6 Steps to 'Pre-Con' Your Way to Greater Profits

Done correctly, thoroughly and consistently, the Pre-Con process can strengthen your profitability on every project you win

While Pre-Con is a term most associated with construction companies, the principles behind this important building phase are important for any organization engaged with the construction industry.
While Pre-Con is a term most associated with construction companies, the principles behind this important building phase are important for any organization engaged with the construction industry.

Pre-construction, better known as “Pre-Con,” is a familiar part of most general construction company’s approach to building a project. While not all GCs excel at this effort, there is much to learn from this critical construction process that specialty subcontractors would benefit. Done correctly, thoroughly and consistently, the Pre-Con process can strengthen your profitability on every project you win.

The pre-construction process can involve many different components. To name only a few, consider the list of activities that are often completed during this “pre-start” phase:

  • Review of available prints and drawings for project (And that’s getting tougher for many projects.)
  • Identification of critical specifications and requirements
  • For the GC, the “buying-out” of subcontractors for bids
  • Securing needed insurance, permits, certificates, etc.

This list barely scratches the surface for many projects; however, it does provide you with an idea of the types of activities that must be completed — and you haven’t even started the project yet!

While Pre-Con is a term most associated with construction companies, the principles behind this important building phase are important for any organization engaged with the construction industry. Let’s look at a few very important pre-construction efforts that you should incorporate or refine in your own company so that you lay a strong foundation for greater profits.

1. Clarify the project’s scope of work

This first effort gives your company the chance to completely review what you and your workers will be executing. Unfortunately, too many contractors simply develop a job file (which is a good thing!) that most often includes the directions to the jobsite, contact information, various lists of material quantities, specialty tools and equipment needs, and hopefully a print of the jobsite. For the smaller contractor there might be a sketch of the work to be completed with estimated measurements and location.

The project’s scope of work should certainly include all important information and drawings. It should also include, however, an overview of what manner of work will be completed; what other contractors might be involved with the project; an overview of what the customer’s expectations and needs are; and working restrictions that your crews might need to respect or adhere to. The project’s scope of work is essentially the view of the work to be completed from “5,000 feet.” It’s a macro overview of the entire project.

2. Create your line-of-sight (critical path)

This effort parachutes you in from “5,000 feet” and allows you to line out the order of how your company will address completing the contracted work: sequence the actual work efforts; mark with special emphasis critical milestones that should be reached, in order; and identify projected dates for completion.

The effort to complete this should strongly consider needs of the customer, what the actual time constraints are for the project, and where the other contractors before and after your firm’s actions are expected to be.

While the line-of-sight will be adjusted during the actual project, it serves as the first effort schedule to how you and your company will be approaching, preparing for and executing the needed work tasks.

3. Develop a checklist of required resources

Creating a checklist of required resources is not always completed by the general construction firm, much less created by a GC for its subcontractors. So it’s a good idea whether you’re a subtrade specialist or GC to consider all of the resources that will be needed to complete the project.

Why is this critical? In some cases, placing an order for a particular material or securing a special piece of equipment to rent might require ordering well in advance. Needing a special and hard-to-find fiber cable to run for the M&E contractor could require 12 to 16 weeks advanced ordering. Such a long lead time — if it’s not planned for — can totally destroy a construction schedule for a great many contractors.

Whether your list of resources only consists of concrete or sheet rock, or whether you are used to easy pick up at the local contractor’s supply store, making a bona-fide list of needed resources, ahead of time, for every project keeps the “2,000-pound elephant” in clear view of your team and makes it easier to remember ordering such needed resources.

4. Clarify project roles and responsibilities

This is one effort that even some of the best contractors often overlook. It is not uncommon on projects to have confusion about who is doing what, which often leads to a lot of “he said…she said.” One strong step to prevent this from taking place is to first view the project in sections of time and then identify those individuals who will be involved with each section.

Once you have identified the “players” it is time to identify what each player’s project roles and responsibilities will be. If any players will be involved with more than one section of time then a scrutiny of any changes in their roles or responsibilities should be assessed.

I created a project team exercise to assist contractors in this effort. The 4 Quarter Leadership Review breaks any project into four “quarters,” though each quarter is not necessarily the same amount of time. The quarters are more importantly identified by significant milestones or completion and important starting dates for phases of work. Then, the project team involved in each quarter identifies and documents what its specific roles and responsibilities are to be.

Additionally, the project team identifies key performance indicators, critical success factors or goals, and important transition efforts for each quarter.

Obviously if you are completing work that can be less than a day in total completion time then using a “4 Quarter- like” effort is overkill. But, don’t “throw out the baby with the bath water.” You still increase your workers’ efficiencies and profit-making work tasks by lining out and discussing specific actions that need to be taken. Overlook this critical element of Pre-Con and you risk having dollars flushed down the toilet.

5. Risk assessments and management plan

The entire risk management element to all areas of construction has grown exponentially over the past years. For now, let me provide you with some simple-to-follow but none-the-less critical steps for your profitable construction efforts.

Start by identifying any part of your construction efforts that could have a potential risk involved. While simply driving your truck to the jobsite has risks, I’m more referring to those risk that could put you and your organization at risk of losing a life, suffering an injury, delaying your work schedule and thus causing others to be delayed, even from performing the wrong work. All of these items, and a multitude of others, can end up costing you safety, money and reputation.

What might be some areas to assess? Consider just a few examples:

  • Jobsite is in high traffic area
  • Your workers will be working in tight conditions
  • Your workers will be working along with several other contractors (i.e. The Bunch Affect)
  • Time schedule is extremely tight
  • Penalties incurred when completion dates are not achieved (due to extremely tight time schedule)
  • You’re performing work that is NOT in your sweet spot
  • Inside work conditions provide little lighting or air ventilation
  • There is no “on-site” staging area for your equipment and tools
  • There is little verbiage in the contract about the change order process; what is there seems to strongly favor the customer

Consider each of the items in the above list. What impact would each have on your company’s ability to be profitable? It will pay huge dividends to get such items clearly defined and, in some cases, legally confirmed before commencing work.

6. Conduct a project leader “summit”

The “summit” involves every project leader connected to the job coming together for a few hours to talk to and about…one another! In more than 25 years of working with every type of contractor, manufacturer and supplier known to construction I continue to see unclear leadership, misunderstandings, poor communications and personality conflicts as the biggest project challenges.

At the summit project players need to have their communication tendencies and expectations clearly defined. Leaders should be presented scenarios that WILL happen sometime during the project and then role-play how they will prevent communication mishaps from taking over their project. A very clear discussion on personal needs of each leader has should also take place.

The purpose of the summit is not to turn the project members into “raving fans” of each other (although that wouldn’t be bad) but to establish a benchmark to how they will conduct business. If you want to build greater teamwork, better communication and a bunch more profit into every project then you better insure that your project leaders “summit” prior to every new project.

Depending on the size of your projects and the complexity of each project, you will need to tailor the six efforts just described to maximize what profitability you can realize. BUT YOU MUST MAKE THE EFFORT. Not taking on a pre-construction strategy will certainly make your projects more difficult, potentially frustrate your workers more often and keep your crews from having a fighting chance to be successful.

Set your workers up for success…make a pre-construction effort a company requirement!