Shitwork

I’m starting to wonder whether an old house is a metaphor for business. Strike the “old” – maybe any house is a metaphor for business. How so?

  • If you ignore it, you’ll pay dearly.
  • No matter how much you plan, something will go wrong.
  • Many people you hire, no matter how much background checking you do, will produce shitwork.

So what’s “shitwork”? Many contemporary definitions (yes, I’m not kidding) define it as something that’s given: trivial, unrewarding, tedious, dirty, and disagreeable chores. I’m going to modify the definition to something that’s received: subpar, shoddy, goods or services that have long-term, negative economic impact.

So what does this have to do with a house? Ask most homeowners about the quality of their houses – especially the things they had to fix – and they’ll tell you about shitwork, without my fancy definition. Let’s look at this more closely.

When I moved to Atlanta several years ago to start a company, I bought a beautiful, well-known-architect-designed home. It was stunning. Within 18 months, all the rooms had to be redone because every square foot of drywall had bulges and cracks from nail pops. The builders didn’t use drywall screws; they used nails, which can’t stay in place as a house naturally contracts and expands. That’s shitwork. I had to redo every wall and ceiling.

Back up North and now living in a 100-year-old Massachusetts home, I had a water pipe let go. Upon inspection, it became clear that a plumber, ten years ago during a renovation, failed to put the new copper piping fully in a coupling before soldering the joint. That’s shitwork. I spent a weekend cleaning it up and fixing it right.

Shoddy Pipe

What about business? No different. As part of a marketing campaign, I hired a firm to do a promotion from one of their “highly-targeted” lists. Though we received a respectable number of leads, our conversion rates were zero. Yes, nada. Nil. I never had this happen before and upon investigation discovered that the vendor didn’t even bother to filter their list based on our criteria. They figured we wouldn’t notice. That’s shitwork. Fortunately, we caught this in time and didn’t pay them.

We can only wonder about the economic (and even environmental) impact of shitwork. Too bad the financial benefit is on the bad vendor or the unethical contractor, but only if they can get away with it. Social media and services such as Angie’s List help, but we still have a long way to go. We’re all busy people, but we can only mitigate the risk if we inspect the work, document it well, and keep a zero-tolerance policy. Whether it’s our home or our business, shitwork is shitwork.

Rob Ciampa

3 Comments


  1. A very good post about a very bad problem.

    There’s another dimension to this issue, however. Years ago I was reading an article in “This Old House” magazine about selecting a contractor and came across a line I’ll never forget: “If you hire a contractor based on the submission of the lowest bid, consider yourself a co-conspirator in the project’s failure.”

    Now I’m not at all suggesting that this is what you did, Rob. But I have seen prospects conduct a race to the bottom — should they then be surprised they got subpar results from bottom-feeder work?

    Reply

  2. Jonathan,

    Love the quote from TOH and I agree with it. I’m usually a 3-quote guy and take the middle bid if all things are equal. Unfortunately, though, I’ve seen shitwork from high end players as well (like some lawyers and management consultants) who delegate to incompetent underlings, but still charge $400/hour.

    Rob

    Reply

  3. Rob,

    That thing about shitwork from highend players is all too true. I have a hair-raising story to tell about a famous tech company that I cannot share online. Yes, savor the suspense…

    Reply

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