with a big stick. Sustainable production means less labour turn-over and so a more knowledgeable work-force and more dollars all round. Gantt [biographical deets] died on the Sunday before Thanksgiving 1919.

1 comment:

  1. Now I'm hungry. Your Gantt is missing milestones and a critical path, although your colours are lovely.