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Harry Hertz


My Life As a Plumber

To DIY or not to DIY—ask the question

Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2023 - 13:03

It all started with my bathroom sink. I noticed that it was draining slowly, and that I could pull out the pop-up stopper. It was no longer attached to the lever that raised and lowered it. A look into the cabinet below the sink revealed that the ball socket and lever had become loose, freeing the stopper to be removed.

The bigger problem was that it also resulted in water escaping through the seal, so the vanity had a good bit of water in it. You know, the vanity that holds spare medicines, sunscreen, cleaning supplies—the one you’ve been meaning to clean out for a long time. And now I had that cleaning opportunity at the least opportune time.

My wife helped with the cleanup and drying of wet contents. I then proceeded to clean out the drain without removing the sink trap. I tried to remove the trap, but the plastic, threaded locknuts were frozen. I'd experienced this issue before and ended up breaking the plastic pipe because I torqued the nuts too hard.

Fortunately, all is good now and the vanity is also clean. And I had a chance to think about my personal work processes and work systems.

Work processes and work systems

Before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, let me explain. As a homeowner, one of my key work systems is home maintenance. Within that system, I have a number of key work processes:
• Plumbing repairs
• Electrical repairs and upgrades
• Yard maintenance
• Supplier management

As a refresher, the Baldrige Excellence Framework defines work systems as “the coordinated combination of internal work processes and external resources that you need to develop and produce products (and services)....” Work processes are “your most important internal value-creation processes.”

A key question for me when I face a maintenance issue is whether to use my internal work process for repair or maintenance, or initiate my supplier management process. The decision is based on whether I can do it more effectively (including cost control) and efficiently with my own workforce (my wife and me) or with a supplier.

Workforce capability and capacity

Part of the decision-making process involves an assessment of our ability (capability) and time availability (capacity) to carry out the process. In the case of the sink drain, we had both the capability and capacity, coupled with the enhanced efficiency of doing the repair internally.

The right choice

So how does this discussion affect your organization—and also your family? The choice of using your own work process or relying on your larger work system of suppliers, partners, and collaborators can change over time.

Let me illustrate with another personal example. Part of my yard maintenance work process for many years involved mowing my lawn with a lawn tractor. It gave me a release from my regular Baldrige work and also afforded some free time to reflect. When I was unavailable, I had two sons as part of my workforce who were eager to ride the tractor. They no longer live at home, so my workforce has been reduced. Furthermore, I’ve found that while I still have the capability to mow, our family capacity to mow has shrunk. And I have found other things to occupy my time. So mowing is now contracted out as part of my home maintenance work system and a part of my supply-chain management process.

How about your organization?

When was the last time you strategically weighed decisions about your work systems? Are there work processes you should move to your supply network? Are there work processes you should bring in-house to enhance effectiveness or efficiency and maybe better manage risk? Please, give it some thought!

First published Jan. 10, 2023, on Blogrige: The Official Baldrige Blog. Read the original article here.


About The Author

Harry Hertz’s picture

Harry Hertz

Harry Hertz retired in June 2013 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he had served as director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program since 1995. For more than 15 years he was the primary architect of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, responsible for expansion of the Baldrige Program and Award to healthcare, education, and nonprofits, including government. Hertz serves on the advisory group for VHA’s Center for Applied Healthcare Studies, and on the adjunct faculty of American University. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a Ph.D. from M.I.T.