Measure of Value

Some years ago, I landed a job as a lead carpenter for a construction company in Northern Virginia. The owner of the company had a magnetic sign stuck to the door of one of his trucks that read Quality is the True Measure of Value.

Over the years, I'd seen many such signs on the sides of service vehicles, but never gave them much thought - just more of the same old overused empty banal slogans that we too often see and hear. A job done well is a job well done. or If your shoes aren't becoming to you, you should be coming to us.

Quality is the True Measure of Value

Quality is the True Measure of Value

On a job site, a few months later, I was leaning up against a tree having lunch and saw that truck again - Quality is the True Measure of Value. I thought about that statement for a while and a few questions came to mind. How did this company measure quality? How did they manage it? How did they know that they had hired someone who cared about quality?

I suppose that they planned to manage the quality themselves by being on site often enough to spot and correct poor workmanship. No surprise - I had managed quality this way on my own projects. Perhaps being on site once a day to review the day's schedule with the lead carpenter is often enough - discuss what is being built and the techniques that will be used to build it.

By doing this, as manager of quality, you can get a feel for the confidence level of your workers, and whether or not you should be onsite more often to see how things are going. But if you have at least one quality-minded carpenter that is responsible for the job, your visits to the job site should be limited to providing materials and making sure the job is staying on schedule.

Managing quality is easy when you have good people working for you, though they aren't always easy to find. When I interview someone for any position, I look for signs that they are knowledgeable and experienced, but what I look for most is that they care about the work they do. I like to see pride in their faces when they show me pictures of their work or feel their enthusiasm when they talk about something they have built. If I can sense that they really love what they do, I know they will be good quality workers who will put their heart and soul into their work and not need much or any supervision.

I have worked on many blow-and-go framing crews. "Nail it!" yelled one foreman, after he saw the puzzled look on my face, when he handed me a board that was obviously cut too short. If something wasn't built quite right, it would likely not be fixed unless the building inspector caught the error and made us rip it out. The foreman justified the poor workmanship with, "We only get paid to do this job once." Well, the foreman was right about one thing, we didn't get paid to do the job more than once, so why not do it right the first time?

No quality-minded carpenter wants to work for some "Nail-it!" fool who cares so much about doing things fast that he sacrifices quality for the sake of productivity - the kind of productivity that produces the sort of mediocre work that has to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. But the second time, it was built with a less-than-great attitude and under pressure to do it even faster because now the job is behind schedule.

Can you imagine going to work each day and not caring about the quality of your work? That would have to be the worst job in the world. Monday mornings would be miserable. The minutes of your day would seem like hours and the days of the week would drag on forever. Friday would never come, and when it finally did, you wouldn't have anything to show for your week's accomplishments. How would you reply to someone asking, "So, Drew, what is it that YOU do for a living?" Drew would have nothing of value to say, for there would be no quality in his work or in his life.

I've never been known for my super-fast framing skills. In fact, I'm fairly slow. But one day, I overheard one of my former bosses talking to the job superintendent about my work, "It may be fast, it may be slow, but it is always right." At the moment of that recognition, I felt something I had never felt before - someone understood me in a way that I didn't understand myself - as an ethical quality minded worker that cared about his work. As those thoughts coalesced in my mind the rest of the afternoon, I thought about what motivated me to come to work each day.

It certainly wasn't the money. The pay was terrible. Remember the stairs I built for Jay? It was the recognition I received from the project superintendent that kept me interested in building those awful stairs. After all, I had only been a carpenter for little more than a year, and was still trying to avoid smacking my thumb with a hammer. I had much to learn. I welcomed any kind of feedback, good or bad, that I could use to fine-tune my carpentry skills, and maybe someday, try to make a good living at the craft.

The True Measure of Value

Whether you are designing a structure, or building a website, or just enjoying a fine ale with a good friend, there is quality to be measured in all aspects of life. If someone cares about their craftsmanship, the quality will show in their work (whatever it may be), and thus increase the value of the product. I suppose the sign could read, High Quality Yields Great Value..., but the sign perhaps already has all of the quality it needs.  :-)

~ Matt

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