Lessons in Efficiency

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After a recent holiday weekend, I noticed that the trash was beginning to fill the containers and enclosures at the job site, so I called the man who hauls it away for us and scheduled him for the following Friday.

October 01, 2001

 

Ron Jones

After a recent holiday weekend, I noticed that the trash was beginning to fill the containers and enclosures at the job site, so I called the man who hauls it away for us and scheduled him for the following Friday.

Jose takes extreme pride in his work. When he leaves the site, it’s as if you want to spread a blanket and lay out your lunch. Plus, he is always at the job when he says he’ll be. He has a good number of contractor clients but is very careful to avoid making promises he can’t keep.

I was a little surprised, but unconcerned, when he arrived Thursday, a day early. He asked if the schedule change was all right, and we assured him it was. He went about his work in the usual way, and a couple of hours later I could see that he was about to finish the job. I started writing the check and asked him how he happened to be with us a day early. Suddenly, he looked very serious and cast his eyes down to the driveway.

“I got a call late last night,” he began. “My father is dying in Mexico, so I have to leave today to see if I can make it in time.”

I was shocked. “How far do you have to travel?” I asked.

“About 1,200 miles,” he answered.

“How are you getting there?”

“Driving,” he said simply.

I was incredulous. “What are you doing here, Jose?”

“Well, I wouldn’t leave without taking care of you first.”

A few days later I decided to have the plumbing supply house deliver the sinks and faucets for the project. It wasn’t time to set the fixtures yet, but experience has taught me that there are always mix-ups in the orders and it is good to have all the materials ahead of time so the mistakes can be corrected.

The delivery was made when I was out on an errand. I returned to find a stack of sturdy boxes in the garage. No island sink was in the pile, but two laundry sinks were. Three of the four lavatories were the wrong color, and so was the huge kitchen sink. I was too disgusted to even check the faucets.

After repacking all the various fixtures and putting them in the locked storage area of the garage, I wondered why the order had so many mistakes. Literate, English-speaking people used a familiar computer ordering system to place and fill our requests. They do it every day, week after week. It’s hard to imagine how it can be so easily fouled up.

As I closed down the job site at the end of the next day, I noticed that the scrap bins and trash containers were starting to fill again. Time to give Jose a call. As I locked the yard gate, I stared at the waste materials for another moment. I couldn’t help thinking about the fiasco with the plumbing fixtures the day before.

I realize that you can educate people, you can automate, you can regulate, and you can do everything in your power to communicate. But you can’t make people care.

My regret is that I can’t order plumbing fixtures from Jose.

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