Down Under II

October 5, 2010

I just finished a day in Australia, working with suppliers and trades in one-hour Lean meetings. Guess what? If not for the accent, local terminology, and slang, you’d never know the Aussies from the 60 U.S. and Canadian homebuilders and their more than 1,500 suppliers and trades my team has worked with over the past four years. Their issues are the same: schedules, coordinating deliveries, sequencing trades, communication, PO processing, plans, specifications, etc. And virtually everything, just like back home, is eminently fixable given some good process and the will to change. The challenges of taking 25 or 30 suppliers and trades and assembling tens of thousands of piece parts into a house generates the same good, bad, and ugly no matter the country or culture. But they also share the remarkable willingness and commitment of the suppliers and trades to help in any way they can. And unlike home, the housing business is good here – very good. They don’t have to help to gain favor with the builders, as there is plenty of demand for their work. They just know it’s the right thing to do and the route for everyone to prosper. It was actually a very affirming day about the human race in general. Four more to go. I promised to update you a little more about how building compares here to North America. I continue to be impressed, sometimes confounded, yet always amused at what I find here. If we’d take the best from both countries, we’d learn so much. Example: In more than three weeks here and more than 15 different shower enclosures, every single showerhead is this cool gizmo with twin pivots. That means that a 6’4” guy like me, and someone a foot or more shorter, can both place the showerhead right above our heads like we want it, with ease. Any idea how many complaints about cold showers and not enough pressure that would solve in the U.S.? Such a simple, elegant solution. The bad news? If they have heard of compensating shower valve in Australia, I have not found it. Adjusting hot and cold during the morning shower is a continual battle and usually overshadows the thrill of actually having the water hit my hair instead of my chest. I like the slim-line range hoods at every price range that pull out and turn on, then push back, stop and pretty much vanish from sight. I don’t like the trend here to cut 12” or 18” off the bottom of the vanities, hang them from the wall and have tile running all the way back under. Let’s see, you lose space and create an impossible to clean area. Huh? Fun to see that their designers run amok, just like ours. Putting a floor drain in every single bath as well as the laundry is something they do in OZ that I am simply flummoxed as to why we do not. But the whole house being 220V with a switch on every single outlet, and two switches on a duplex outlet, seems to be gross overkill to my sensibilities. I am beginning my fourth week here and I truly love this country and its people, but I will be happy to be home next Saturday. It’s a little too much of the “nanny state” for me and listening to their politicians on the radio during the 3,000 miles I put on the rental car, I actually think they are ever-so-slightly worse than ours. But I will look forward every bit as much to returning again. Right now Arlo Guthrie is singing “City of New Orleans” on the radio under the McDonald’s patio, where I always stop to get free internet. And now a siren, but it occurs to me it is only the second I have heard in more than three weeks here. How could that be? Well, maybe I could get used to this, after all.


Scott Sedam is president of TrueNorth Development, a consulting and training firm that works with builders to improve products, process, and profits. A senior contributing editor to Professional Builder, Scott has written award-winning commentary on all aspects of the business of home building and won the 2015 Jesse H. Neal Award, business journalism's most prestigious prize, for his commentary in Pro Builder. Scott invites you to join TrueNorth's Lean Building Group on LinkedIn and welcomes your feedback at or 248.446.1275.