You can never use too many nails

Habitat for Humanity - Risk

I was fortunate to participate in my first Habitat for Humanity project in our area recently.    The other volunteers and I possessed a multitude of experience.  If you’re like me, you can hammer a nail without risk of hitting your thumb 95 out of 100 times (those other 5 are painful).  I can take apart basic plumbing and fix it.  Others have more experience, having installed walls, plastered, built decks – all the things I think I can do and then call a contractor in a panic to fix.  And then there are those with no experience, only good hearts.  Some are nervous, others just excited to help.

We were assigned two tasks: 1) nail the outer wallboards to the exterior walls on the second floor, and 2) raise the walls to complete the outside frame of the house.

First, we needed complete teamwork to pull the unfinished wall from the ground floor up to the second floor without killing those below or falling off the edge.  While most successful companies require teamwork, the lesson I will focus on is nailing the wallboard to the framing.

The foreman, with over 40 years of experience, showed us how to nail the wallboard and how far apart we should place each nail within different sections.  I am skilled at copying someone’s work, and went about my business nailing.  On a side note, we did not use hammer guns, only arm strength, a professional hammer, and reasonably good aim.  Use your arms. My technique needs improvement, as evidenced by a very sore wrist at the end of the day.

About 15 minutes into nailing away at the boards, the foreman walked over and said “Oh you don’t need to use so many nails in that section.”  I had spaced them out about three inches apart as originally demonstrated, when I could have spaced them six inches apart instead.

Then he said one other thing:

“Keep going at the same rate.  You can never use too many nails”.

During my long career in IT, we emphasized risk management.  I estimate we focused at least 20% of our time either identifying real risks or retelling a business case in the context of risk.  The foreman’s comments reminded me about risk and related metaphors (‘belt and suspenders approach‘, for example).  Mitigating risks can improve processes, create better customer satisfaction, and redistribute costs.  In the construction example, both the additional nails and the labor (aside from volunteers) have a real cost.  The risks we mitigated ensure we built a solid wall attached to the framing.

Risk decisions also lead to downstream impacts.

The risk decision to improve the sturdiness of the wall required the plasterers to spend time coating additional nail heads embedded in the wallboard.   In the big picture, I’m happy that the owners of the house will not have to worry about the walls caving in on them.  I’m even happier that they will have a house, and that I had a small part in helping them fulfill their dream.

Photo by Shawna Pierson under Creative Commons license

********Discussion Questions********

  1.  Do you have a self-induced home improvement horror story?
  2. Describe something risky you’ve done (that you’re willing to reveal)?
  3. How do you approach risk in your own business or workplace?

Post your responses in the Comments section below


Uncovering risks should be simpler than building a house.  I help companies create better strategic plans and improve their operations while reducing risks.   Please contact me via the Contact Us page and I will respond within one day.  Thank you for reading.



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2 responses to “You can never use too many nails”

  1. David Semak Avatar
    David Semak

    Excellent! Habitat for humanity is a great organization, we white collar people can be taught to do many important tasks.I applaud your efforts and plan to read your blogs regularly

    1. Harold Waisel Avatar

      Thanks for reading and replying David. I hope I get the chance to see the family move in when the home is completed.

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