Monday, 22 May 2017

A Maintenance Project And Its Dismal Outcome

In early April 2017 notices were distributed door-to-door throughout the entire building, advising unit owners about the “Spring Fan Coil Maintenance” schedule. According to the planners of the project, the maintenance work was scheduled to start on Monday April 17, 2017 and Monday April 24, 2017 was designated as the completion date. Unit owners were informed also that the new contractor retained by the Management’s office will implement the work in a descendant mode, meaning the top floors will be covered first and gradually the employees of the contractor will progress toward the lower levels.

In the notice dated April 10, 2017 the Management Office reassured residents “…that the Superintendent will provide access to your suite and supervise the contractors throughout this maintenance service.”  The Office requested also from unit owners to secure to the contractors’ technicians “unobstructed access to the HVAC equipment”  by moving furniture or other items at least four (4) feet away from each fan coil unit.

On his website the contractor highlights the following grandiose claims:

You won't be left waiting. Barring earthquake or fiery flood or hurricane, we arrive and leave on time, every time.

Our touch is light as air. We leave the homes of your residents the way we found them. Except for the improved quality of air and the associated energy savings. They'll never know we were there.

Let there be not a speck of doubt: we do the job right. Subject to strict and random quality control procedures, our work is performed by highly trained and closely supervised technicians using the most advanced equipment.

Let's face it. In-suite maintenance, like house cleaning, is a chore. But that doesn't mean it can't be easy on you. We do high-quality, on-budget work that steers clear of rebound headaches or complaints so you can focus on your other work.
Why did I use the word ”grandiose” to describe the claims of the contractor? Simply because the big promises made, from doing the job right, to having highly trained and closely supervised technicians, to steering clear of rebound headaches, failed abysmally at the delivery stage. Am I expressing a biased personal opinion or do I have facts to support such a conclusion? Well, let us examine the aftermath of the project and each unit owner can shape his/her own opinion.

The contractor ABC Services (not the real name of the company) missed during the entire length of the project an incredibly high number of units. According to a notice dated April 26, 2017 and titled “Update Re: Spring Fan Coil Maintenance”, technicians missed/failed to cover 38 units. Floors 26, 22, and 17 were missed entirely. When you miss 1 or 2 units in a high rise building, you can argue that the margin of error is acceptable. Screw ups happen in any trade or profession and human beings are fallible, therefore ideal results should not be expected. But missing entire floors is a sign of mediocrity that contradicts the contractor’s claim that “we do the job right”. If you are assigning the tasks to “highly trained and closely supervised technicians”, you expect them to show up with proper supplies, the most efficient equipment, and the most adequate level of manpower. In other words, if you plan poorly for the challenges you are expected to face, you will never deliver adequate end results.

What about the claim that ABC Services does a “…high quality, on-budget work that steers clear of rebound headaches or complaints…”? Again the number of complaints I heard discredits seriously the claim. For too many owners, especially the septuagenarians who live alone, reshuffling the furniture (4 feet of unobstructed access) for a second time after the first disastrous failure is a herculean effort, often requiring the involvement of a younger family member who is forced to set aside his/her daily routine to help the elderly person. This means that not only the unit owner has to face rebound headaches, but a family member has to become the innocent victim of the rebound headache.

But the most worrisome of all the concerns encountered by the owners are the ones centering on the role of the Management Office that selected the contractor and The Members of The Board that endorsed the choice without ensuring that the contractor has the means to deliver professionally the contract signed. After all in every Annual General Meeting the President of The Board showers the management team with praises that reach the earth’s stratosphere, and in the past hecklers/supporters of The Board yelled and screamed during AGMs that decisions made by The Board cannot be wrong simply because the group setting makes the decision making process immune to mistakes.

The fiasco of the “Fan Coil Maintenance” reinforces the findings of Professor David Dunning and psychologist Justin Kruger, who argued in many research papers published during the last decade, that “Experts” who believe that a unit owner is always wrong and Technocrats guiding The Board are always right suffer from a phenomenon known in psychology as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”, a.k.a. “The Illusion of Confidence”, a cognitive bias that forces an expert to overlook several critical details that pave the way for an ugly unfavorable outcome. 

Let us not forget also that this situation could have been prevented if the claim “…that the Superintendent will provide access to your suite and supervise the contractors throughout this maintenance service”  rests on factual grounds. If the superintendent was opening the door of each apartment and locking it when the filters were replaced, why entire floors were missed? A good supervision requires that you monitor closely what the employees of the contractor are doing in a unit. A good supervision means that you report to your superiors the failures of the contractor when he misses a floor. In all fairness to the Superintendent we have to point out that there is a slim probability that the information gathering and dissemination was done by the Superintendent but for political reasons neither The Board nor the Management Office wanted to act on the information conveyed to both sides.

The moral of this story is simple. You cannot learn and accurately evaluate the ability of a new contractor to deliver promptly and efficiently a service when you are blinded by the illusion that you do not make mistakes. After all, the Chinese philosopher Confucius was right when he insisted that “Real knowledge is knowing the extent of one’s ignorance.”

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