Pick Any Two

High Risk

This phrase has been bantered around for decades and most people assign the origin of it to project management. So what are contractors talking about when we say "pick any two?"

Well we can apply this to any scenario in your life (and there are tons of articles out there to explore it), but let's apply it to your building project or renovation. The three bubbles of the Venn diagram (in construction) are usually Fast = schedule, Cheap = value / cost and Great = quality /craftsmanship. 

The real issue for the homeowner is what does this mean to their project?  Why is it I can't have all three for my project?  Well the best answer I have found recently was in a blog from a guy named Stefan Loble where he makes a comment to the effect that you cannot cheat any of the three aspects in any meaningful way; if you could it would become a "best practice" and would essentially support one of the aspects, thus making it impossible to cheat it. 

So when we talk about the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC), what sorts of things do we need to consider under the three categories of the "pick any two" notion?

Fast - for most people, this is related to the either the response time for the Electrical Contractor (EC) to come when the scheduled preliminary work is completed; or in some instances it means how quickly the EC can be in and out so not to hold up the project. 

But what is Fast?  In most cases "fast" means getting in and out as quickly as possible, but what is it for the EC?  For the EC fast means, how many tradesmen are required to meet the timeline?  How many can work independently?  Are there sufficient materials available?  Is there a suitable location to store materials on-site?  Is the EC team on-site by themselves or are they competing with other trades for floor space, electrical power, driveway access, etc?

Cheap - for most people this is related to the final cost in dollars and often "Value" is not considered or even known. What does "cheap" mean to the EC?  In some cases it means less mark-up of materials or buying in sufficient quantities to achieve better pricing or not using quality materials at all. It might mean only doing a minimum code-compliant job. It might mean not putting in or planning for future installations or requirements. It might mean putting the least experienced personnel on the job. In most cases it means less craftsmanship - less attention to ensuring boxes are level, lights suitably located, not worrying about what trade follows them in, etc. 

Great - in the electrical field, the typical homeowner does not know what a "great" electrical job is. There is nothing wrong with that; you can't possibly know everything and that is why you hired an EC in the first place. I can assure you though that the EC knows what a "great" job is and how it relates to quality and craftsmanship. 

In the eye of the EC "great" means many different things. In most cases it means taking the time to coordinate with other trades to ensure one is set up for the other. It is usually the stuff you don't see such as proper depth setting of boxes for tile, planning for insulation and vapour barrier behind the panel location, making sure light fixtures are properly located (usually centred) in the area, putting the exhaust fans in such a way the HVAC guys can properly vent them, etc. There is also the part about what you do see. Is the service conduit straight and level?  Are the wires entering the panel neatly?  Are the boxes for the switches and receptacles straight, level and at a consistent height?  Does the location of switches and receptacles make sense?  Great may also mean doing the little extra things that solve problems done the road; separate circuits for bathrooms, receptacles in the eves for holiday lighting, convenience receptacles for decorations, special furniture or different possible layouts, etc. 

So what can you do to try to achieve all three?  Well the answer really is nothing. Like the title says "pick any two" but then be prepared to give on the third. So when deciding on what you want for your project take some time and look at what the art of the possible is:

If you want Fast then be prepared to help with that. Plan well ahead and hold to that schedule. Make sure that the site is free of debris other tradesmen when your EC comes in. Make sure all the framing, HVAC and plumbing is completed. If it is a new build, you will also want the basement floor poured and basement walls framed. If any of those things are not done, your EC will not be "fast". 

If you want Cheap then you have to do the research to be able to clearly define what you want in the job. You will blow cheap right out the window at your first "change request" or "extra". Cheap is also connected to Great and Fast. Cheap might mean the EC will fit you in as time becomes available or might mean he will put his less experienced guys on the job. Cheap will also mean that you will get lower quality materials and the minimum amount of planning for future work. As an example, to save money you put in a small panel, but in a few years you decide you want to finish the basement; now in addition to the basement renovation, you are now changing out panel or upgrading your service. Was it really "cheap"?

Like I stated earlier, Great means different things. What I like to tell my customers is the difference between a good electrical job and a great one is that when you want to complete that next step in your renovation journey, we have already thought of that. If you have a problem, great electrical installations will minimally affect the remainder of the home or business and can be solved quickly. A great electrical installation will be one where you show your friends your panel and say does this look impressive or what!

As you prepare for the next project, I am sure your EC may say "we can do it cheap, fast or great, please pick any two and we can start from there"; and now you will have considered this in advance and be ready to have a good relationship with your EC and a successful project. 

About the Author

John Kuehnl-Cadwell is a Master Electrician and an owner of Datawise Solutions Inc., an electrical contracting company located in Ontario. He has been licenced as a Journeyman Electrician since 1992.

Posted by: John Kuehnl-Cadwell
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