Projects Lessons Learned: Advice From My Dad

My father gives great advice. Shortly after the basement raising he sent me this email. With no shortage of projects I'd probably be in the middle of all of them if not for this email.

From: My Dad

To: my brother & me

Date: Jan 3, 2006

Subject: Projects - Lessons Learned

Now that you have moved into the realm of "major" projects, you may
benefit from some of my lessons learned the hard way.

  1. Define the scope of the project very clearly before you begin. This
    will prevent scope creep and force you to finish.

  2. Always finish a project completely before you move on to another
    project. (See why rule 1 is important!) The most obvious aspect of a
    "do-it-yourself-project" is that it is always unfinished. Normally this
    is in some form of details (like a piece of molding or something). I
    have seen it get as bad as a floor or a ceiling. You will never go back
    to the project to finish it. You will never feel like you accomplished

  3. Always document infrastructure changes. This is particularly
    important for electrical and plumbing changes. Make detailed wiring
    diagrams of any changes and keep them. I use Home Architect. It works
    great. You can use anything. Visio is also good. Make the documentation
    part of step 1 scope statement. Trust me!

  4. The only real difference between a professional and a good
    do-it-yourselfer is speed and specialization. A do-it-yourselfer will
    take more time (researching how, finding parts etc and using standard
    rather than specialized tools). If you want to get good results, accept
    the fact that it will take you longer than a professional. Professionals
    sub out parts of jobs. Guys frame and guys sheetrock and guys tape but
    they are never the same guys. A do-it-yourselfer has to be able to do it
    all. It is not that hard. You just have to accept the fact that each
    skill is new and approach each one as an activity in and of itself. The
    benefit, in my experience, is that you actually get what you want and
    sometimes do it better than a standard pro.

  5. A new tool is not always the best answer. Some tools are best rented.
    Most are not necessary. If you are going to buy a tool, buy the best you
    can afford. Always buy a known brand. Make sure the commodities that
    make it go are readily available (nails, screws, oil etc). Sometimes the
    start of a project is a good time for a tool purchase if it will enable
    a faster or more professional job. I bought my detail nailer when we
    decided to re-do all the molding and install crown molding in our house.
    I completed three doors using the nail and hammer and concluded (1) a
    detail nailer is really better functionally than a hand hammer for
    molding (if you are going to do enough) and (2) unless I had a helper or
    a third hand, a detail nailer was essential. Volume normally dictates
    when a tool is required. There is nothing we did cutting the 2x4 that
    could not be done very easily with a hand saw (if you have a decent one
    and know how to use it) or a jig saw like John's. Most do-it-yourselfers
    will announce that they need a chop saw to do the job. [ Note from Paul: He is totally talking about me here. It took him a few weeks to talk me out of a chop saw. The table saw he convinced me to buy instead is one of the most useful tools I own. ] Although is
    possible to justify a chop saw for the task, unless you are going to do
    a lot of cut-off work over the years, the work can be easily
    accomplished with a circular saw and a template - or a Jig saw and a
    template or a hand saw and some know-how. In my opinion, a circular saw
    and a template is the most accurate approach and is only slightly more
    labor intensive than a chop saw (and I mean slightly).