A recent homeowner's association meeting left me unsatisfied with systemic issues, and reflecting on the adage to "pick quick, cheap, or quality."
In engineering (and work in general) you usually get to pick one, maybe two of those qualities. It's rare to find the trifecta of them in practise. It's also common to get none of those three qualities at all when things fail.
It's always a struggle to get anything done. The natural state of things is to maintain status quo, and for people to not accomplish most of their goals.
After all, we live in a world mired with imperfection and problems. It's our duty to make the most of it, but doing so takes significant effort. Sometimes those efforts crumple into failure.
That the world is imperfect should not stop us from moving forward, however.
I adore people who manage to work past the compromised systems and endless problems to get stuff done.
Nothing worth doing is easily done, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try!
I think this recent homeowner's association (HOA) board candidate meeting is a great example of how this thinking can be applied to life.
An Example From HOA Board Elections
My dearheart and I bought into an old HOA with many of the typical problems associated with them: decades of deferred maintenance, volunteer directorship, poor reserve funding, and more.
If you're not familiar, our HOA is composed of condos. We're glad to have bought into it, despite the problems:
In short, we have a shared building and own the interior of a unit within that building. We also own a stake in the common grounds of the HOA, such as the meeting building and other amenities.
All this common property must be managed by someone, which is where the different community and staff stakeholders come in:
The homeowners (members of the HOA) elect the board members from amongst their number. The board of directors work with the HOA community manager and other staff to run things. The board provides strategic oversight, whereas the staff handle daily minutiae of operations.
Learning the intricacies of stakeholders like this has been an interesting lesson in the nature of power, community, and consensus. Perhaps I'll write more about it at a later date.
It's worth noting that the board of directors are voluntary and not compensated, and there's no direct qualifications necessary to join the board. Though your chances of landing on the board without understanding a bit of the duties of the board should be slim.
Which is where the recent board candidate forum I attended comes in: as is expected from the nature of being volunteer run, with a small pool of community candidates... I liked none of the candidates. Nobody is great.
There's systemic problems with volunteer led community initiatives, and "making do with the people you've got" is the majority of it.
That said, I noticed that distinct factionalism had arisen within the HOA board candidates. For lack of self-assigned names, I've decided to call them the "board reformers" and the "deferred maintenance fixers."
The board reformers see a lot of issues with the current management and board, so they are seeking to replace the old board and fix those issues in directorship/management.
The deferred maintenance fixers are focusing on expensive projects in the HOA to update long-unaddressed problems such as termite damage.
From some of the candidate statements, I gleaned that the board reformers are focused on "quick and cheap." Some of their main agenda points included cutting items out of the budget, accelerating construction projects, introducing a code of conduct, and replacing the community manager with a management company.
On the other end, the deferred maintenance fixers are focused on "quality" out of the three attributes. They also dabble in "cheap" because of course nobody wants to throw money around freely. Yet they're not afraid of what needs to be spent to make sure that quality is assured in the first place.
I found that the board reformers motives are incredibly suspect. They appear to be naive about the nature of community organisation, over promising, likely to under deliver, and seeking to fix the systemic problems they see with governance.
I think they are questing to become the very thing they denounce.
That is to say, the board reformers think they can fix the problem of governance by perpetuating it with their own members.
Their values also don't align with mine: I prefer quality over anything else, and I'm content with the current board's work with maintaining momentum on the construction projects around the HOA despite the global pandemic slowing things to a crawl.
Slow crawls of construction please nobody, but it is still technically forward progress.
Which is why I like the deferred maintenance fixers the most as candidates. Of course there are problems with the board, with governance, with community, and so on.
What matters is that we get people with the drive to complete projects that matter to the homeowner, despite all the problems compromising the system in place currently.
After all, nothing worth doing is easily done. I want competent folks to get stuff done regardless of these obstacles.
I Adore Competency in People
There's a mixture of attitudes and skills in people that I adore: combining ambition with a willingness to have fun, and the ability to deliver on problems/get stuff done.
In short, I love seeing competency in people.
It's tough because as I said, most of the time when you're given the choice between "speed, cost, and quality" you're only given one of the options.
Some of the time you also get none, as cost overruns happen and schedules slip and crucial defects make it into a project.
But rarely, on occasion... you get two or even three of the options. It takes a lot of work and luck to make things align enough to get more than one attribute at a time on a project, and it's usually thanks to the efforts of a person embodying competency.
People like my family's handyman, who takes pride in his work and cares about making things high quality and relatively quickly for a modest cost.
Or people like individual contributors I see at work, committed to agile processes and delivering reliable technology solutions.
It is always a struggle to shift the natural course of the world off from the status quo and create something better. That's what competent people do every day, with great effort.
That struggle is an awful experience to live, but we trudge onward regardless because these things are worth doing.