A hard lesson in project management from a maid service

There are two truths in any project.  A project that is managed well, however lovely the experience, is unspectacular.  A mismanaged project, on the other hand, is like a car wreck.  Everybody talks about it. I was reminded of this recently when I used a new maid service.  House cleaning is a simple exercise in project management.  Like any complex project though, it's about planning, managing the tasks, the time, the expectations, the big picture and the little details, and instilling confidence in your client that they are in good hands.

Here's the scoop...

A few months ago I decided to try out a new maid.  I gave Paula the details of my house, she walked through the rooms with me, quoted a price, said how long it would take her, I agreed, and we set a date.

I've used a professional maid service before - 2 people arrive, equipped with their own cleaning tools and supplies, tag team the tasks, and be out in 2 hours.  That's why I don't keep a full stock of cleaning liquids or gadgets.

So when Paula arrived at 10am, hands-free, and asked me where my vacuum cleaner and mop was, I was unprepared.  I dusted off whatever I could find, told her where everything was, and left her to it saying "I have a meeting to prepare for, let me know if you need anything else."

Two hours later, I came out of my office to get lunch, to see that the kitchen was a bit upside down.  Paula was in the middle of it.  I made small talk as I fixed myself a sandwich and offered to make her one.

"How's it going?" I asked. "Good" she said, huffing and panting.  She looked like she could use a cold drink.  At this point, I'm looking around to see what her plan was.  I asked if she'd been upstairs, and she said "No, I started in the kitchen".  OhhhKKK. "You've been cleaning the kitchen for 2 hours?" NO....I didn't say that!!  But I was getting worried. How in the world was she going to clean the rest of the house in another 2 hours? I bit my tongue and just said "Well, I'm going to be on a phone call for an hour, so could you do my office last".

My call went longer than an hour and I was hoping that I wasn't holding Paula up!  But I needn't have worried because she had just made it up the stairs to the first bedroom.  The downstairs was still in disarray.

Around 4pm, I decided to take a break from work, and talk to Paula.  I made some Indian tea and as we sat there drinking our chai, talking about her family, I asked her very frankly why it was taking her so long.  And she said the house was bigger than she expected and she bit off more than she could chew.  Clearly, she was in over her head.

I didn't retort with "but you walked the house" because I felt SO bad for her.  Paula worked 8 hours that day!  FYI, she never made it to my office.  8 hours of hard manual labor!  Not to be a stickler, but the results were less than sparkling.  Still, I paid her 50% more that she quoted.  Needless to say, I have not asked her clean my house again!

Project (Mis)management

I've never really thought about the efficiency and planning that goes into a 4 hour cleaning job.  Sweet as Paula was and hard as she tried, it was clear that she did not have the experience or a method to handle this cleaning project.  When she quoted me a price and how long it would take her, it was a stab in the dark.  It was in line with market rate, but she underestimated the project and overestimated her abilities.  She did not have milestones or a plan of attack.  She took twice as long as a pro would have and it eventually cost me more.

Talk about bad project management!!

I cringe as I tell you this story, because a)I'm reliving that uncomfortable afternoon and b)it's the kind of tale my mom repeats.

But I promise you I have a point.

My point is...

Anyone can clean a house.  It's a low skill job.  The real skill lies in managing the job of cleaning a whole house.  Someone who does it everyday has systems in place, the tools to do the best job possible in the shortest amount of time, know the difference between what works and what doesn't, and the experience to be able to plan the attack and hit the mark.

It's the difference between an amateur and a professional.

Because, really, good project management is critical for better business management.

We're all adults.  We know this!  But every so often, we need a reminder.

How does this apply to residential architecture and construction?

I've talked to many who are of the opinion that anyone can design a house, how hard can it be?!  Or that anyone can build a house.  Truth be told, it's not rocket science. But DIY (Do It Yourself) is a 3 letter curse word.

When you talk to a professional (architect or builder), remember that you're not just paying for their skills, but a well managed delivery of their skills.

Design Services vs Project Management Services

Design is my technical skill.  And designing a house is most certainly not a low skill job.

Project management is my functional skill.  It's also my superpower.

Although the two are intricately connected together in my professional services, I like to talk about them distinctively, because both are important components for a successful project.  And each takes time.

Without getting into an argument about the (subtle!) differences between hiring a maid and hiring an architect or builder, let me ride my point home.

That...without good project management, a sparkling clean house is a non starter.