The Dangers of DIY Specifying: Why Collaboration is key

There was a story in the news the other day about a man who attempted a do-it-yourself (DIY) surgery. It was not a pretty picture.

For a long time, I’ve found intriguing parallels between the health care and shelter industries. While this might seem to be an odd parallel, I hope that you’ll indulge me for a bit as I make my case and force everyone to take a minute to contemplate the value of professionalism in our industry.

In a previous life, I had the pleasure of spending 10 years on the board of directors of a major health care system in the Chicago area, including a two-year stint as chair of a strategic planning committee. It was a real-time lesson on quality and relationships.

Clearly, when the health and well-being of you or a loved one is on the line, the faith and confidence that you have in your provider are paramount. You need to know that the people in whom you are placing your trust are competent, caring and have your best interests at heart.

Conversely, we have all either experienced or known someone who has had the opposite experience. This is when you know that you’re simply another check mark on someone’s list of things to get done.

Fortunately, the organization that I was involved with had a passion for the individual and worked hard to make sure that it was always core to its culture.

Making quality, personal connections requires a conscious effort. What the patient experiences is only a small piece of everything that goes into the process.

Having the right team of staff, suppliers and consultants supporting the doctors and nurses is absolutely critical. In the end, choosing the right caregiver makes all the difference in ensuring the probability of a positive outcome.

What struck me as I was heavily involved in the development of a strategic plan for the system was how these same concepts applied to the design-build community. Coming from the perspective of a decorative plumbing and hardware (DPH) professional, the parallels are profound.

Below are four of the key underlying principles that I think apply.

The Importance of Team

Behind every good doctor is a team of consultants and specialists. The days of Dr. Kildare knowing everything are long past, if they ever did exist.

Similarly, the ability of a designer or architect to know all of the products available on the market – as well as all of their nuances – is long past.

It is incumbent upon DPH professionals to be competent and thoughtful consultants. The singular goal of these professionals should be to satisfy the needs of the design professional’s client – the patient, if you will. The best outcomes will arise from a collaborative effort.

Communication & Cooperation

The patient is best served when all of the doctors and consultants on the case are communicating with each other. Taking medications from multiple physicians without communication between them will probably have some scary results.

Likewise, when we as door hardware suppliers are able to freely discuss the job we are working on with the door supplier, the outcome is always better. That kind of direct communication always results in fewer errors and a shorter punch list.

Focus on Quality

The meaning of quality here is not just about having a good product. As in health care, the ultimate outcome is the goal.

Top-notch health care systems have an infrastructure that focuses on quality processes. The complexity of seemingly simple health issues is astounding.

One of the issues that we addressed was knee replacement. After analyzing the process, we were able to shorten the stay, shorten the recovery period, save 30 percent in cost and profoundly increase the patient’s satisfaction. It had everything to do with how things were done and the focus of the staff on making sure it was implemented.

Counting the mistakes is not the measure of quality. Ensuring that errors and problems are engineered out of the process is what matters.

How does that relate to this discussion? The DPH professionals that you work with should have systems in place that are focused on getting the job done right – every time. Those processes will involve asking a lot of questions for which you may not yet have the answers. They will also require working with other suppliers to make sure that the right stuff is being specified. There is great value to a quality focus.

Utilize the Expertise

In order for you to garner the most that you possibly can from the DPH professional, there needs to be a level of trust and a lot of communication.

Your radiologist may be very good, but he doesn’t know and understand all of the features of the new MRI that he’s using. He relies on the input of the professionals that provided the equipment.

In the same vein, the DPH professional knows his or her products. It goes far beyond the technical and design aspects. The design and architectural professional relates to product primarily through the manufacturer’s marketing efforts.

DPH professionals have a different relationship. They know who is delivering in a timely fashion. They know if there’s an issue with a latch or a valve that needs to be resolved. Bottom line, they don’t want to recommend product that may not show up on time or doesn’t work all that well.

It’s in the DPH professional’s self interest to make sure that the product that he or she is selling works for the builder and design professionals, as well as their clients.

The work that architectural and design professionals do is no less complex than what doctors do. Whether you call them patient or client, there are people at the end of both jobs.

The expectations for a quality outcome are equally demanding. The idea of “buy it yourself” or “do it yourself” surgery is patently absurd. The effort that goes into designing, remodeling or building fine homes commands the same level of thought and respect.

Patients may pay the doctor and hospital for a specific surgery, but they are actually buying better health. Clients who are paying for good design or architectural plans are actually buying a more comfortable and enjoyable shelter. In both cases, it takes a professional team to get it done.


CJ Schnakenberg, president/ founder, Chicago Brass, began his career at his family’s 60-year-old hardware store in Lincoln Park, IL. In 1985, recognizing his customers’ needs for higher quality and differentiated product, he created Chicago Brass, premier supplier of luxury plumbing and architectural hardware products. Schnakenberg is also a member of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA).

DPH Perspectives is published regularly in Kitchen & Bath Design News under an exclusive strategic alliance with the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association.