Perfection in Complex Projects

Let’s discuss a hypothetical project.  Let’s say it’s one where we are involved in a very high end full house remodel.

Our work, obviously, is very beautiful.  So is the work of all the other contractors.  The project, when complete, will be one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of working on.

Today, we are going to drill a bunch of holes in the marble counters and backsplash.  When I say we, I actually mean some guy that works for the countertop company.  I went out and measured the location of the holes yesterday.  The supervisor/manager of the countertop company was there too.  Today, we have our installers there to watch the guy drilling the holes (along with other tasks).

Everything will go perfectly.  We have done our homework and everyone is well prepared.

But what if something were to go wrong?  Whose fault will it be?

In this project, on this task, we have a chain that goes from homeowner, to architect and designer, to job superintendent, to me and the countertop company, on to my installers and the countertop installer.  Quite a chain.

Yes we have drawings that are part of our agreement with the homeowner, but now that the project is actually built, none of the dimensions on our drawings are exactly the same as the current “as built.”  Decisions about what will look best are often made on the site with the concurrence of the contractors involved.  Small fractions of an inch may make a difference in the final outcome.  Often these discussions do not make it back up to the homeowner for approval.  Choices/decisions are made to keep the project moving forward.

So if the homeowner does not like the locations of the holes in his marble, who will be to blame?  More importantly who will have to pay to fix the problem?

Situations like this are part of what makes custom work so expensive.  We have to bring in a lot of people to make what could be a rather simple decision.  I don’t think many homeowners have sufficient appreciation of what is involved.  All of us working on the project want a good result, but our best efforts do run the chance of disappointing the client.

When pricing our work, we have to take this sort of contingency into account.  If we didn’t we would end up broke.  That does not mean we charge double the cost of the work, but there is, let’s call it an overhead charge, that over the course of the year will likely net to zero (between the amount charged all customers and the amount spent on all customers).

Remember now, I’m only talking about a hypothetical project.

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