To get the job done, quantity equals quality

Automation System Integration Blog: To get the job finished, move projects, discussions, and work focus from qualitative to quantitative; from ‘generally what needs to get done’ to ‘how much and how long and at what pace.’ Learn from Anthony Baker.


We recently had one of our clients audit our business as part of a vendor qualification routine, and the comment we received near the end of the audit was: “It is clear that, as a business, you are very skilled at moving projects, discussions, and work focus from qualitative to quantitative; from ‘generally what needs to get done’ to ‘how much/how long/what pace is required’ to get the job finished.”

Why does this matter in integration? If I look back at some of our biggest project challenges, they have happened because we did not quantify well enough, or often enough, or with enough clarity before, during, and even after the project. To get the point across, here are a couple of stories we share that have helped our engineers see that quality is only part of the equation. If you can’t quantify it, you probably can’t deliver it.

Example 1: Anthony’s dirty car

Anthony Baker’s car recently ran into some issues and needed to be taken into the shop. Unfortunately, the repairs weren’t cheap, so Anthony went to talk to his mechanic about it. Here’s the conversation:

Anthony: Wow, sounds like lots of work to be done here.

Mechanic: Yep, but we can sort it out for you.

Anthony: Thanks!

Mechanic: By the way, it’s a nice car, but it’s pretty dirty. I might be able to look into cleaning it for you.

Anthony: Sure! Keep me posted!

The scenario above seems fairly innocuous, but it is fraught with quantified scope and unmanaged expectations. Play it out again, with notes on what might be going on in each character’s head:

Anthony: Wow, sounds like lots of work to be done here. [WOW, this is expensive! He better do a great job!]

Mechanic: Yep, but we can sort it out for you. [It’s an old car, needs a lot of help – but we will do a great job for you. Too bad it’s so much work and the parts are expensive; I feel for you, Mr. Customer.]

Anthony: Thanks! [WOW, this is expensive! He better do a great job!]

Mechanic: By the way, it’s a nice car, but it’s pretty dirty. I might be able to look into cleaning it for you. [It would be good to tidy up this car; maybe he wants me to detail it? It’s already too expensive; I’ll just mention it to see if he wants it done.]

Anthony: Sure! Keep me posted! [Sweet! Sounds like if I spend this much money I get a free cleaning of some sort; I hope it’s a detail clean.]

Play it out and almost everyone is disappointed. What if:

Mechanic does not clean the car, or only cleans the exterior: Anthony is disappointed, because it didn’t get done, no matter how good the actual repair goes.

Mechanic gives the car a 100% detail clean: Anthony is very excited, for now. If he brings his car in next time and doesn’t get a free cleaning, then he will be disappointed.

How should the above have gone?

Anthony: Wow, sounds like lots of work to be done here.

Mechanic: By the way, it’s a nice car, but it’s pretty dirty. I have a detail clean package that normally runs $300. Because you are having this other work done, I can give you the package for $100. This includes a shampoo, clean, and exterior wax. Are you interested?

What is different? Communications are clear, and expectations are managed.

1. Customer is now very happy.

2. Customer actually paid more money than in the original discussion.

3. Mechanic now has a bit of funding and can do a great job.

When you are working with customers, it is the same thing: If you haven’t clearly quantified what you are providing, and the associated cost, there will be disappointment and you likely won’t get paid, even if you do a great job.

Example 2: Project quoting exercise

A more controls specific example is as follows. Anthony was working with a client on a system that would be “similar to the old system, but with some better standards.” This scope of work included line items like the following. [This is an actual cut-and-paste from a customer scope of work (SOW) with identifying features removed.]

Either this screen will display the system information provided from a web page, or a detailed system utility screen shall be completed if the web page is unavailable. 

In the above example, the scope could be a simple link to a web page (very easy) or a multidimensional, 10,000 data point screen you have to develop, test, and own (large!) The customer is not trying to be vague, but just isn’t sure what the project needs. Think back to the mechanic: Is there any way that Anthony can execute against the statement above without disappointing the customer? (Write your reply now, before reading on.)

Updated scope

The updated scope states the following:

System screen: Time has been included to display a vendor-provided web page. Alternatively, the same amount of time could be used to build a basic system utility template that contains up to 15 read-only system utility data points.    

Lesson: Provide an exact number, or you will disappoint. Doing so is not always easy, but it is always necessary. This is definitely a quantity EQUALS quality situation.

- The Automation System Integration Blog aggregates expert advice from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration. This blog provides integration advice in plant-floor controls, manufacturing execution systems (MES), and manufacturing consulting, from the factory floor through to the enterprise. Andrew Barker, P.Eng., Callisto Integration, compiled the advice.

Callisto Integration is a CSIA member as of 3/1/2015

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