3 financial management lessons from my weekend DIY plumbing experience

I am happy to announce that I bought my first spanner last Sunday to replace the bidet showers in 2 of my bathrooms.  I am even happier to report that I did not flood the bathroom. I even had an epiphany of how similar trouble shooting post-installation leakage was to managing cashflow.

  1. Precision and attention to detail matters

My dad claimed that the replacement job would be a straightforward one, where all I needed was my bare hands to unscrew and screw the new bidet on.  In reality, I needed a spanner.  And initially when I replaced the shower, it was not aligned properly nor sufficiently tightened so I did get a little wet.

On the second try, I took extra care in ensuring every contact point was as snug as it could be, and the result was there was no leakage.

Similar to financial control processes, a simple installation of a “standard operating procedure” in itself is insufficient to prevent leakages, but every single potential point of waste or leakage has to be identified and tested for.  As an example petty cash management is not a petty matter – as an abuse of petty cash is a gateway to larger breaches of trust.  A tip would be to have a regular surprise audit of petty cash.

  1. Trouble shooting involves understanding existing state

After replacing the first bidet shower, I was brimming with confidence when I got to the second. But I was in for a surprise.  Despite taking all the precautions and care I did in the first, it leaked even more!   [Sorry no pictures of this fiasco as that was the last thing on my mind to get my phone wet.]

Despite knowing the impending result of my turning on the faucet again, I knew I had to do so in order to perform “root cause problem solving” (note to self: I learnt something useful for plumbing from an Ivy League MBA) and to observe the problem.  I isolated the problem to the grooves of the water valve and realized that some bright spark had applied sealant to it!  The nut of the bidet spray was never going to fit snugly to the grooves of the valve if there is white gunk on it.

While I was tempted to use my manicure implements for the precision removal of the white gunk, I opted for an unused screw and began scrapping.  After the clean-up, the leak was significantly reduced.

In the managerial finance world, troubleshooting a problem often times begins with understanding the existing processes and systems.  For example when speaking with employees in encountering data with discrepancies, it is not uncommon for them to point their fingers at the system. “It’s the system,” they say and thereby hoping to absolve accountability in tracking the error down as if the system is an inanimate object sprouting the autonomous intention to mess up the data and the humans. For scenarios like this, merely asserting the oft-quoted more often ignored phrase of “garbage-in garbage out” will not even put a dent into solving the problem.

In the cases where I’ve encountered these issues, approaching it with the mindset that ‘there are immovable stakes (be it defined by accounting double entry systems or the fact that physical inventory should always match the inventory data in the system) is a pre-requisite, the way in plumbing where you need to believe that the nut will fit with the valve.  Secondly, only a root-cause problem solving session in understanding how the data was entered, how it was maintained, and the process flow of the data can we begin to identify the problem areas. Solving it from there may require some out of the box thinking (e.g., not using manicure implements); but ultimately, if you believe in the immovable stakes; the discrepancies can be reconciled or explained.


  1. Sometimes you have to live with the best possible result, not “perfect”

Despite my efforts, I was unable to remove the white gunk entirely out, I felt that the installation of the second bidet shower was not perfect, but the best possible result and I could live with it given there was no further leakage onto the bathroom floor.

Similarly in resolving issues in the managerial finance world, we sometimes have to live with the best possible result. One of the common pitfalls that I have observed, is that some professionals being obsessed with cleaning data to a 100% level of sanitary standards; including data from more than 5 years ago.  How I would usually approach a problem as such is to first prioritize the 100% compliance of an on-going process to eliminate errors moving forward. Thereafter, I will start moving back in time, with lesser emphasis for older data.

Back to my little DIY incident, just like I accepted that I could not remove all the white gunk, but as long as it is not leaking onto the floor is the mindset I would adopt in approaching solving similar issues in business.

So until my next DIY project …




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