Every morning, very early, everyone who works for me secretly meets to discuss how they can ruin my day. I don’t know when or where this happens, but I know it does.
Here’s how it unfolds. On Thursday or Friday of every week I alert my customers of what they can expect in the coming week. Before I do this, I confer with my subcontractors and suppliers regarding what they have scheduled on my jobs. Then I simply package up the information and inform my customers on what they can expect. It’s a simple formula. If the carpenters or the electricians say they will have their crews on the job on Monday, and what they will do, I pass that information on to the customer. How hard can that be?
On Monday, I might say, the painters will be on site to take care of the prep and the paint. This will take a few days. On Wednesday the plumbers will install the fixtures. Thursday and Friday the tile setters and roofers come.
On Monday I call the various trades to be sure everything is in order.
Well, they say, we got behind cause of the rain so we won’t be there till Wednesday. Therefore everything rolls by two days. Never mind that it only rained for one hour on Thursday. Somehow that one hour cost two days of production. Then the plumbers say they can’t make it until Friday. Then the electricians say they can’t make it because their suppliers sent the wrong products.
And the carpet layers? They aren’t answering the phone and I can’t leave a message because their voice mail box is full.
Don’t worry, the ironworkers told me, We’ll be there on Monday. Rest assured we’ll be there and it will all be done. We had a whole bunch of other things to do today so we can’t make it. Don’t worry, I ask? But you said that last Wednesday when you said you would be here on Friday and for sure it would be done by the end of the week! I have landscapers scheduled for Monday and they can’t be moved. How can you have all kinds of other things to do on Friday when you promised you would be on my job that day? What does We’ll be there Friday mean besides being there on Friday? And if you say I can count on you for Monday, how is that different than when I could count on you for Friday–for sure?
When I called the supply house, the woman said well I ordered the commodes and they said we would have them in on Wednesday so you can schedule the work on Thursday but somehow her buyer forgot to place the order from the factory, or the factory ran out of product, and no one called until after I set the schedule with the customer.
It seems so simple. I ask the customer what they want and they answer clearly. I get commitments from the miscellaneous vendors to provide the service, and we all agree on what will be done, and when. Then each vendor secretly decides to scramble everything just so they can make me look stupid to the customer. I can look stupid all by myself without any outside help. Why, then, do these people take such pains to make my life so difficult?
This is contracting. All of my people, by and large, are good folks. No one intends to make my life miserable. This is what I believe. Nevertheless it happens. Construction is the intersection of hope, planning, shoe-string subcontractors and last minute scrambling. It’s a marvel that anything actually gets done. It does, and in the end everyone agrees the work looks fantastic and the craft is superb. But getting there is like herding butterflies. Every one of them has his own independent path. Even the most expensive vendors fall into this pattern. We all agree on what will take place, then their foreman takes sick or another customer adds things at the last moment so they have to stay on that job for another day. A truck breaks down. Something wasn’t ordered. It’s a constant guessing game, a shuffle and a squeeze. It’s like war games where you move soldiers around on the war board with a long stick. No one knows how the battle will unfold until the guns are laid down and the smoke clears.
Each day I go to work happy that my schedule has been set out. And each day I gird my loins for the inevitable surprises. If you are a customer, you may or may never actually see this. For me, the show must go on and so we avoid purveying excuses. We do everything we can to make the schedule and keep the momentum. On a good day we have plans B and C, so there’s hardly a hiccup. Those are the good days. Other times we fall back on the next best plan. For the most part, customers stay with us, confident we’re doing everything we can in a chaotic business. After all, if they don’t like it, they could try running the Liars Club themselves. They know better, of course.