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Why does it take so long?

How does it happen that all these refit projects take so long?  I can tell you, just like in large software projects:  one day at a time.

Question: How does a large software project get to be one year late? Answer: One day at a time!

Fred Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month

Let’s walk through a example.  I’m going to pick on my favorite contractor, Dave Allen from TNT Yacht Repair.  I chose him because he’s the one I’d recommend most.  I’ve used him on a couple of projects and he doesn’t know it yet but I have a list of other projects I’ll get him to work on soon.  He’s the only one I’ve ever worked with that calls me and emails me and keeps me updated on work efforts with lengthy explanations  of what was accomplished, issues encountered and how and why they were resolved the way they were and next steps.  He calls me every day during the work (this is unique in the marine services industry as far as I can tell).   This guy is great and gets my unqualified, 100%, best in service recommendation.

We decided to replace the refrigerator compressor for a number of reasons: it sounded like a small aircraft idling in the engine room all the time.  When the compressor kicked in, it sounded like a small aircraft taking off.  It was inefficient, old and I broke the evaporator plate.  This is Dave’s specialty and I know it”l be done right if I get him so he’s the man.

We had to talk about it for a couple of weeks.  The old design ain’t the most efficient and going through the choices with Dave took some time (I got a day job where travel sometimes makes me hard to reach).  By the time Dave walked me through it all, we burned at least 2 weeks before I gave the green light.  Total estimate for install: 8 hours.

Dave has to order the new compressor – it would be crazy for him to keep stuff in stock.  That took a week to arrive.  Once he has it, he gets me on his schedule for the next week.  If you’re keeping score, we’re now a month into this.

As Dave does the install (under the galley counter this time – very quiet!), he discovers that the manufacturer of the new compressor has cut a few corners on the length of the copper tubing to save some money.  Copper has gotten insanely expensive you know.  It’s gonna be too short.  You can’t run down to the Home Depot and get new stuff either – you need it pre-cut with the right connectors and pre-charged or you ‘ll let out all the magical cooling fluid and have to recharge it manually and still risk leaks from the hand-made reconnections.  You can do it that way, it’s not smart though.  So Dave has to order new tubing.  It’ll arrive the next week.

Now, Dave has a life.  The very next week, if the tubing doesn’t come in he won’t have time to install it before he goes out of town.  It did not arrive in time, week lost.  He’ll get to it next week.  We’re now looking at 7 weeks for this project which is 8 hours of labor.

That’s just how it works if you want it done right by people that know what they’re doing.  My mantra on this is I only want to do it once so it has to be done right and this is how it gets done right.  Almost every job on a boat is a custom job that sucks up more time, effort and money than seems like would be reasonable if you did this in a full size house.  Check out my saga on lifelines to see another example – a pretty straightforward job I’m doing that took more than 6 weeks just for us to find a way to make it work so we could even get started.  Or you could review the sink fiasco we went through – a month to find a drain that fit.

Good times.




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