To follow up last month’s discussion on doing the right thing when it comes to addressing another person/company’s problem(s), let’s look at a few scenarios, problems, pitfalls, and approaches to correcting an error.
1. Standing up for yourself, your HVAC design, and/or the company you work for.
Comment: I have shared this scenario that I call “Guilty until proven innocent” numerous times with others over the years, because I was blamed for a poor HVAC design that had several problems just prior to the owner taking occupancy of the building. At the time, I was very young, and the building owner, operations manager, the prime contractor, HVAC contractor, and a few other participants were all much older so “with age comes wisdom?”
All of them were sure the problem was the design and not the installation or startup (pre-commissioning era). I was confident (but not overly confident) that the system should work because I personally wrote the sequences of operation (didn’t count on an ATC sales engineer to write my control sequences for me). Without getting into the details of the problems and solutions, the contractor had seven technicians on-site for two weeks correcting installation problems as a result of my being out on the job site for two days. No one from this group, ever came back and thanked me for a job well done, but our company was selected for the new major project in our area only if I was the HVAC engineer. I always believed actions speak louder than words.
2. Never back anyone into a corner so that they can’t get out.
Comment: My first boss taught me that when finding a major error on someone else’s part, you should “never back someone into a corner where they can’t get away,” because someday you will probably be in that same situation. In other words, focus on the solution and hopefully the other engineer (or contractor) will learn from the experience.
3. We need to “kill” the guilty party before we can solve the problem.
Comment: I worked at a firm where the approach to problem solving was to first focus 110% of our attention on “who made the mistake.” I would encourage others in the company to focus on solving the problem and would half-jokingly say, “Why do we always have to find the person who made the mistake and kill him before we could focus our attention on solving the problem?” It seems quite often when a problem arises, someone will unintentionally divert the attention of the other potential problemsolvers to try and identify who made the mistake(s).
4. Start at Square 1 (a.k.a. Division 1).
Comment: When called upon to provide third-party review services pertaining to a perceived HVAC contractor error, it is important to start with what is owned under the contract, which means going to Division 1 of the contract documents and becoming familiar with those requirements specified in that section of the contract. In other words, start at the beginning and don’t start your review focusing on the HVAC drawings and specifications. Quite often, the mechanical section of the specification will be in conflict with the Division 1 General Conditions and Division 1 should dictate the contract requirements.
When it comes to being proficient at third-party review and/or standing up for an injustice/accusation, my first boss/mentor told me that to be good in the HVAC industry you just have to be 80% good. One of the great things about HVAC design engineering, as well as a flaw in this engineering, is that we only need to get within plus or minus 10% of system design. Ask any TAB technician how accurate must the HVAC air and water systems be, and they will probably tell you plus or minus 10%, per the design engineer’s contract specification. How would that 10% philosophy works in other industries? How would it work at many factories turning out thousands of beer-bottled tonic (that’s what we call soda in New England)? Not a pretty sight! So doing the right things means extending beyond plus or minus 10% and placing yourself ahead of the competition. But do it through actions and not words.