Failures happen. They happen in our individual lives and they happen within the context of a business and other organizations. NASA’s Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia accidents are examples of catastrophic project failures within a highly skilled, technical and advanced organization. A tremendous amount of effort was poured into each one of those projects, which of course included money but also meticulous project design, planning and execution. But failure still happened, and it happened with tragic results, which at the time put that organization’s competence into question.
Although the installation of protective floor coatings isn’t rocket science, if there’s a parallel between space flight and the installation of effective, durable floor coatings it would be that, ensuring success in both fields needs to be approached with a thorough understanding of the dynamics that will guarantee that success before execution of the project ever actually begins. Because money, design, planning, execution and time are important parts of any project, failure, in and of itself, will always bring unexpected, negative and unwanted consequences. That being the case, failure’s only redeeming quality and often hidden silver lining is the opportunity it brings to learn from it and to apply that knowledge to future projects so the same negative outcome isn’t repeated in the same way.
Why Do So Many Failures Occur in the First Place?
Floor coating failures have been studied by industry professionals and independent experts for decades. Time and again, case studies documenting true failures (as opposed to anticipated wear or unexpected abuse), their root causes and their frequency of occurrence have varied remarkably little over the years. Some of the more frequent causes of floor coating failure include:
- Insufficient, incorrect or nonexistent surface preparation, in large part meaning surface profiling.
- Excessive moisture, moisture transmission or of some other liquid agent.
- Other installer (human) related error.
- Unexpected job site conditions.
- Manufactured material defects.
- Untestable, unexplained or otherwise unknown origin of cause.
So, if we know the causes of failure and if those causes have proven to repeat themselves over and over, with little or no variation in either the modes of failure or the frequency with which they occur, why do they continue to happen? Some of the reasons include:
• Entry of new, under-experienced installation providers
• Installation provider employee turnover
• Unfamiliarity by installation provider and/or its employees with the scope of work, proper installation techniques or the coating materials used
• Poor communication/understanding of the customer’s needs/expectations
• Poor pre-installation inspection, observation and/or planning
• Bid estimate too low leading to unreliable corner cutting and untested shortcuts
• Hidden and unknown product defects
The floor coatings industry seems to be peppered with a higher occurrence of improvisation during project executions than maybe it should be. Not that long ago the so called “Lemon Laws,” which states passed across the country, were important for consumers because there was a noticeably high incidence of defective vehicles being manufactured and sold. A “lemon” more often than not came down to an otherwise well-designed procedure that hadn’t been followed. With the advent of automated robotic manufacturing, even though lemon laws still remain on the books today, they’ve pretty much been rendered unnecessary because of decisions that Larry, Joe or Bob once arbitrarily made on the manufacturing line have been taken out of the equation. And, the sometimes flawed decisions made in the heat of a moment or with unintentional inattentiveness no longer affect finished products as they once did. Today, it’s rare that a vehicle will arrive at a showroom with built in, unintentional flaws that aren’t noticed until it’s too late.
One of the most practical concepts I learned as an MBA student in my program’s manufacturing class was the idea that “quality” has nothing to do with luxury or any other type of feature or material upgrade or addition. What we were taught was: as a manufacturing concept, “quality” equals consistency. That means a McDonald’s hamburger can be imbued with just as much (or more) quality as a Ruth’s Chris steak. It all comes down to: What is the product designed to do, and what characteristics is it intended to have? If the manufacturer is able to produce the product it sells to meet those characteristics, over and over again, consistently, it will be producing a high-quality product.
There’s a time and place for doing things by the book, but as the best soldiers know, there’s a time and place to ditch the book and improvise because doing so is what a given situation calls for. As Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger can tell you, if pilots flying near bodies of water indiscriminately decided to make water landings, all hell would break loose in the airline industry. But, had he not chosen to ignore his air traffic controller’s directive to land at one of two airports, it’s probable that all hell would’ve broken loose, not only for everybody aboard U.S. Airways Flight 1549, but many people on the ground would’ve been injured or worse on that cold January day in 2009.
Training is Key to Breaking the Failure Cycle
The key to breaking the cycle of repetitive floor coating failures comes down to a single, two syllable word: training. There’s a fine point to be put on that statement, though, and it’s best illustrated by the following example: When faced with the need to have a brain tumor removed, who would choose to have the world’s best, most experienced cardiologist perform the surgery? Conversely, who would opt to have bypass surgery performed by the world’s most renown neurologist? Those examples should offer two clear takeaways:
- Just because a person is highly skilled in one area doesn’t necessarily mean they’re automatically skilled in another.
- Even intelligent, highly skilled professionals may be ill-equipped to perform a particular task if they’ve never studied or been trained in the discipline.
The second point above is important because it highlights an impediment that can lead skilled professionals in our industry to not ask questions, seek advice or attend training courses, which cover new information that the long-time professional may not be fully aware of.
To achieve the objectives that lead to a successful floor coating project, some amount of improvisation might end up being an important part of the execution of a completed job when certain, unforeseen events arise. But when it comes to eliminating the potential for a floor coating lemon, improvisation isn’t the best first choice to ensure success. Competent, proven training and teamwork are, and it’s those professionals who have trained in as many details as possible in their profession who make the best decisions when forced to improvise. Every professional floor coating installation company should develop, at the very least, the following three sets of internal documents to use as a regular part of its business, no matter what size the business is. These documents don’t have to be overly complex, as long as they focus on anticipating those factors that will make or break a completed installation. The important thing is that the documents identify and address each project’s critical success factors:
- Procedures manual
- Training manual
- Project assessment checklist
ICP Construction offers expert, ongoing training classes for its Arizona Polymer Flooring (APF), Super-Krete® Products, Rock-Tred and other lines of unique floor coating products and systems. Check each brand’s website for details and to register for upcoming classes. Additionally, there are a number of independent trade associations and organizations that offer insightful and practical courses related to floor coatings. Here are a few:
• Cal Poly
When considering enrolling in a floor coatings class, training, or longer program, define your objectives before you start your search for a course and only commit to attending one or another if they meet your goals. Some manufacturers are short sighted and focus on selling products in order to reach some sort of quota in a given period of time, while others focus on the long term and are concerned with attendees learning strategies and techniques that will serve well into the future. Some schools are strictly for-profit, which can sometimes create conditions that serve the school first and the student second, while others put the student’s education first. Any level of training should be undertaken for the sake of the student’s education, first and foremost.
Finally, regardless of where you go to increase your working knowledge as a professional in the floor coatings industry, you should understand that on-going education is part of any professional life and you should accept that, although all courses will come with a cost, if you choose the right one for you, that cost will pale when compared with the associated costs of preventable and repeated failures.