Harnessing the Power of Hindsight in Quality to Cost Decisions

greenwaltBy Paul Greenwalt, EIT

Recently, I had a conversation with a coworker about how hindsight works – sometimes we will endure amazing conditions created by certain choices, but when we look back, the better choice seems so clear and we wonder why we ever did what we did. At the time, there were circumstances that guided our actions (or inaction), but reflection reveals the flaws in our decision(s).

This conversation sparked an epiphany about a certain choice that I’ve been trying to make.  The example that I will share is my call to you to not be like me! Yes, I am falling victim to the very thing that I am advising you not to…but here is my in‑the‑moment, out of body experience that will hopefully drive you to better decision making and a brighter (safer) future!

I own a 1997 Acura CL 3.0 that has 275,000 miles on it. It has been well taken care of and has treated me and my family well for the 150,000 of those miles that we have put on this coupe. Inevitably, the car is starting to show its age. The steering has had major work and still refuses to cooperate, the passenger window no longer works, only five out of the six cylinders fire consistently, the transmission speed sensor reports an error code, one of the two oxygen sensors has failed, and the ABS/Brake wheel speed sensors intermittently fail. Other than that, there’s nothing wrong with the car! And the exterior is in great shape; that counts for something, right?

I probably shouldn’t be driving the car, you say? Fair enough. Should I fix all of the problems? A ballpark repairs estimate that the dealership quoted me was $4,000. That is cheaper than buying a reliable used car with relatively low miles, however the fact that the car has nearly 300K miles on it tells me that something else is bound to go wrong at any time, which would make my investment pointless. What about selling or trading it in? It’s an option, but my conscience tells me that giving this beauty to anyone is like a parent dropping Dennis the Menace off with their neighbor and running away laughing. I just can’t do that. And yet I had kept driving it myself…thanks for caring about me too, conscience!

So you can see how one might even know better at the time and still not make the best decisions.  Likely, current circumstances seemed to leave you stranded with no good way out of a tight situation.

The focus of our conversation evolved from my car conundrum to a similar discussion we often have with clients. As a mechanical engineer, I know that mechanical equipment can be a sizeable portion of a project’s expense, and budgets are often tight.  Our challenge is to balance that budget with our clients’ best interests.  How can we best leverage our hindsight to be our client’s foresight, and convince them to bite the bullet and buy the expensive pump or air handling unit? Just as I know my old car could give up the ghost at any moment, we know that the cheap pump with no warranty will inevitably fail and leave the facility uncomfortable or inoperable and will cost more in down time than the expensive pump ever could have. Hospitals, data centers, and manufacturing facilities are great examples of buildings that cannot afford any unscheduled outages, so redundancy and reliability are essential. (Check out my colleague Morena Sanidad’s great post about reliability.)

The next time you are faced with a quality to cost decision, consider the consequences. In the case of my car, it had become too risky to continue tempting fate. Although I still have the car, I no longer drive it to work. I carpool with the co-worker that sparked this post, and my wife has another vehicle to commute to her workplace.  Despite my initial actions and bargaining with myself, I know I’ve now made the best choice.  Will you?

Happy decision making!

Follow Paul on Twitter @PGreenwalt_WH

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