Open the Box–Wood Floors

Timber Floors Pty Ltd - Forest Reds

Image by timber_floors via Flickr

I opened the box today and found hard wood floors..in boxes…with guys and their tools ready to start installing it all.

This has been my life this week.  My family and 4 cats have voluntarily relegated ourselves to a couple of large connected rooms (mostly to keep the cats out of the flooring stuff) in the evenings, and the cats are there during the work day (plenty of food, water, toys, and, heaven help us all, litter…).  It’s not comfortable and we’re all dearly looking forward to when (hopefully late this afternoon) they will be done, do the final sweep up, and we can reassemble our normal lives.

So, beyond the obvious, I started to think about what this evolution has entailed and what else I can learn from it.  Here’s what I have so far…

Planning

I’ve been planning on having several things done to the house this year in the name of home improvement and responsible ownership.  The paint is in desperate need of being redone, the timbers that the previous owner used for “landscaping” (I think he did it himself…) are kind of melting into the ground, and we keep having raccoons try to tear off chunks of our roof to get to our attic and have babies.  We got ambitious and decided to have it all done this year.  Then my spouse, who has wanted hardwoods to replace our well-aged and heavily “cat-tracked” carpet, convinced me we should go ahead and add it to the mix.  Why not?  We were getting so much else done.

We figured out the cost we could afford, got a few bids, chose the wood we wanted and set the dates.  It was to take three days, so we thought we could all handle that amount of being cooped up.

We are on day 5…they’re nearly finished, but their time estimate was way off.

Lesson 1 – It ALWAYS takes longer than the estimate.  In my experience that has been true of well over 85% of the projects I’ve been involved in. The corollary to that is it almost always costs more as well, but in this case the bid was fixed, so we are fortunate. It’s not bad to have an aggressive timeline, but be realistic.  It’s not sandbagging if it’s real.

The value of dedicated resources

The flip side of the fact that this project is going long is that the participants (the guys with tools that I mentioned) are doing a craftsman’s job.  The floors look great.  I have watched them work and they really take the little things seriously.  The upshot is that, while it has been uncomfortable, it will have been worth it.

Lesson 2 – Undistracted by other projects, these folks are delivering a quality product, regardless of going overtime.  It is another way of looking at the saying “You get what you pay for.”  We paid to have craftsmen install a high quality floor, and we’re getting it.

How does this apply to projects? Dedicated expert resources will deliver a better result.  Whether the resources are readily available or brought in for the project, allowing them to focus on the problem at hand can enable a solid, quality solution that can stand on its own.  The opposite kind of scenario is having a number of part-time resources who have X number of other engagements or distractions keeping them from devoting their best effort to your project.  I know that getting this kind of resource can be very hard given the “multi-tasking” our workplaces expect of us all.  Nonetheless, the more your team’s resources can hone their focus on that project, the higher the likelihood of sustained success.

It’s not over until it’s over

They should be done in the next hour or two (I hope…).  Then they’ll sweep up a bit, pack up their tools and head home for a well-deserved weekend.  However, my next couple of days will be spent reassembling our primary living area: moving furniture back in without scratching the new floors, hooking the various and sundry media center items together (it’s a good thing I made diagrams and took pictures…).  As long as I don’t hurt my back, I should have all the things back together and working in 3-4 hours.  Then I have to re-stock all my CDs (having been a professional musician for many years, my collection is formidable…).  THAT will take a few days, but I can do that at my leisure and probably rediscover some things I haven’t listened to in awhile. [NOTE: reconstructing the room actually took 7 hours, so my time estimation skills need work too – see Lesson 1]

Again, how does apply to projects and business?  There is always the post-mortem, the sustained engineering, the metrics by which you see whether you are successful and the response of the users.  Just shipping does not equal success.  Your success criteria need to be more than “We’re done here”.

I’m really looking forward to all of that being done and enjoying the new floors.

Feel free to add any other lessons you’ve learned from experiences like this.  I’m sure there are more.

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