Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Flex Chrome

While looking for some options for flexible chrome trim I ran across this
site. Flex Chrom is geared towards customizing hot-rods. I ordered the sample kit and was pleased by the selection. There is a wide variety - and all pieces adhere via VHB tape. Many profiles also bend in multiple ways, which can be tricky with molding.

Outwater also has some flexible metallic t-moldings, which are nice because you have a better anchor.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Commodity Items

The last lecture of my PM class (it went fast, and there are items I am still absorbing, so I am sure I will post more, but I do wish the class was more thorough – but I suppose there is much more to project management that you can gain from 10 weeks) discussed a variety of contracts / contract management. Of course while discussing this and the procurement process, awarding work based on the lowest bid came up. In the lecture – it was stated that this really only works best if it is a commodity. But I think that is a little too basic.
This would work if you were requesting bids, for example, on Dutchboy paint, Duraclean, Satin, Color “X”, 1 gallon. It is a specific product, with specific qualifications – and at that point the lowest price would be fine. But you can’t just say buy the cheapest paint you can find in “X” color. Obviously there are many cost differences – sheen, quality, binder, warranty. Sheen price differences occur even within the same brand. And the $9 a gallon paint just isn’t as nice as the more expensive stuff. It doesn’t cover as well, it doesn’t “flow” the same, its more chalky, it doesn’t clean as easy…. And if paint isn’t a commodity…..
There are thousands of examples – Dove Chocolate verses a Hershey bar. White Castle burgers versus epic burger or Max and Ermas. Papa John’s pizza versus my favorite pizza from Waldos in Kansas City, Mo, in which every time I make the 8 hour drive back to KC is the first place I visit. Freud may have said sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but he obviously wasn’t purchasing one.
Plus, none of my above comments really deal with anything except for the product. Service for example is hard to quantify. It’s hard for a company to sell, it’s hard to “see”, and its something that you don’t want to pay for except for when you need it. For instance, the last time I bought tires for my car I went to a cheap place. Ever since then I have gotten crappy service – and when I replace my tires this time around I will probably go someplace that has better service.
Where I work now as a project manager, this discussion is relevant to me because my price for a “product” (a set, exhibit, etc) can’t really be compared based on price alone. The specifications are never thorough enough to look at my companies price, and another shops price and assume that both are not only apples, but granny smith apples from Michigan, picked at the best time of the year, shipped carefully, and free of pesticides.
From the theatre side, there are two different viewpoints. Some TD’s are purchasing their scenery (opera, ballet, broadway etc), and thus need to understand what goes into the bid & the qualifications to be able to evaluate the bids. The more specific the request is the better. But even for the average shop guy, its worth remembering that sometimes things are cheap for a reason – and sometimes that is okay, and sometimes it’s not.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Design and Performance Specifications

One of my PM class lectures discussed design specifications and that the buyer assumes the risk because they have specified the equipment. On the other side, if the buyer defines the performance desired, the contractor assumes more risk. An IT example was given where all of the IT parts were specified, but perhaps the system as a whole didn’t work well because of unforeseen conflicts.
I mostly receive a combination of the two when I need to provide pricing. The client may provide a variety of design specifications (almost always in terms of how something should look, unless we are doing the design, and sometimes with actual pieces of equipment), but also include the performance expectations. Awareness of performance expectations is inescapable since we are often providing labor to make an event happen or to install a working exhibit.
Almost always in most RFP or RFQ’s is a statement somewhere that despite any owner suggested products, it is the shop that is responsible for fully meeting performance expectations.
First, this can be tricky, because sometimes it isn’t evident that something that was owner specified won’t work until significantly into the process. At that point, a lot of various resources have been consumed. Many times when this happened it was a project that has a decent portion of R&D. When I worked on the Sunlight part of the Science Storms at the Museum of Science and Industry, the owner specified a specific light fixture hung in the ceiling to focus on solar panels on the main floor. In the advent that the day was cloudy, these lights would turn on, allowing the solar panels to operate and allow slot cars to race along a track. The exhibit had a variety of performance and design characteristics, and a lot of R&D to determine what would work. Since the area where the solar panels fit where part of the design, this wasn’t easily changeable. While the sun easily powered the cars through the solar panels, the lights at 70’ (ceiling to panels) would not. This led to the eventual repositioning of the lighting instruments on the lower part of the exhibit. This required a compromise between us as the fabricator and the museum, and was based on the fact that despite best intentions of how something could work, this was what it took to make the exhibit function as required. While we did get an eventual compromise, getting to this point was a costly endeavor.
The above example was a learning experience for both my company (and myself), and for the museum. However, sometimes we see projects come in where the design specs and the performance specs do not integrate. I think these can be the most challenging to bid. You can’t ignore your knowledge, but if you price the project based on what you know will need to be done to make it function – the price may likely be much higher. Perhaps the simple option is to not bid. The other option is to care with the client the issues – but here the risk is that you are potentially sharing proprietary knowledge. I have seen a number of cases where we come in with a technique that is proprietary, only to see the client share that information with other bidders to gain a price advantage.
Finally, while we have taken on projects were we have offered the client what they asked for – and given them a product that was what they purchased, in the long run, no one exited the project happy. We didn’t make a product we could feel proud about, the client paid (what they felt was) a lot of money for an end product that met design specs, but not performance spec. Inevitably the client wants us in the end to take care of the poor performance because it has to be our fault – it couldn’t possibly be their design. Sometimes we can do a change order, and at least minimize losses, but that will still make the client unhappy.
Thoughts about how to manage the conflict between these two types of specifications or how you have dealt with it in the past?