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The Money Value of Time – Part 2

More amazing tales from the front.

“How much bandwidth do you have?”

I had just entered the conference room. He barely said hello, and didn’t wait for me to sit down or unload my laptop from my shoulder. Hardly glanced at my accompanying Sales Rep either. No nonsense, little acknowledgment. Right to the point. He insisted:

“How much bandwidth do you have?”

I replied, inquisitorially, “How much bandwidth do you need?”

The “bandwidth” in question was flying probe programming time. They had the same model machine as ours. They did not have the same model programming person as ours. What they had was a very large and expensive doorstop. Hence the question. He continued, urgently:

“We have a large test development project pending, with numerous part numbers. If you are able, we’d like you to take on that project for us, developing and debugging flying probe programs suitable to run on our own test system, with continued remote support, as needed. Time is of the essence. This is a big project, and we are on a deadline. It has high corporate visibility. It cannot fail. When can you start?”

Done deal. Can do. Is now soon enough? When can you send me data to get started? Here, I have a thumb drive with me. Have your guys load the essentials right now, and we’ll get on with it. You want bandwidth? I’ll show you bandwidth.

“Glad to hear you are open to taking this on. We’ll begin very soon. We move fast. But first we’ll need to complete some routine paperwork, so we can set you up as a vendor.”

But first.

This customer is an OEM that fancies itself “amazing.” Chock full to the gunwales of amazing people, designing and building amazing products, saving amazing lives so they may be afforded a second chance to be more amazing. When their employees finish the day, or the week, or the quarter, doing important and amazing things, fulfilling their amazing quotas with amazing numbers, they go home to their amazing spouses, and their amazing kids, and their amazing dogs, or reptiles, or whatever, in their amazing, split-level, wifi-enabled, suburban domiciles of amazingly good-yet-subdued millennial taste and overall amazingness. These people are saving the world. By their own admission. No need to ask; they volunteer. They eat exclamation points for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Simply amazing!

Amazingly enough, to amplify, they can’t program a flying probe test system. Enter opportunity, stage left, as we are ushered into the amphitheater of amazinghood.

“First things first. We’ll need to establish you as a vendor. Before we can share our proprietary internal setup documents with you, you’ll need to sign our two-way nondisclosure agreement. Once it has been signed, Legal will start its meticulous vetting process. Once the NDA has been countersigned by us, information exchange can begin. How long do you think it will take your legal department to review and revise this? Two or three weeks?”

We have 13 employees.

I can review your NDA and sign it in 20 minutes.

“Really? That’s amazing!”

No, you nitwit, that’s awesome. Get your adjectives right. (I think this. I don’t say it.)

Not really when you sign two to three a week. They all follow the same format: Anguish and ruination will be visited upon you should you have the temerity to reveal, without written authorization, trade secrets to hostile powers or competitive entities. We know.

Reviewed, signed and scanned with 18 minutes elapsed. Submitting it took an entire afternoon, as I had to master the intricacies of their Electronic Document Portal. (“For fast, easy transmittal of vital project documentation. To initiate setup, just pick a 72-character password consisting of at least one alphanumeric character, one punctuation mark, one Shakespearean quotation, and one expletive. Passwords must be 72 characters in length. Passwords that are 71 or 73 characters in length are not valid and will be rejected, with a request that you start over.) Thank you for your compliance in making this a user-friendly, efficient registration experience. Your Vendor Support Team will follow up shortly with a survey about your user-friendly, efficient registration experience. Have a nice day.

Created for the convenience – hell, the amusement – of their IT people. Who must die.

First gray hairs are starting to appear. Blood pressure is rising. At least the NDA is nearly done.

But wait.

Nine months later:

“Your NDA is still with Legal, but we expect it to be out in the next few weeks. We’ve put this on a fast track.”

They make pacemakers. Think about it.

Nine months of my life I will never get back. How do these guys stay in business?

“Next, we’ll need you to complete a W-9, a vendor survey form, a quality survey, a pcard authorization (to be paid from our Accounts Payable Organization in Kazakhstan), and an affidavit, notarized, that you are authorized to sign these documents on behalf of your company. In quintuplicate. UPS Store notarizations are not acceptable.”

On Christmas Eve comes the fateful message, expressing warmest personal greetings:

“Dear Vendor: Your company has been approved as a Preferred Supplier to Magnummedicopharmatronica. Congratulations on becoming one of the select few. Please acknowledge by signing and notarizing the attached acceptance document. In quintuplicate. UPS Store notarizations are not acceptable. Purchase orders may not be released by us to you prior to receipt of the signed, notarized acceptance document. Please press the docusign button accompanying this email, thereby acknowledging receipt and acceptance of this email. Failure to do so within 24 hours of the time of sending of this email — as recorded in Zulu, or Greenwich Mean Time — will render this agreement null and void.”

Deliverance. What have we gotten ourselves into? Select few what?

Some greetings of the season.

The new year brings our first introduction to an actual engineer with an actual need.

“I have two load board programs I need you to create and debug for me.”

Great. When will we see CAD?

“There is no CAD.”

Swell. State of the art, no less.

“Do you have software enabling you to convert Gerber files to CAD?”

Yes, we do.

“Great. I’ll send you Gerber files, as soon as I find them.”

When will that be?

“When I return from training. In Switzerland. In three weeks.”

After all, they did say the project was hot, with high management visibility. That management appears to have retired in the intervening year. Their concept of relative urgency would flummox Einstein.

“This is still a high priority. New management said so.”

How comforting.

“One other small detail. This is flight hardware.”

I thought you made pacemakers.

“That’s just a cover story. Throws hackers off the scent. We want heartbeats racing, not dampened.”

Fiendishly clever. Fooled me. You cause cardiac arrest rather than prevent it. Better margins in the former rather than the latter, perhaps?

“We will need to have technicians onsite at your facility for the duration of each project. At least one engineer to scrutinize the test data and validate, at least one NASA-certified technician to load and unload the golden board from the tester. Your people can’t touch it. At least one additional QA technician to look at the subject board immediately after testing for witness marks left by the flying probes. Assume an average duration of one to two weeks for each project.”

You don’t have CAD, yet you’re worried about probe marks?

“We obsess about FOD. You know, foreign objects and debris. A little FOD on a runway or a launch pad can ruin your whole day. Ask the crew of the shuttle Columbia.”

They’re not available. We obsess about CAD. Otherwise, how can we reverse-engineer your product? We, too, have a cover.

“We’ll also need access to your secured wifi network, plus unlimited use of a conference room to hold confidential briefings with our management and support engineers back at the plant. We may also need to hold additional closed-door meetings with our customer (no names, please) regarding the progress of the project. Just us. No others allowed. Your employees are all US citizens, and you have the I-9 forms to prove it, right? We will check. Count on it.”

I love simplicity.

“It’s not that we don’t make pacemakers. In this case we make pacemakers that, ahem, travel long and circuitous, er, elliptical distances to reach their final destination.”

Roger that. You pay the bills. I don’t need to know any more. We are just humble testing folk. Anyway, it’s tough to find an ER in low earth orbit. Not many ambulance services either, for that matter.

“Speaking of bills, quote us a fair price for your trouble and our disruption. Figure your usual and triple it. You didn’t hear that from me. If asked, I will deny this conversation ever happened.”

What conversation? Reading you loud and clear, Houston.

“Good. I’m glad we have this understanding. When can you start?”

When can you and your Secret Service phalanx be here?

“One week from today. Are you ready for us?”

Ready as we’ll ever be. What kind of project is this?