Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thirtieth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym asked for a responsible person for each sub-task.
 Now that the men were no longer grumbling about their gambling losses, Gwilym expected lifted spirits. While this was true the first few days, pretty soon fights between the team-members seemed to get even worse, and many had to be broken up by Gwilym. They were arguing about the different tasks they were supposed to be doing. Gwilym surmised that removing Tarrant as a common enemy had surfaced these inter-team rivalries. He called a team meeting.
“Gentlemen! We are all working together to build a grand structure. We know what we have to do and how we are to do it. What are we arguing about?”
“’E’s supposed to ’ook the stones to the foundation afore Oi can build on ’em but ’e won’t do it!” accused one of the men, pointing at another.
“Oo said that were moi job?” retorted the one accused.
“You’re the lead mason, of course it’s your job!” replied the first.
More men started pointing fingers at others and a general uproar ensued. Gwilym listened carefully until the shouting drowned out the words and then he stood. He said nothing, but those looking at him quieted down and those not, noticing that others had quieted, looked around and shut up at seeing Gwilym. Finally only one pair of men was left arguing.
“You keep throwin’ your stone scraps off to the side instead of bringin’ them to me for moi road!”
“Well oi’m not yer bloody servant! Get the scraps yerself!” At that the two men noticed Gwilym looking at them and felt the eyes of the rest of the men. They both blushed and quieted down.
Gwilym thought for a moment and then spoke. “Do we agree that this book shows the way the tower should be built?” Reluctant nods of heads affirmed this.
“It tells us WHY, WHERE, HOW we are building it and WHAT we are building, right?” More heads nodded.
“But what it doesn’t tell us is WHO does what, right?”
This question was greeted with enthusiastic agreement; all the men shouting over each other how this question of WHO did WHAT was affecting their work.
“Alright then, nobody does any more work today until we figure it out.”
Gwilym placed the project book in the center of the table and opened it to the defined tasks and pointed to the first one. “This task is done. See how I’ve placed a check mark next to it?” The men nodded.
“So are all these tasks.” He showed a series of tasks, all accompanied by check marks. “Here is the next task that must be done. One of you must do it. It says, ‘Level foundation.’ Who, in this room, will take responsibility for that task?”
No one said a word. The men had been used to not volunteering for work since that only meant more work for them at the same pay.
“I need two things for every task: some materials and somebody to do something with those materials. Both are resources. What I’m trying to do now is estimate resources needed to complete each task. And for that I need you to step up and take responsibility that you will be that resource.”
Gwilym looked hard at Joseph. “Isn’t that your job, Joseph?”
“Aye, it be moi job a’roit. But ain’t it your ’sponsibility?”
“The entire project is my responsibility. But I cannot be responsible for all of these tasks. I’m not a master foundation builder like you, Joseph. Only you know when it is level and strong. You’re the one who told us we had to add piles into the river and add more rock to make it strong. So I ask again, who is responsible for leveling the foundation?”
“That be me,” Joseph admitted.
“Then I will write your name next to that task. Is that alright?”
“Good. The next task says: ‘Create notch templates.’ That’s my responsibility so I’ll place my name next to that task.” Gwilym signed his name.
“Now then, the next task says: ‘Cut first logs to length.’ Who is
responsible for that?” Gwilym looked around and noticed something interesting. The men who had appeared scared at volunteering for work when he asked of the first task were looking around at each other, focusing on Peter, the lead carpenter, placing peer pressure on him to volunteer.
Peter felt their looks and raised his hand. “That’s moi task.”
“How about, ‘Cut notches in first layer of logs’?”
“Oi’ll give that task to moi apprentice, Fergus,” replied Peter.
Gwilym was about to write Fergus’ name on the plan when he had an idea. He liked the fact that men were volunteering for tasks. He felt that this would give him pressure when it came time to do the task. They had made a commitment in front of their peers to do something. If they were just told in front of others that they were responsible, they could always say that they hadn’t wanted the responsibility. But now, by volunteering, they were telling everyone that they would do it.
Gwilym turned to Fergus, “Do you agree to take on this task?”
Fergus looked to Peter, then back at Gwilym. “Oi’ll take responsibility, sirrah.”
The men laughed but shut up when they saw that Gwilym was taking this seriously. He wrote Fergus next to this task and moved to the one after it. The team went through each task, one at a time until each one had a person’s name next to it.
There were a few hitches. Some tasks had to be better defined. Gwilym readily did this, realizing that they would have had problems with these tasks when they got to that point anyway; better to plan it properly today. Some tasks were still duplicated and they were removed.
There was a task where two men wanted responsibility. ‘Place cornerstone of tower on arch.’ Joseph, the master arch builder wanted to be certain this was placed in the correct location but so did William, the tower man. In this case, Gwilym broke the task into two tasks and each man took responsibility for one of them. One task read, ‘Decide location of center of tower’ and Joseph took this task gladly. The other task read, ‘Place cornerstone based on arch center’ and William happily took this task.
There was a task nobody wanted that anyone could do. ‘Book room for celebration’ Gwilym watched all the men looking around at each other, no-one willing to take on this small, extra task. He looked at the plan and noticed that one of the laborers had not taken responsibility for any tasks; the rest had taken at least one. “Hal, could you take this one on?” he asked. Hal looked embarrassed and agreed readily.
The last hiccough in this operation was one task that nobody wanted. All refused to meet Gwilym’s eye as he read the task and looked at his men. He repeated the task and asked his men what the problem was.
“‘Place arch supports’ is a task that is always a problem,” he was told. “Men who do that never try it again. There are too many problems with it. You always get the arch builders complaining that the supports are too high or too low or not strong enough. The last three men I know who did that, two I never heard from them again and the third is Barry here, he talks to himself and is only good for simple laboring jobs.”
This last statement elicited a roar of laughter at which the confused Barry smiled. The men then calmed down and looked to Gwilym for guidance. “This reminds me of people not wanting to take charge of a tough project. So let’s treat it like a small project. What is the first part of this task?”
Gwilym took a blank sheet of parchment and wrote on the top, ‘Build arch support’. The men offered suggestions on tasks below this: ‘Measure depth of water’, ‘Hammer pilings into river’, ‘Create support foundation’, ‘Draw out support structure’, ‘Get agreement on support structure’, Measure wood’, ‘Place supports’, ‘Attach cross braces’, and so on. When they had offered up all the sub-tasks, Gwilym asked for a responsible person for each sub-task. The men stalled again on ‘Get agreement on support structure’ so Gwilym offered to break this sub-task down even further. But finally Joseph agreed to take on this sub-task and the team continued on planning the project.
It took the rest of the day but Gwilym, looking around at the expressions of his men, was convinced that this exercise was worth it. The tasks were better defined; the men had a clear idea of what their responsibility was on this project. They also understood what the other men were tasked with and developed a respect for each other’s workload.
Gwilym spent the next day rewriting the project plan neatly to include these new tasks and the person responsible for each. He used his finest calligraphy to place the names of the responsible men next to the tasks with illuminated capital letters. Then he showed these to the men who were proud to see their names so honored. Because of the different colored inks and the clear, illuminated capital letters, each man could clearly see the tasks for which they had taken responsibility.
This was the document Gwilym walked around with for the rest of the project, happily checking off each task as it was completed. He then went to the next man and reminded him of the task he had volunteered for and asked him to start working on it.

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

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