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Spending time with field leaders on construction projects, I’ve personally witnessed the frustrations that can arise when the Foreman and Superintendent are not exactly “on the same page,” or when the Project Manager and the Superintendent are miles apart on what is going on with the project. I’ve seen what can result when the contractor and his or her Crew Foreman are operating on different wavelengths and I’ve also heard the confusion that can surface when the Foreman or Superintendent cannot understand how the Estimator bid the job.
Whether you’re a specialty contractor or general contractor, getting all the possible project-focused leaders “singing from the same sheet of music” can be a real challenge. OK, enough subtle references. Let’s face it, when any project is not going well there is a very good chance that a disagreement, misunderstanding, or a lack of information coordination has transpired. Without a doubt, 90% of the time I have been asked to work with a project team that is suffering some challenge there is a leadership struggle where the field leaders are not unified on what they know.
Having our field leaders on different levels of knowledge and understanding about a project may not be the root cause to the project’s problems, but it is symptomatic of most troubled projects. So, what can a contractor do to make sure there is a unified and well-coordinated strategy and execution on every project? Let’s look at several efforts that should be implemented to build greater teamwork between and among your field leaders.
- Describe What the “Page” IS that All Leaders Should Be On
Without being too obvious, if you have leaders who are not always on the “same page” then you need to educate them what “the page” looks like. This can mean anything related to the project from what the estimate or budget is for the project, what the drawings indicate, what the specifications are, who the customer is and what their “profile” tells us, etc. Let’s be sure that the first thing we do for any project is to be sure that everyone project leader understands every possible and important bit of “intel” for the project.
- You Have to Familiarize the Leaders with Each Other
Come on now, this isn’t rocket science were talking about. Whenever a new project is won the leaders selected for the project must be brought together, introduced (if they are new) to one another, and provided an opportunity to become more familiar with one another.
- Require the Leaders to Share Their Expectations for the Job
This is rarely done on large projects and it is almost never done on small projects, especially among the specialty contractor. Why? For some, it’s because “my guys always work on the projects together.” I have found that this situation is even more inviting for having leaders who are not coordinated because the leaders have become blind to what other leader’s expectations are for any job or – even worse -- one leader doesn’t really like the other leader much anyway so “the heck with him.” Field leaders working on the same project need to have a clear exchange of what each leader expects for the job and what their expectations are from each of the other leaders.
- Require the Leaders to Identify What They Will be Doing on the Project…and When!
Now we’re getting somewhere. Trust me; this effort will begin to “peel away the layers of the onion.” This effort, which can be completed at the same time as the previous effort, brings to a head what each leader intends to do. This voicing of specific efforts tends to clarify actions, helps to prioritize needs among the leaders and usually begins to build a teamwork attitude. It’s important to have each leader clearly state what he or she intends to do and also what the needs may be. Such needs may represent needed resources or needs from other leaders or customers.
- Have Leaders Share the Required Documents or Compliance Items Needed
Every contractor has some level of required documents or perhaps process-compliance sheets that must be completed. In some situations there may be federal, state or local recorded efforts that need to be maintained. Sharing this with each other allows the leaders to truly see the team as all in the same boat, needing to help each other stay in compliance and to add to the support of each other…even if it’s just a mental support.
- Require Field Leaders to Exchange “Intel” on Daily/Weekly Basis
This should almost not even be commented on but the fact is that many gaps in information can and do exist between the very leaders who need the information and each other the most! If your field leaders do not voluntarily and consistently keep each other updated on the latest bit of information that can directly or indirectly impact each other, then you’ll need to twist their arms to comply. There is simply no excuse for any Crew Foreman not sharing information about another subcontractor with the Superintendent or Supervisor. Likewise, there is no excuse for the Superintendent to NOT update the job’s Project Manager when the customer or a city inspector just “showed up” on the job site and stirred up a little dirt.
- Field Leaders Must Coordinate Schedules, Resources, and Strategy
During the course of any project, schedules change. One Field Leader suddenly finds herself working to assist another job, perhaps helping to start the project or help close out the job. Likewise, field leaders may need to adjust the project schedule due to a need to move resources. Smaller contractors can suffer this the most when they may need a back-hoe or a generator, for example, but they have more crews in need than resources to meet those needs. And finally, strategies about a project can move about due to customer change orders or reallocating labor from one project to another project in greater need. Again, if the project field leaders are not clearly current on their needs, expectations, and new developments and are not exchanging the same with their fellow project leaders, everyone loses.
- Promote a Professional Communication Etiquette
Some field leaders like to communicate face to face; some prefer cell phone; still more are learning the speed of texting. While all forms of communicating are acceptable, it is wise to have project leaders discuss and agree what form of communication they will use most often during the completion of the project. For some contractors in-person communication is easier because the project’s leaders are all on the same job site. For the larger contractor, however, the cell phone and texting probably plays a bigger part in the exchange of information. For the contractor who truly has his or her troops scattered in greater distances from the office I would recommend the use of Skype or Face Time be considered. There is simply no excuse for not keeping the project’s field leaders in touch.
- Create an Immediate Response to Non-compliance Culture
It is extremely critical that every field leader associated with a project be informed ASAP whenever a non-compliance development has happened or is beginning to develop. I’ve been amazed at the number of contractors who have shared with me the seemingly slow response or alert that their project leaders have practiced reporting negative situations. While we don’t want to create a hyperactive group of leaders, it is very important to the performance and profitability of all projects that “bad news” is pushed up as fast as communication can make it happen.
- Conduct Periodic Project Updates or Downloads
I will not expand too much on this point as I’ve addressed job reviews and updates in other articles, but the need certainly is warranted. Depending on the nature of work your company performs, you may need a periodic update or download every week, once a month or quarterly. If your construction focus realizes the completion of multiple jobs within the period of a week then you may want to do a once-a-week quick brief on each job completed to insure that consistency in clear communications has taken place between the leaders involved. As inconsistencies and poor follow-up have been realized, such episodes must be honestly and clearly addressed…and corrected as needed.
Contractors work way to hard getting work to lose money on any job just because we had trouble getting the field leaders on the same page. There is simply no excuse. We’re too smart an industry and have too many electronic “toys” to insure that if there is anything that can happen consistently on a project…it is that communication can take place whenever the leaders want it to happen.
Get your leaders on the same page of information about a project and start enjoying projects again!
© 2013 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™