Details drive planning success

Recently I completed a two-day visit with an incredible contractor. They are not real big (annual sales of a little more than $5 million) but their profits would easily be envied by many contractors, no matter the size.

Looking deeper at the reasons for their prosperity it was glaringly obvious: They control their expenses! How? The answer is even more simple...and obvious. They PLAN!

Each Monday morning they hold a company-wide meeting to review and remind each crew of the work schedule for the week. In front of everyone, each crew provides its strategy to get the week's work completed. At most companies this type of meeting is attended only by crew leaders, estimators, schedulers, and owners, but not at this company - everyone is there. In fact, members of each crew actually provide the strategy and execution plans for the week.

The second aspect of the planning is what is needed for each project to be completed. Each morning each crew meets to discuss what is needed for that day. No truck leaves the yard until every truck and worker has exactly what they need to complete that day's work. At the conclusion of each day the crew then reconvenes to discuss what happened during that day of work and what will be needed the following day. The crew leader takes notes, if needed.

Now, many contractors hold meetings like this, but what makes this contractor's effort unique is the amount of detailed thinking and planning that takes place. Let me briefly share some of the critical components of successful planning that is embraced by my contractor friend.

First, the plan for the day's project(s) is documented. Each day the crew leader documents specifically what the particulars for that day are, including material, labor, equipment, and tools needed.

Next, the crew confirms their understanding of plans or drawings, then discusses:

  • What preparation is needed?
  • Who will do the preparation?
  • What method or process will be followed to execute the project?

For many contractors, the previous questions may appear to be overly simple and assumed. My experience with contractors, however, leads me to believe that the leaders may in fact raise these same questions, but they are most often raised inside the leader's head. Most crew leaders do not discuss this information with their crews. This is a tactical mistake that leads to misunderstanding and a waste of workers' time on the jobsite.

Another final effort that is practiced by contractors really on their "A-game" is allowing questions to be raised by the crew workers, the very people who will be executing the plan. Engaging your crew in the planning phase of any project - no matter what the size of the project - will breed greater attention to details, more focused energy on getting the needed results, and actually reduce wasteful costs due to workers' lack of knowledge or understanding about the project needs.

So here's how to make planning a more positive and effective management tool.

1. Document plans for each job. (Don't assume anything by anyone!)
2. Engage the actual workers in the planning discussion.
3. Ask the same questions for each project, such as:

  • What are the material, equipment, tools, and labor needs?
  • What preparation must be done prior to starting the project?
  • How can I best position my crew to complete the work in the most cost-effective and quality manner?
  • What contact(s) must be made with the client, other contractors, suppliers, etc.?
  • Are our copies of drawings/prints complete? Are any changes needed?

4. Conduct a "postmortem" on each project. Discuss lessons learned and needed adjustments.

There really isn't anything unusual or extraordinary about this four-point outline. But contractors who are disciplined enough to plan consistently, no matter the size of the project, will see significant bottom-line results. Contractors cost themselves greatly when they pay little to no attention to planning on smaller jobs. It is often the smaller jobs that can cost you the most!

Planning is more than simply scheduling future work. It is the methodical breakdown of everything that will be executed to complete the project that moves a contractor from average to superior. For my money, focus more on planning and you will see greater return for every dollar spent!

Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm that specializes in assisting construction companies in job planning, job costing, sales, and leadership development. For more information about Pinnacle Development Group go to www.pinnacledg.com.

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