Elements of Singapore

I was employed as a factory supervisor as my new job. So far, I doubled up as a production worker and tripled up as a cleaner, a forklift driver, a storeman, a schedule planner, a box maker, a labourer and a process engineer. It sounded like a job that any average Singaporean could pick up and excel because it involved just one thing - multi-tasking.

We received huge orders from Woodside - supposed to be some big f company. Their orders were enough to make this tiny startup company severely short-handed and more than two weeks behind delivery schedule the day I joined. After 3 weeks of overtime including working on consecutive Saturdays, we just caught up with our production and delivery schedule. Everyone worked hard. It seemed like I was thrown into the fix in every single company I had joined since I started working. I always join the company at the time they were in an absolute rush and mess. That meant I began work at the roughest possible way each time. 

I gather that the next time I am asked if I have experience working in a specific area during an interview I can simply answer, "No, but I am very experienced in swimming, surviving and finally clearing up shit."

I rarely had any free time to even sit down the second I start work each morning. I will be always doing something at any time. Time passes extremely quick, eating up 10 hours of my day without flinching. One of the office colleague is a Singaporean chap. He looks very young, a fresh graduate from some university in Adelaide. We started to chat about Singapore only after 3 weeks of my joining. It was that busy, with multiple things happening all at once.

I could tell that I would never get a single task done properly if I didn't focus on any specific task at one time. So I did just that and it proved effective. In the morning I would grind hard to clear the packing work. I was not sure if that was my job or not, but it didn't matter. I reckoned that anything happening within the factory IS my job. If I couldn't assign anyone to do things that needed to be done - and fast - that would be my job. My foremost focus was to clear the terrible backlog and get the company right on track. Else, we would lose this big client soon enough and if we kept that up, I would be out of job anyway.

After dabbling with different way to tackle the daily madness, I decided that I would divide my time this way: Morning, clear production work. Afternoon, sort out the storage area. Evening, improve the work area. The arrangement of materials and stock was pretty dire. Somehow this drew up some innate skills that I learnt working as a mechandiser at Takashimaya when I was 16. My job was to squeeze as many porcelain products as I could on the display racks or shelves. Somehow I grew to be very good at using space. So good at it until our luggage was overweight by 31 kg when we first came to Perth. Before long, I was stacking stuffs on the racks with my newly acquired forklift skill. I dropped 3 boxes of expensive nuts from high heights by now with terrible driving skills. No one chided me. That's the working style in Australia. If I did that in Singapore, I would be lambasted for sure. As a result, I never let my head down and continued to do forklifting. By now, I have improved leaps and bounds and am able to operate the forklift confidently and effortlessly. Bit by bit every day, I plan to improve the storage situation in the workshop.

There are a lot of niggling problems in the workshop. I spend 1-2 hours a day trying to make things better. There is a new notice board which I write stuffs that are low in supply so that the boss can buy or order them before they run out. My colleagues seem amused by it and started suggesting what to write on it. To be honest, the system here is very very basic. There will be a lot of things I can improve the place without really putting much effort.

For example people are always running around looking for tape dispensers, rulers or pen. That included me and it was extremely annoying. Rohan the Aborigine showed me where things were supposed to be kept. It was agreed upon in hope of everyone could find what they wanted to whenever they needed it. It never work. Not when no one was putting back things to where it was supposed to belong. Silently I made changes.

During the army days, we had a solution that seemed silly back then but sensible in this situation. I implemented that immediately. It wasn't anything spectacular but it was functioning really well so far. I drilled a hole in the most important clipboard holding a production plan that everyone refers to and locked a pen to it permanently, army style.

Workers and colleagues responded by giving surprised, "That's a good idea," kind of comments. I was more surprised at their being surprised. That wasn't anything new, really?

A pen that could not disappear
Similarly, a ruler that could not disappear

There are many more things that aren't right in my eyes here, work processes in particular. I could only do a bit each day but give me half a year here, the place will be transformed significantly, fortified with elements from my homeland. If anyone were to take note of the changes one day, I will tell them ... this ... is the Singaporean Way. It isn't perfect but we believe in an ever-improving system and we are proud of it.


  1. NS has done you some good after all. can't refute that!

  2. You do Singaporeans proud.

    Keep it up. WPL is one big VIP imho (my 4th favourite company in OZ). Help steer your company's processes to streamline woodside's demands and more will be incoming. Over here KPI's are very well regarded so if you (or J) take the time to re-examine them (you should have them when you signed up for employment) re-think how you can streamline what you do to exceed them before attacking your team's KPI.

  3. How I wish I could work side by side with you. I understand the mess and the madness. It takes lots of creativity and energy to sort things out. Yes space is always the problem. It needs Los of organizational skills to fully utilize the limited space. Good to face challenges and overcome them. Maybe by next yr this time round things will settle and it goes back to normalcy. That is the time to really get organized and consolidate to face even more unexpected sudden surge in orders! Keep up the momentum mate!