Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Measure twice, cut once

Life is not made up of big moments so much as it is little moments that happen day after day after day. Consider the fellow who angers his wife by never filling or running or emptying the dishwasher. Week in and week out, it makes her crazy: why can't he just put stuff in it? Why does he leave it in the sink for her to rinse off and put in the dishwasher? And he can't empty it either? He doesn't see that it's done running, that little light is on and it's warm and quiet? Really? Maybe he buys his wife a pair of nice earrings for their anniversary, and that buys him some good karma for a little bit, but at some point it wears off and she's annoyed to no end about the dishwasher. That big moment with the earrings was nice, but it's the daily stuff--trash, dishwasher, asking how someone's day went--that makes the difference.

The same applies to your job. How you do your daily tasks may seem like a small detail, but your work life is made up of many little well-done (or poorly-done) details that build your colleagues' and boss' opinion of you and your work. I've written before about the boss' paradox, but it's a topic worth repeating and elaborating on with regards to quality. It's easy to let your day or your boss rush you, and it's understandable. There's a lot to do and not enough time to do it, and if you're employed right now then you're probably doing more with less in that not-enough-time. The first step, naturally, to doing a good job is to make sure you understand what is being asked of you with a task. What does your boss want you to do? When is it due? What resources (people, websites, previous drawings or projects) can you use to do it? Does your boss want to see this before you send it out? Asking these questions sometimes feels like a waste of time, but I'm sure you've noticed that even when there's not enough time to do it right the first time, there always seems to be time to do it over.

In terms of drawings, remember that your boss, if he or she ever worked in CAD, may have worked in an older DOS-based version, like v9 through v13 (and I worked in v12 and v13 in college--I'll tell you about it sometime over an Ensure-and-vodka shooter). Drawing was slllloooowww back in their day, and while they know that the software and hardware is much faster and better now, they also don't realize that there are still just as many, if not more, opportunities for mistakes in those drawings. So, checking what you draw before you print or email it to anyone is absolutely vital. Just as you're ready to print...look. Look everything over once more. A good way to make sure that you pick up all the redlines you've been given is to use a highlighter to mark out the note or redline right after you make the change. Highlight the entire change, not just a word or two--highlight the leader line or arrow your manager drew to the change, highlight all the words and marks associated with it, all of it. It's a good second check before you move on to the next redline.

When writing, remember that SpellCheck is not your friend but an acquaintance. Write your document or email, then go to the bathroom. Take a moment, wash your hands, get some water, then come back and read it again. Slowly. Catch any mistakes? It's easier to proofread your own stuff after a 48-hour break, but even a few minutes of a break from what you just typed can make a difference. Read what you're asking of or explaining to the other party. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if what you've written makes sense. Pause and think, "would what I've written offend me? Is any of it mean-spirited? Is there any double entrendre?" Sometimes it's helpful to have someone else read what you've written before you send it out. Completely fresh eyes will see things that your eyes won't.

One less obvious facet of details in your job is not about the micro but the macro. Being able to prioritize and schedule your tasks affects everyone on the team. You probably do some of this already if you work in Revit. You need to work in a drawing and send an email? Get Revit started while you type the email, because you know it's going to take a few minutes to start, and then it can take several more minutes to open your project. You can take this further by looking at your list of tasks and think about who needs what when. The owner needs to know some rentable and useable square footages of the office building you're working on, and you have some floor plan changes from the last meeting with the owner. While you can do the square footages somewhat quickly, the engineers need the revised drawings so they can make their changes, so you do the changes first and then the square footages for the owner. Weigh your deadlines against who needs info from you in order to keep moving and to meet their deadlines (which are often your deadlines too).

Another facet of making the details count is one that takes a little practice, and that is being able to think and follow a change all the way through the drawings. For example, you're asked to move a wall one foot in such a way to make an office ten feet wide instead of nine feet wide. Sounds small and easy enough, right? But let's think about it: when you move the wall in the floor plan, you also have to consider what other drawings will be affected. If the wall moves in the floor plan, then it also moves in the ceiling plan. Is there some casework running perpendicular to it? Then that changes the interior elevation in that room. Look at the rest of your plans, such as equipment, finishes, and furniture. Is there a piece of equipment that needs to have a water pipe and drain pipe attached to it? Well, look at the structure compared to that new wall location--are the pipes to that piece of equipment now getting awfully near (or running into) a beam? Ah. See how "easy" moving that wall one foot turned out to be?

Some of what I've described here is pretty obvious, and some of it is a learned skill. Your boss generally doesn't have the time (or even the ability) to teach you all these things, which is why you need more than one point of contact to learn how to do things or to ask for help.

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