Thursday, March 31, 2011

Trying to do Things Right

The siege has not lifted, nor has the whirlwind subsided. But today I actually see a little bit of light through it all. One major project hurdle is complete. A date is out there, probably predictable, at which my workload will return to normal. Hence, I take a late afternoon break to write a post here.

As I work on this drainage project in Rogers, Arkansas—a hurry-up project with future project consequences, I'm reminded of how important it is to do things right the first time. A former senior employee of ours, who came to us from a large developer for a transition job into retirement, had a sign in his office, "If you don't have time to do it right, when are you going to have time to fix it." So true.

As I rushed out the drainage report upon which the drainage additions are based, I made a mistake in my spreadsheet. The area of flow in a ditch was incorrect, resulting in the spreadsheet indicating a larger ditch was needed. Now, I proofed all my formulas; yet the drainage report went out the door with the error. The reviewer at the City caught it. The error was not large, but it was still an error. The smaller ditch will save some money while still functioning as required. Also in the drainage report were two other errors: one where a spreadsheet printout did not show all the information the City needed to make their review, and one where one of four handwritten flow rate on one of eight storm sewer profiles was not correct. These were presentation problems, not calculation errors, but they also made a less than optimum presentation to the City. Correcting these three items took time, time that kept me working an extra hour or two.

So, when I came to the point of preparing the project specifications, I had some decisions to make. The project includes a precast reinforced concrete box culvert. I dumped our guide construction specification section for these into the project file (along with 25 other guide specification sections). Eventually I opened the document and looked at it to see 1) was it suitable for our project, and 2) was it a good specification. The answer was no to both questions. It didn't contain the right box culvert standard for the project, and the way the spec was written did not provide the kind of provisions we want to give to a contractor to get something built with the right materials in the right way.

Decision time. Simply changing "AASHTO M 273" to "AASHTO M 259" would give us the right product for the project. But that didn't answer the six or so questions that the purchaser of these critters is supposed to answer. Is fiber reinforcing allowed? Are both deformed and smooth reinforcing bars allowed? Which design table within the manufacturing standard is to be used? What type of gaskets shall be used? And so on. Also, since that is a manufacturing standard but I'm writing a construction specification, what about the description of how installation of the box culvert segments is to take place? I decided that I did not want a half-baked (kind word substitution here) spec, so I took the hour or so to write a good spec, complete with research on the options.

But then, what do I do about the guide specification, still sitting there on the corporate intranet, waiting for the next person to download and use it, possibly a person who doesn't know as much about it as I do and will use it without thinking or editing? To turn my project specification into a proper guide specification would take at least another hour, maybe two. Already working 7 AM to 7 PM, how could I justify the time it would take? I would do what I always do in these circumstances: Add the box culvert spec to the list of specs that need improvement, mark it urgent or non-urgent, and go back to my project work.

But I realized I never get to those guide spec to do lists. In fact I couldn't even find in my office the last one I made out. So I decided to just do it. I worked an extra two hours, did a bit more research, wrote the spec to include the various options to be decided upon, wrote a great installation section, and added many "Note to Specifier" entries, providing those less experienced than me with some idea of what the decisions to be made are and how to make them. That was two days ago (I think; the days are running together). I have the revised guide spec printed out, on my desk, slightly buried under the urgent items of the last two days but with a corner still visible.

I think I will take that printout home tonight and do my proof-reading there, in my favorite reading chair, a cup of coffee at hand and slippers on my feet. Then tomorrow I'll type any required edits and upload it to our guide spec database. Who knows when it will be used next or who will use it. It might be me, a year from now. It might be one of our engineers or designers tomorrow afternoon. But it will be available, and it will be done right. None of which furthers my writing career, other than the little bit of piece of mind it gives me, which should help everything in my life.

ETA: Something has gone haywire with my blogspot settings; the paragraphs didn't display. I had the same problem with the bullets on the last post.


Gary said...

Authentic heroes prevent problems; accidental heroes only respond to them. Both pay a personal cost; only one gets publicity.

David A. Todd said...

Thanks for the comment Gary. Most encouraging.