Attention to detail and ownership. Or lack thereof.

So, I have now spent two months in India and about a month in my own place. Across several products and especially services, I have noticed two trends which really bother me. Sadly, both of these are deeply imbibed in the culture and I don’t see how the habit will break.

First is the lack of attention to detail in 99% of the work that gets done. I am not only referring to things like building an apartment complex, or painting the walls, but I had also seen it earlier in terms of software deliverables in the workplace. There is a strong tendency to “get it done” but absolutely no regard to getting it done *right*. As a result I see paint splattered around the edges, some last-minute electrical wire roundabouts making it look ugly, incomplete code, badly washed cars, etc.

Some ideas I have about how and why this may be happening: first, the people who work on these things are not completely invested into the final output. They are paid for their work and that is in no way tied to the success of the final product. More often than not, the money they get is more important than the customer satisfaction scores (if ever there were such a thing that gets measured). Going back to an earlier point, the incentive for the workers in the trenches is just to complete the task at hand and move on to the next.

The second pattern I dislike, and do so even more than the first, is the lack of ownership. The two are tied closely, of course, but still needs to be called out separately because I have reacted a few times and have realized it is only for my blood to boil. For example, I have been using a service which allows you to book a car driver for a certain number of hours for a fee. I have had several drivers come late and as a result I have had to miss or cancel some meetings. I have tried to reason with the drivers that it is bad that they are 45 minutes to an hour late. Almost invariably, the response is a shrug of the shoulder, and some mumbled explanation about traffic. Everyone knows the traffic is bad in Bangalore, so if they really cared to be on time, they’d account for it. Most of these guys have a two-wheeler, so it’s not like they really get stuck.

To take matters to the next level, when our direct-to-home satellite installer came 6 hours (yes!) late for his appointment, I actually cut some money out of the payment I made to the retailer. He tried to reason with me that the cut would come out of his pocket and I tried to tell him he should pass that penalty off to the installer. His response left me speechless: “they won’t ever change”. This is after 30 minutes of arguing with me that the small percentage that I held back, was actually a big deal to him.

Both of these aspects of service providers as well as product teams is disheartening. I can understand missing some things because we are human, but this habit of being satisfied with “good enough” is a worry. A big worry.

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