Well for the past few weeks I have had the privilege of traveling to and working from Brazil. While the view of the beaches are much more interesting than the piles of snow and ice
back in MA USA, it has given me some interesting perspective on some common principals in project management and how important it is to make choices relative to your specific environment.
Since we planned to be here for nearly 5 weeks, we decided to take on a long overdue renovation of our condo/office in Navegantes. We started with the planning process and picking the vendors. After a lot of conversations with folks at the market and neighbors we found some good contractors for a variety of projects that needed to get done as part of this initiative. I have to say while I am not a plumber or electrician nor an expert in the construction processes, which are much different here in Brazil, I was truly surprised at how much I did and did not know and how many parallels there are with the construction field and the technology service business we are in with CNP.
Ok, so let me start with a simple plumbing repair. Over here they use a lot of tile over concrete reinforced brick walls. Where, in contrast to the US, we mostly frame houses and interior walls to then cover them with sheet rock. This leaves the internal wiring and plumbing much easier to access and see where everything is coming and going to. However, the application of the right materials for the right environment and accessibility of these materials for ongoing maintenance are all relative and important considerations. In Brazil with most new construction, they build brick walls and carve out pathways in the bricks for the piping (PVC or plastic) and then they cement them in and put ceramic tile over them. This is all well and good and "muito forte" or very strong but when something breaks this often leaves no road map for where to find or how the pipes are routed. So to get in and fix anything may take endless chiseling of cement to first find the pipes and then diagnose what pipes go to or from wherever before you can actually address the actual problem.
Strength and grace are not always compatible. So this caused my wife and I a great amount of frustration at first, to watch, since in America (there are stricter building codes) we open up a wall, with easy to replace sheetrock, look in the wall at the pipes and not only is it easy to figure out but often even much easier to fix. They also do not have Home Depot or Lowes here so the gathering of materials is yet another adventure. Oh and I forgot to mention that the contractors do not show up with a fancy truck and the latest state of the art tools. Often it is a small back pack on a bicycle and makeshift tools. One thing I thought was funny is the tool they used for spreading the grout on the tile when they replaced it was the guys "sandalhias " (thong flip flop) so yet another innovation I did not think about since the end result was just as effective as if he used a fancy tool ordered from a late night TV ad.
With that said, I could not help but to draw a similar experience with what we have to often go through to resolve and repair technical bugs or configuration fixes with software that customers have customized or often half heartedly integrated with other systems.
There is something to be said about first off using the right tool for the right job and second leaving bread crumbs or code comments, documentation and a knowledge base for future developers to refer back to. If the plumber would have had a diagram he would not have had to chisel half of the wall off to figure out and assess the issues with our relatively simple plumbing project. If the software (often open source) is commented well and the development team you are working with has a solid knowledge base and extensive experience with the software or code package that you are working with, this can save you a ton of time, money and frustration.
While my wife's first reaction was to rail on the contractor hired to fix the problem, I had to calmly review and explain how the problem originated in the way the technology was either planned or executed in the first place. This brings me back to the importance of carefully planning and taking the time and investing in the documentation as you go. So often customers come to us with an issue and ask how much is this going to cost? Not an unwarranted question but often impossible to determine without ripping the whole wall down with a chisel. This is where we try to emphasize careful planning in the execution process up front where you think through the maintenance and support required over time as well as thoroughly assessing the problems and potential solutions. A short cut early on or lack of a good action plan can cost you dearly over time since nothing lasts forever and a wrong turn can leave you nowhere. Another thing we have to look at is that we have now paid this guy to rip apart the wall and assess this situation he has the most extensive information on our plumbing and we want to maintain a good relationship with him so we do not have to go through the same issue the next time it breaks... and it will. So since this relationship should be long term to get the best value, you will want to make sure you choose your vendor carefully since if you change vendors they will have to rip the same wall down yet another time and make the same discoveries. I have always stressed that the same principles of good relationships applies both in your business and in your personal life. Knowing what you don't want often is more important than knowing what you do want.
This brings me to yet another point. While this is not the case everywhere nor limited to Brazil but on average the quality of many consumer products here is very poor quality and essentially designed to break so you will have to purchase another in short order. Now... I do not mean to rag on Brazil it is truly a beautiful place and by all means they do many things better than us Americans but my point is that getting quality control under wraps given the hurdles of finding quality tools and core materials is often quite challenging. Many vendors everywhere do this with the intention of milking more business from you so you really have to make sure you can trust your vendors, the platform from which you build and that you build a healthy and open relationship. That is if you want the best quality and return on your investment. There is also the old trick of "hey we only charge $15 per hour" but they charge you for 3 or more hrs for every hour of actual work. Early on we had a couple of our outsource venders try this on us and this it is one of the reasons our project managers always keep a hands on approach with every project. Value over price is always better and often cheaper in the long run.
When we set out to identify the tools we wanted to support and selected the talent to support them we went through a pain staking investment of time, testing and listening to feedback to help us choose the platforms we felt would deliver the most stability and innovative features at a reasonable cost or with the greatest value to our customers. We also interviewed and tested some of the best and the brightest talent to make sure our team could respond better and faster with the greatest value. So this was the diligence of making sure we chose the right way to build with the right people to build it and used the right core materials so we could assure quality control. We wanted to have a well rehearsed and balanced band of programmers that could perform better and faster with more innovative solutions to common problems. To do this we needed to create consistent business processes where we could manage quality control and deliver real-time communication with our customers and development teams. One of the best ways to do this was to use and live by the tools we sell and to know them better than our competition. So far so good... :-)
One of the funny little things I also noticed while I was painting the entry way of our condo/office was the cord on the lighting fixture was half plugged and when I tried to plug it in all the way it zapped and sparked... whoa... in America this would be a huge fire hazard but here it is hard to burn cement. So while it is easy to want to be a perfectionist some things are just better left alone since they work, will not cause problems with anything else and if messed with will cost more than it is worth to replace or change. I think this is another area that folks get caught up in, where, yes it may be "the right way to do it" and it may look a little prettier but make sure you review the circumstances and weigh the time and materials required for the esthetic value something may have. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" since scope creep is challenging enough to keep a handle on in most projects and often there may be higher priorities. As the old saying goes "do not let perfect be the enemy of good enough". Ultimately this relates to the business decisions you as a customer have to make and us as the contractor, we have to realistically assess and provide the right information for you to make these decisions.
So here is a quick recap that goes for just about any project regardless of if it is plumbing and electric in Southern Brazil or and a Joomla Portal Project for your eCommerce business in MA:
- Plan carefully
- Choose your vendor carefully
- Pick the right technology for your current and future needs
- Document the process
- Make careful assessments throughout the project lifecycle
- Think ahead for maintenance and support
- Choose value over price
Well this is my rant and little vent on fixing the plumbing in a place with different rules and circumstances than I am used to. However, in the end I found that careful planning, choosing the right vendors and trusting the contractors that understood the way things are done with the technology that best suits the environment and building on the quality of the relationship maximized the value and significantly reduced cost and frustration.
Ok... now that I have this out of my system... perhaps I can relax for an hour or so and catch a wave with my son. Warning! Surfing can be addicting... perhaps in another rant I will find other parallel universes with technology and riding waves... :-)