What I Did On My Summer Vacation…

As many of you know one of the best perks about working at Intel is that every seven years, US employees get an eight week paid ‘Sabbatical’ where basically you can do anything you want with the time off and with the intent you come back to work mentally refreshed and revitalized ready to get back to work.   This summer, May to mid July, I went on my fourth Sabbatical with a plan in mind.  Unfortunately both my wife’s and my parents had recently passed away and fortunately our son at 25 decided to move out on his own.  Our life plan was when both these events happened we would seek to downsize our home and move somewhere else in the Phoenix area.  Ironically we decided on an ‘Active Adult Community’ about 5 miles from where we lived.  About three weeks into my Sabbatical we took possession of thee house and set about with a goal to remodel and be ready to move in the October timeframe when the temperature cooled off in Phoenix but do as much preparation work as we could over the summer Sabbatical timeframe.

So enough background information and to the point of my blog here.  The house we choose had basically everything we liked as to the size and layout but it needed a complete remodel.  Our Realtor was kind enough to allow my wife and I time in the house for walkthroughs prior to taking possession and I made a comprehensive list of everything we saw and wanted to change.  Evenings I set to work on my excel spreadsheet listing every item by row with a priority, scope, justification, and estimated cost columns to name a few.  The process continued with my wife and I first in a myopic view agreeing to the scope and justification of each item then we prioritized each from one to the # 70’s.  This iterative process continued as I combined actual cost of items with an estimated construction cost range.  As a GPM (Green Project Manager), our ‘theme’ was to make this home as energy efficient as possible so many of the remodel items we wanted to do had that as our justification/ reason why we were doing it.  Once we had the list completed and agreed to we then broke it out by ‘phases’ based on our immediate needs and budgetary constraints but in short it was everything we needed to do for the interior and then we’d consider doing exterior work (big patio, front patio, new landscaping, painting, etc) at a later date after we’ve settled in. Point here is my wife and I as partners in this project were in total agreement as to all we wanted to do so any changes were an easy discussion based on our priority, baseline, budget, and boundaries of what we wanted to do.

Our Realtor had recommended a local contractor with a history of doing work in the community.  We’d happened to meet another couple who recently had some home remodeling work down by that contractor and after seeing the work we decided we’d bid initially to this contractor vs. competitively bid out.  For reference this estimated budget for this remodel altogether was $40k USD.   For the Phase One bid meeting I’d modified my spreadsheet removing the estimates and leaving space for a line item bid and notes along with the total.  The contractor is a husband / wife team with a crew of 7-8 workers.  During our first meeting/walkthrough we described the work along with the explaining the justification of why we wanted this done.  During the course of the meeting, the contractors commented they had never had a couple give them such a complete scope of work in agreement so overall it was a smooth start and in a second meeting when they presented their estimate which there was an explainable delta in my estimate vs. theirs the overall cost was close so we signed contracts, handed them a key, and turned them loose.

The work took about eight weeks to complete in total.  There were gaps in work as for example kitchen cabinets take about five weeks to deliver as they are made and shipped when sufficient orders are placed from the manufacturer. As we were still living in our current home determining what we were taking with, selling, donating, and/or buying new the two months timeframe was fine.  As work progressed and we saw the changes we decided to add a few items.  As the contractor was busy in the field with a few jobs including mine and knew my background, I offered to document the changes to ensure the paperwork and costs kept in line with changes.  This worked out well as we discussed each change with what was base bid and what was a change and the estimated cost.  I was not trying to get anything for free but wanted to ensure I got everything I paid for.  As we neared completion I did a walkthrough with the majority of the punch list items being painting.  As it turned out all the construction work (as I observed it) was excellent but I began to see a quality trend in the painting.  As I started to notice more small painting items I documented them and walked through.  Unfortunately the contractors’ punch list guy, who was stellar, had to fix them. Though some items are expected, there were some clearly poor quality items and I figured he’d certainly feedback what he saw.  Upon completion we closed with the understanding that after we move in if we see anything to document and they’d come back and fix it.  After a month I’d found a few things – all painting which I made a list.  Now two items really irritated me one was the top of our guest shower wall had not been painted along with the interior frame of the garage roll up door.  In changing a light bulb I noticed the shower issue and on a weekend with the garage door open I noticed the frame not painted.  Now this might be trivial but to me clearly to painter took shortcuts assuming I’d never see these things.

Of course the contractor fixed these however an interesting thing happened.  The wife contractor partner met with my wife and I alone and said due to my keen eye and diligence they were taking steps to improve their quality control.  I felt honored in a way.  I had applied my Intel PM skills,  quality, and 32 years of general tenacity to not only successfully ensured a predictive positive result for me but catalyst a positive change for the contractor who by now had also become friends.  Then she dropped a ‘bomb’ I had not anticipated in my thinking.  We had discussed doing the exterior work with them next year (about $20k USD).  I figured they would want the project especially if work got slow and they knew my expectations. She advised that they didn’t want to do any future work for me as I had too high expectations.  Wow – after all the positive events of this project and relationship I got this.

Several things immediately came to mind along my mental continuum of my adherence to PM practices  due diligence, and my learned Intel skills and experience got me what was 100% expected to did I push a vendor too hard due to my scrutiny, zeal, follow-up.  I know I was nice – even by their own admission helpful to the vendor but I’d apparently sent a message that I pushed to hard or set the bar to high for them.  To close on the story we talked more and using my good Intel communication skills we ended up agreeing to look at the future patio project when the time came.  What I did learn is there is a definite culture at Intel where we make our commitments, set the bar, and have high expectations that perhaps non-Intel people don’t readily understand and can adapt to.  Is this why Intel as a company is having progressive record quarterly performance in a global down economy?  In summary, for the future at risk of frightening off contractors I’ve concluded to continue to apply my Intel PM skills to my advantage.  …JGH