We all admire good workmanship. But have you noticed that the first word in the phrase is “good” rather than “amazing” or “perfect?”
Machine shop drawings will specify a hole size, but it’s not exact. The same spec includes a tolerance. The hole should be, for example, 1/2 inch plus or minus 5 thousandths of an inch.
So why is the hole size “good enough” if it is within that tolerance? Because for the intended application, those few thousandths of an inch of variance are either an acceptable loss (for efficiency, wear, and performance) or they don’t matter at all.
But isn’t perfection better? Why not have all of the holes exactly 1/2 an inch? Because, assuming you can machine the part to a tolerance so small your instruments measure it as zero (we call this “dead on spec”), trying to do that for every part is very costly. And the scrap rate will be unacceptably high.
If that level of precision isn’t needed, you don’t want to expend the resources to get it. In the machine job, those resources would include the paid time the machinist spends after drilling each hole to sharpen the bit again, adjust the machine again, and then very slowly proceed with the work. The part that should have cost four bucks to produce ends up costing forty bucks.
Think about how this example applies in electrical work. It doesn’t matter if the work is engineering, construction, or maintenance. Insisting on perfection is just too costly. On the other hand, you don’t want sloppy work. That, too, is costly.
So how good is good enough, when it comes to your workmanship? First, understand where good workmanship comes from. It is the result of using methodology, exercising discipline, applying skill, and adhering to standards.
The good news is these don’t slow people down; they actually improve efficiency. This can seem counter-intuitive. Neater work takes less time than slopping it in? Yes, when you include the time it takes to redo the work, fix mistakes, and occasionally run around like a chicken with its head cut off.
- Methodology means you have a plan for how to do the work. There’s a procedure or set of steps that’s been thought out.
- Discipline means you stick to the plan. You perform the work methodically, not taking shortcuts. You never work faster to get the job done sooner, though you might work smarter to do so.
- Skill means you’ve had the proper training and experience to perform the work competently.
- What standards do you adhere to? In addition to the applicable industry standards, and manufacturer’s instructions, you adhere to the expectations set for the company and for the particular project.
Let’s talk more about those standards. Some of them really are situation-dependent. For example, you’re doing retrofit work in the main lobby of a landmark building. Here, the standards are very high. You go to great lengths to ensure everything looks pristine. But if you apply that same standard to wiring up a new strip mall, you’re going to go broke while causing the project to run late. Sure, you don’t want to damage things. But you don’t need to repair a scratch you make in a metal framing stud. Drywall is going up over it; the work is good enough, even with that scratch.
Of course, your company culture should set some minimum standards of workmanship. If you compete on price, those standards will be a little lower. For example, it’s OK if an EMT run has a slight slope to it.
If quality is an important part of how you project your company image, “eyeballing” isn’t acceptable. Your electricians have more than just a torpedo level to work with, and that raceway is expected to be slope-free.
Determining what is “good enough” is often a matter of applying common sense to balance quality against cost. This is often difficult to “get dead right.” But just like that machine part, you’re OK if you’re within tolerance.