At the End of the Day, Everybody Needs a Karen

Phoenix Mecano’s busy Frederick operation is what Production Manager William Green calls a “high mix, low volume” set-up. Unlike a traditional “assembly line,” conveyor belt-style operation in which one product is cranked out around the clock, day after day, Phoenix Mecano fabricates custom products in scrupulous adherence to client requirements and specifications.

According to Green, instead of an assembly line-style environment, Phoenix Mecano has nearly 30 different stations on the production floor. Some products being manufactured go through all or most of the stations, while others require work to be completed at only some of them. The amount of products, each needing a custom combination of time at a variety of the work stations, he says, makes for a constantly changing, ever-evolving scheduling tightwire.

The demanding job of keeping Phoenix Mecano’s product deliverables on track and on budget falls to 20-year employee Karen Denn. A natural collaborator with a background in tax accounting, she brings the ability to communicate with the station leads, a facility with numbers, and an overall attention to detail that her position as Production Planner requires.

“To ensure our products are manufactured on time for distribution in a profitable manner, my primary responsibilities are capacity planning and scheduling,” says Karen. “It takes a bit of juggling—it’s up to me to plan, coordinate, and prioritize workflows for multiple jobs to guarantee the maximum, most efficient output of products at the highest quality with the fewest delays possible.”

“The upshot of everything Karen does in a day is critical, not only to Phoenix Mecano’s efficiency and profitability, but to our ability to serve our customers well,” says William Green. “Her extraordinary ability to manage our Production Releases (PRs) and output and inventory products promptly allows her to provide our sales team with accurate lead times for our products so that they can manage our clients’ expectations with regard to delivery.”

A self-described introvert, Karen also brings a wicked sense of humor to her interactions with department leads that keeps the team on task and smiling. After troubleshooting an issue with one of her colleagues in the machine department or assembly crew, her signature sign-off is usually “Now get back to work!”, always said with a twinkle in her eye.

“My favorite part of production planning is the collaboration,” says Karen. “I work with a very talented group of people whom I respect and admire, and we’re all doing the best we can to accomplish the same goal for Phoenix Mecano and our customers. Doing my job well means I can’t leave anything to chance, but that doesn’t involve anything I can’t do pleasantly and with a smile.”

Unfortunately for the affable, upbeat, eminently likable Karen Denn, “Karen” has become social-media shorthand for a self-absorbed, entitled whiner, male or female, with a chip on their shoulder. When it comes to Phoenix Mecano’s Karen, nothing could be further from the truth.

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