Getting the Job Done Right, the First Time

Once I've received a request for work (such as an appraisal or authentication) from a customer, and have a clear idea both of what they're asking for and what they need, once we've locked in an agreement that we're both happy with, I often think the tough stuff is done and I can just get the work in due course.

This is of couse a sad delusion.

Time and again though I've proven to myself that if I really do want to deliver as-promised to the customer AND get paid AND not get complaints about shoddy work AND keep all of the other plates I have spinning up in the air, there's more planning for me to do yet before I get head down and bum up.

Exactly When Am I Going To Get This Done?

Once I've agreed on a job, the next question I need to grapple with is - When the hell am I going to get this done? When my dance card is open, this isn't a problem, I can jump into a new project straight away without fear of impacting work on any other commitments.

It's been a long time since I was in that situation though! Parkinson's Law might state that work on a task will expand to fill the available time, but a small business owner has a range of responsibilities to take care of, over and above working for their customers. Paying bills; writing procedures; booking advertising; doing the books; planning for world domination - all of that takes time.

This means I generally need to check my calendar BEFORE I make a commitment to doing something, let alone a delivery date by which it will be done. I've long been a sucker for a quote I first heard said by the Australian racecar driver Peter Brock: "Bite off more than you can chew and then chew like hell." The trouble is, that chewing like hell bit is all good and well right up until I start choking!

I once appraised a collection of Half Sovereigns for a deceased estate - the coins were quite valuable and needed to be PCGS graded before accurate values could be established. We sent them off to the US for a holiday, and nearly all of them received top grades. The family took delivery of the coins back due to complications over probate, and said they'd contact me when they were ready to sell. 6 months later I got an email to that effect, so I printed out the list of the collection, put it in the top of my in tray and mentally noted to get to it once I was up to speed.

The trouble is, when the phone rings all day, people come in the door and we get orders and queries via the website all ticks of the clock, making time isn't as easy as it could be. 
Every time I started to work through a few coins, something else "urgent" would crop up and back the list would go in the tray.

After a few queries from them via the phone and a few apologies from me, the executor of the estate didn't hesitate to let me know just how much else was being delayed by the non-liquidation of these coins, so I had to log out of my emails; unplug the phone and shut the door to make sure I actually finished the damn quote. It was a great collection to buy and in the end the family was happy with the outcome, it just took a lot longer to get there than it should have.

I'm still lousy at checking my calendar (it seems the "She'll be right" attitude operates on default), and still occasionally commit to appraisals of large collections before I confirm I have the time to do it. 

So checking my calendar for available time BEFORE I make a commitment really saves a lot of angst and disappointment, even with customers who know me really well. 

Actually CHECK to Make Sure the Job Has Been Done Properly

Our son Alex went through a phase of watching a Netflix reality show called called "Nailed It" - it was a cooking show where a series of very enthusiastic amateur cooks were given a cake to replicate, and a recipe to follow to help them make that cake.

Needless to say, most of these folks have limited practical experience at baking cakes, and the outcomes generally don't come close to resembling the real thing. It's amazing to watch someone who starts by declaring they know how to cook, they cook all the time, everyone they know says their cakes are fantastic etc etc, then with the first cake they start baking, the recipe goes completely out the window and they just ad-lib it!

Alex would hoot and holler at the people who'd substitute egg whites for yolks, or who would just omit an ingredient altogether because they were clear it isn't necessary. Once the allocated time was up, perception met reality and the judges let them know soon enough just how far off the mark their cooking approach was.

When it comes to providing authentication reports or appraisals, I have a pretty decent process down pat. My own pause needs to come after a job is done though - that's the time to CONFIRM I've done it properly before I get back to the customer. 

The simplest example I can cite in the importance of doing this as a force of habit is when we're dispatching parcels. Each morning, our ecommerce software generates a "Pick List" of products that are on orders that need to be dispatched. I might go through the list from top to bottom, all while fully-caffeinated and concentrating, and still screw things up. It's the same for anyone else though, sometimes we can't see the wood for the trees.

We make sure that when one staff member "picks" a product, another staff member (with a fresh pair of eyes) will confirm that is the correct product, without fear or favour. In the past, we've picked mint sets instead of proof sets; paper decimal notes with the OCR-B font instead of the Gothic font and a 1991 set of platinum coins instead of 1992.

Any one of those errors could result in a complaint and / or a return - expensive mistakes to make! Fortunately the collective focus of two heads is better than one, and by using a second staff member to check the right items are picked, we identify nearly all errors before they're dispatched. This simple check saves a lot of angst and heartache.

If I look at the damn boring things we need to do to make sure we stay on track (that is, scheduling and checking), it makes me question whether we're far worse in our attentiveness than our competitors or people in other professions. Then I remember that "The Checklist Manifesto" (an incredibly simple yet powerful book dedicated to underlining the priceless value that a simple checklist can have) has more than 12,000 positive Amazon reviews, and I realise it's probably just the human condition.

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