by George Hedley
When is the last time you had a job go according to your plan? Do your field crews perform their work exactly the way you want it done? Do key people make good decisions without asking you first? Do your superintendents meet their schedules and commitments? Do your foremen take responsibility and accountability for quality, safety, and customer satisfaction? Do all of your crews follow your instructions and do things the same way? Do some field teams have less problems, punch-list items, and mistakes than others?
The construction business is not easy to organize. There aren't assembly lines where work processes and procedures are controlled. Every job is custom built with differing circumstances, conditions, plans, specifications, supervision, job problems, conflicts, and issues. So to overcome this reality, what is the best way you minimize field problems and maximize profitability on projects?
Good people or good systems?
As a general contractor and developer of business parks, I make it a priority to visit our jobsites on a regular basis. Before we had an organized and systemized field operational system in place, almost every time I went to the jobsite, lots of things were going wrong and I would find many things I didn't like. We were overly reliant on good field superintendents and experienced foreman to ensure our project's success. Some team leaders and crew members did things their own way while others asked me how I wanted it done. This reliance on good people instead of good company procedures and systems caused lots of field problems and lost profits. As I didn't have enough time to inspect everyone's finished work product before we turned it over to our customers, lots of call-backs, long punch-lists, and ongoing maintenance became normal.
No field systems = no controls!
Our overall company goal is to make every project a success for us and our customers. We pride ourselves on quality workmanship and on-time completion at the right price by providing full value and full service. This was difficult to deliver without good systems in place unless I was everywhere making sure things were done correctly. This got out of control as our company grew from five crews to over 25 projects under construction at a time.
Think of the worst project you've ever worked on. What went wrong? Maybe you've had some of these problems occur on a project of yours:
- Roof, window, door, or deck leaks
- Field conflicts during installation
- Door hardware missing
- Late selection of finish materials
- Subcontractors not on jobsite
- Wrong material installed
- Missed or failed inspection
- Run out of material for crew
- Underground in wrong place
- Anchor bolts poured wrong
- Wrong corner bead installed
- Work not ready for next trade
- Installation quality unacceptable
- Unsafe working conditions
- No regular jobsite cleanup
- Damaged finished product
- No signed change orders
- Timecards late and not accurate
- Field paperwork not turned in
- Employees not following orders
- Late or missed schedule
These problems can be solved by making it an overall company priority to get everyone on the same page and do things the same way. The real problem is a lack of written company field operational systems. For example, if the quality of installation varies form crew to crew and foreman to foreman, the real problem is a lack of standardized systems on how you want it done company wide. You let your people do their best, but don't have a process in place to show them what you want, train them to do it properly, follow-up, and make people accountable. When you don't have company standards and systems that are clear and written, you rely on each person to try and do it the way they think is best. This doesn't ensure consistent performance and results.
Do it different or do it right!
It's hard to make people responsible when they don't have a clear picture of what you want. What systems do you have in place to ensure everyone does things per company guidelines and standards? If you rely on word of mouth or your constant inspection, you'll never build an excellent company. Great people who don't follow the company standards create problems and chaos. How would you like to get your bank statement sent out differently every month, or your favorite restaurant make your favorite meal too spicy or too bland or too salty depending who was the chef?
If you have been reading this series, you know construction is a four letter word. The word is
RISK! While building a project, everything can and will go wrong as there are many moving parts you can't control. One way to reduce risk is to install operational field systems and get everyone on your team doing the work in a consistent standardized way. This requires a commitment on your part to take time and create written systems as presented in my "Entrepreneurial Excellence" article # 3 entitled: "Replace Yourself With Systems." By installing systems, everyone in your field operations will share the same goals and have a clear understanding of what's expected and what you want.
Create a "Do" manual!
The hardest part about creating field operational systems is determining where to start. First, keep the big picture in mind. Your ultimate goal is to get everyone in your company doing business the same way. Eventually you want to have a company "Do" manual which clearly shows how you want your field crews to do the required work. Each field operational system must be drafted and formalized on an 8 ˝" x 11" piece of paper inserted into three-ring binders distributed to your crews. Everyone will receive and follow this company "Do" manual outlining your field operational systems. This acts as your ongoing training manual to be used in your training program and referred to prior to working on a particular stage of projects under construction.
As you visit jobsites, start identifying things that go wrong on a "Fix-It" list you carry around with you. Also put things on the list you know that are key to the success of your projects. As a general contractor, I know that when my field superintendent checks the anchor bolt locations and dimensions prior to every concrete pour, bolts won't be installed in the wrong place. We don't want to leave this to chance, as bolts poured incorrectly are expensive to fix and will slow the job down for weeks.
Another example of a system required to guarantee company success is accurate and timely timecards. Without a timecard system, some of your foremen will do a good job while others are always late and inaccurate. Filling timecards out on Friday afternoon while driving home won't give you accurate man-hours per cost code. This will lead to bad job cost reporting and an inaccurate cost history to calculate your next estimate or bid. An accurate timecard system must be in place to ensure long term profitability in my company. How about yours? Should this problem be on your "Fix-It" list?
What do you need to fix?
Identify things you know will ensure every project will be a success. Create a "Fix-It" list and divide the items into these categories:
- Field systems
- Project management systems
- Financial systems
- Estimating systems
- People systems
- Leadership systems
- Equity & wealth systems
In every category prioritize what problem areas cost you the most money, grief, and time to fix. For most companies, 20 operational systems in each category will solve eighty to ninety percent of the recurring problems you experience in a growing company. Assign teams based on who works in what area, choose things, and let them draft solutions and systems that will work companywide. In our company, the systems we installed first included:
General Contractor Field Systems
- Pre-project checklist
- Pre-project start-up meeting
- Weekly field meetings
- Quality control system
- Project scheduling system
- Project safety system
- Project goals & objectives
- Project accountability report
- Field paperwork system
- Field communication system
- Project rules and requirements
- Punch-list system
- Project field close-out system
Concrete Tilt-Up Field Systems
- Field job start-up checklist
- Field paperwork system
- Weekly crew team meeting
- Footing pre-pour checklist
- Slab pre-pour checklist
- Tilt-up wall pre-pour checklist
- Pre-lift checklist
- Slab installation standards
- Quality control system
- Safety inspection procedures
- Accurate timecard system
- Four week look-ahead schedule
- Forming standards
- Tools & Equipment checklist
- Equipment maintenance schedule
- Jobsite rules
- People management standards
To get started, ask everyone in your company to start a "Fix-It" list. Get them to identify what systems, guidelines, and procedures will ensure their projects will be successful and meet the overall goals and objectives. Look for systems that produce the same results every time, guarantee on-time schedules, deliver quality workmanship, improve productivity, and enhance profitability. These written and formalized systems will become your playbook. Change your role from inspector to head coach. Your players will then know the plays and roles to make things happen in a consistent manner. Examples of two field operational systems are outlined below:
Project Field Start-Up Meeting
1. Hold meeting on-site prior to job starting
2. All subcontractors MUST attend
3. Meeting led by superintendent, foreman
4. Review project goals & objectives
5. Issue all subcontracts for execution
6. Issue complete plans and specifications
7. Review project schedule
8. Discuss anticipated problems
9. Shop drawings & submittal system
10. Review quality standards
11. Review job and safety rules
12. Discuss required permits & inspections
13. Review payment procedures
14. Insurance requirements
15. Change order procedures
This field start-up meeting system ensures every project gets the full attention of all involved. By holding it on-site, everyone sees the jobsite and can anticipate potential problems and issues. When the field superintendent or foreman leads the meeting, this forces them to be ready and prepared to discuss the project from start to finish. By clearly outlining the payment, shop drawing and change order procedures and approval requirements, this reduces misunderstandings. Note: This is a mandatory meeting for all subcontractors and suppliers who are a part of this project. Without attendance, you'll never get their full attention and they will not meet the project goals you want.
Concrete Slab Pre-Pour Checklist
1. Verify slab and sub-slab specification
2. Review moisture barrier or visqueen
3. Certify final grades
4. Check slab thickness and forming
5. Verify concrete design mix approved
6. Review slab reinforcing requirements
7. Check slab reinforcing installation
8. Expansion joint requirements
9. Forming complete and braced
10. Dowels, embeds & bolts in place
11. Thickened edges ready & formed
12. Finishing equipment on-site
13. Saw-cut equipment on-site
14. Vibration methods & screeds on-site
15. Slab curing method approved
16. Slab curing materials & equipment
17. Verify & order total concrete required
18. Confirm concrete delivery schedule
19. Verify finishing crew ready
20. Assign pour team
A concrete slab pre-pour checklist ensures your concrete crews will have checked and prepared for every possible requirement on the project. Often crews get in the habit of doing things the same way on every job. But many times, the job specifications change. Create a checklist like this for every major field installation you perform. Have your foreman fill it out and submit it to the office with his paperwork to insist he checks off every item on the list.
Good field systems also include pictures or sketches of the work required such as a properly formed slab, an expansion joint installation, or a thickened edge detail of your company standards.
Without systems in place, you are at the mercy of your people, subcontractors, and suppliers to do a good job. Systems allow you to reduce field problems and get your jobs built right the first time. Remember the old saying: 'Measure twice, cut once"? This is an example of a simple system and proven standard that works. The reason your projects don't finish on-time is because you haven't made scheduling, meeting, and communication standards a priority in your company. To build an excellent construction company, make it your priority to create, draft, and implement field operational systems to minimize problems and maximize profits!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
George Hedley is the best-selling author of "Get Your Business to Work!" As a professional speaker and business coach, he helps entrepreneurs and business owners build profitable companies. E-mail: email@example.com to request your free copy of "Everything Contractors Know About Making A Profit!" or signup for his e-newsletter. To hire George to speak , attend his 'Profit-Builder Circle' academy or find out how he can help your company grow, call 800-851-8553 or visit www.hardhatpresentations.com
3300 Irvine Avenue #135
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Phone (949) 852-2005
Fax (949) 852-3002
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.hardhatpresentations.com
George Hedley owns a $75 million construction and development company and
Hardhat Presentations. He speaks to companies on building profitable businesses,
leadership, and loyal customers. He holds 3-day in-depth "Profit-Builder
Circles" open to construction company owners in an interactive roundtable
format every 3 months. His "Profit-Builder System" includes proven
tools to always make a profit, build equity, create wealth, win profitable
jobs, motivate your people, and enjoy the benefits of owning a profitable company.