Price of Nonconformance and Fence Building

December 18, 2006 at 12:13 am 4 comments

Yesterday, Sean and I spent the day at Bill’s to help him build his new fence.  I got a really fun job.  Bill already had the posts in the backside of his fence and he had already affixed three horizontal boards between each post.  My job was to attach verticle planks to that framework via a nail gun. 

Early on, I had some quality issues with the nail gun.  At one point, I loaded the ammunition in backwards. I shot a plank only to discover in horror the nail was forced into the board head first, leaving the sharp point sticking out towards the yard, just waiting for a clumsy person to fall on it.  That was easy to take care of.  Bill retrained me on loading the nail gun and I was able to extract the misguided nail and replace it with one whose pointy end got embedded in the wood where it belonged. 

 As  I continued to work, I had a few more accidents.  I’m guessing I moved the nail gun as it shot– because I would get a nail halfway embedded into the fence and then slanted at an angle.  This especially caused me some concern when I messed up three boards in a row.  When I had messed up a total of seven nails, I lamented to Sean.   I was concerned my efforts were going to cause too much rework for Bill, that any gain he would have gotten from me helping would be overridden by fixing all these nails.

It’s safe to say, Sean was not impressed by my worries.  He gave me a funny look.   He grabbed a hammer, walked over to the fence and in probably about 20 seconds removed all my bad nails.  I refired them and the fence was back to good quality!

Sean and Bill went off to drill holes and later they made a run to Lowes.  Meanwhile I continued to make progress nailing planks.  The entire rest of the day, I only misfired one more nail!  That struck me as odd.  In my company, we calculate and communicate the Price of Nonconformance.  We want to show everyone the gain of doing things right the first time and just how much it costs if there is a mistake (rework labor, extra materials, etc).   Knowing the Price of Nonconformance is a good motivation to keep improving your processes and your efforts, allowing you to get better and better at doing things right. 

But in my case– knowing how simple it was to correct a bad nail (and not how expensive it was), liberated me.  It took no time to fix at all, so I wasn’t worried about that mistake.  And by not worrying about messing up the nails, my performance was significantly better.

Well, I thought a lot about the Price of Nonconformance as I continued my way down the fence.  As I fired perfect nail after perfect nail, I marveled at my improvement.  What in the world was the moral of this story?  How does not worrying about a mistake make the mistake less likely?  How does this scenario relate to an organization???

Near dusk I took a break and I stepped back from the fence to fetch some water.  It was then I noticed I had been concentrating too much on the details of the nails.  When I looked at the bigger picture, I discovered the most recent planks were making an unnatural and very drastic dip…and not because of the terrain.  Right at that moment, Sean and Bill returned and promptly noticed the obvious mishap. 

At that point, I got to witness a real Price of Nonconformance.  Sean and Bill had to fetch a crowbar and pry the last seven planks out of the fence.  One plank even cracked.

So I guess now, the moral is a little more clear.  One really shouldn’t monopolize their time analyzing problems that are established to be non-issues.  That focus is much better placed on preventing the items that still promise to be an expense to the project.

Luckily, Bill doesn’t seem to be detered by my performance.  In fact, today he invited me over to help with the fence again!  That’s good news–I thoroughly enjoyed helping with that fence.  Not only did I find the act of shooting the nail gun to be cathartic, I found the act of building a physical product of that scale fulfilling.  Plus it was amazing exercise!  My thighs are more sore from the squatting and standing required to shoot all nails than they are after a 13 mile hike!

Entry filed under: Bill C, Fence, Price of Nonconformance, Sean.

Early Christmas – New Tent! Greetings from Kansas

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Clint  |  December 21, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    You guys have an interesting definition of “fun” 🙂

    I would not be able to take that with my back.

  • 2. Clint  |  December 21, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    (I’m still hurting, pretty much constnatly, 5 days later, because I windexed my windshield!)

  • 3. tgaw  |  December 22, 2006 at 12:09 am

    I’m not sure if Sean would describe it as “fun”– but I found it very enjoyable.

  • 4. Clint  |  December 22, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    My arm hurts.


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