Standard Operating Procedures Bring Your Company Consistent Construction Performance

Developing standard operating procedures for construction tasks will help contractors in training efforts and provide a standard way of doing things.

"Brad, I have good crews but they are so inconsistent in reaching the needed profitable performance we need." Can you relate to this? Sometimes, even our "thoroughbred" performers can be inconsistent and need to be brought back to the right road. But what can you do to point them in the right direction?

The military uses a performance tool called an "SOP," or standard operating procedure, as a method of identifying a work process and breaking it into the specific step-by-step procedures needed to successfully execute the process right the first time. While following the SOP doesn't automatically guarantee a perfect execution, it does lend itself to greater quality results via conforming to proven steps, at least the best proven steps known to date.

The SOP therefore provides two benefits to a contractor. First, the written SOP provides instruction for the less experienced worker. In this sense it is very much a part of your training effort to develop your people. The second benefit to the contractor is it serves as a benchmark for all workers on how a work process is to be completed.

A brief example is worth telling. Let's say you have four or more estimators, each working hard to bid jobs accurately and help to secure more work for your company. In their efforts to win jobs, each estimator uses his own approach to complete the estimates. While some codes are used there is no consistency in how the estimators do take-offs, assess the man-hours for different tasks, etc.

Can you imagine the nightmare trying to sort out four or more different approaches to estimating? No contractor would seriously consider this situation healthy, much less a help to running a profitable business. The contractor would work to bring the estimators together and discuss more common approaches that could be followed. More common approaches would allow faster turnaround of bids, similar language for greater and faster understanding, and a more effective means to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our bids and bidding process.

The same thing could be observed if you had a few crews who did their work without regard to any common practices. There would be total chaos at some point for the contractor who is trying to oversee the crew's performance.

The use of SOPs can assist in training, bring commonality to multiple people performing similar tasks, and provide a "norm" of how to do things at the company. And based on what I've observed over the past 25 years of working with contractors, SOPs will assist you to be more profitable on each project.

Let me share a few simple techniques that you can use to start developing your SOPs.

  1. Identify your top five work processes that impact your productivity/profits. This might represent such work processes as forming a wall, pouring/finishing a slab, jobsite set-up, etc. I recommend beginning with just three to five processes that clearly impact your profitability the most.
  2. Prepare the SOPs for individuals with the least amount of knowledge about the process. The mistake many companies make is they write an SOP for those individuals who are already knowledgeable about the process. This is a mistake. Always develop the SOP to be written for those individuals who are either inexperienced or who might be new to your organization.
  3. Begin at the end, then move to the first steps. Describe the very last action step that is to be taken to complete the SOP effort. This allows you to establish an end-goal of sorts. Then, go back to the beginning of the work process and begin to record the steps to be taken, in the order that you believe must be followed in order to complete the work process successfully.
  4. Rough draft quickly; engage others to review and revise. It is quite common when developing an SOP for members to over-analyze a work process the company has probably been completing for years. Move through the step creations quickly and limit the amount of initial review. Then, bring a few individuals who are knowledgeable about the work process to critique the written steps and make the adjustments.
  5. Bring closure to SOP effort and revisit in 6-12 months. Once there is a general consensus about the SOP effort, formalize it and present the results to everyone who is responsible for completing the same work. Let your people work through the SOP for 6 to 12 months before bringing the SOP under scrutiny again.

SOPs represent who you are as a company. It is the defining difference between your firm and your competition. Take pride in developing SOPs for your company and prepare to allow the SOPs to help you to lead your workers in being consistent.