Recently I had the pleasure of working with a contractor who has multiple locations. The focus was primarily on the need for and how to conduct a preconstruction meeting. This wasn’t a large general contractor we’re talking about but a contractor who depends on multiple locations to get things right…the first time.
As a rule, general contractors have normally included the preconstruction effort as part of their preplanning. However, with more contractors of all size and specialty realizing the narrow profit margins to acquire work, the need to insure that “costs of goods sold,” or what most of us call our “direct costs,” are executed as estimated, the need to prepare has never been greater.
In this article I will provide a short, but powerful agenda that you can adopt to conduct your own preconstruction meeting.
1. Present a General Scope of Work
Whoever sold the project needs to clearly communicate what the “big picture” looks like before getting into the weeds of the work. Often pictures are worth a thousand words but pictures taken with our smart phones don’t always display the needed information. It’s always important to take pictures of the more complicated areas, not leaving it to our crews to figure things out when they arrive at the site.
2. Discuss Client Profile, “Out of the Ordinary” Issues & Expectations
While your crews may perform similar work from job to job, the one distinguishing difference will be the customer. Again, whoever has had the relationship with the customer needs to debrief the crew leaders on what sort of customer they will be working for: Is the customer high maintenance, nit-picky, laid-back etc. This part of the agenda should also invite discussion of any unusual or more difficult item. It’s the “out of the ordinary” issues that most often get discussed -- but don’t forget the more mundane effort. Finally, whatever project expectations the customer has or you as an owner have need to be shared and clearly understood.
3. Discuss Specific “Non-Negotiables” and Documents
What does your company require your crews to comply with and documents are needed? What does your local city, county, or state require in the form of documentation? Finally, what federal laws are you required to secure and maintain with the appropriate documentation. Sorry for the great reminder but as contractors we cannot allow anyone in our company to jeopardize the legitimacy of our business because we were not on the ball and in full compliance with any formal process or law.
4. Discuss the Project’s Building Process
Now we’re at the portion of the meeting that too often gets discussed either while the crews are on their way to the site or have just arrived to the site. It’s critical that whoever sold the job communicate how she initially processed the job in her head and how she transferred that to her estimate. Then, with the crew leaders engaged, the constructability of the job can be openly discussed, with changes discussed if needed.
If you are a contractor who might complete more than one project a week, then you might wish to move through several projects during this preplanning effort. No matter your project size, it is critical that the folks who sold the job, estimated the job, and who will execute the job meet to discuss the actual construction process best suited for the project in review.
5. Produce a Final Next Week Look Ahead/Job Schedule
Many contractors use the Next Week Look Ahead (NWLA) in some form or fashion today. All of the critical discussions addressed in the first four agenda steps should culminate in the best schedule possible that captures what the “brains of the organization” believe to be the best schedule. This schedule needs to capture order, priority, and notations about needed equipment, material deliveries and communication with inspectors, client contacts etc.
6. Final Q&A & One More Run Through
Certainly different members throughout this preconstruction meeting will ask questions. However, just before the team “breaks the huddle” it is important that a formal STOP and allowance for questions be provided. This one more time for a brief Q&A might allow those who have been quiet up to now a final chance to speak. Once the last question is addressed it’s a good idea to briefly run back through what you believe to be the right way to complete the scheduled production. Using the NWLA is easily the best tool to complete this final agenda step.
If your crews take won jobs and execute the estimated work flawlessly, then this article has been of little importance. However, if you are finding that your crews and estimators are not always on the same page -- if in fact they sometimes they are miles apart and that jobs are coming in with even less profit than you had planned -- then perhaps you need to implement a more aggressive and thorough pre-work discussion. This is most often addressed through a preconstruction meeting.
Remember the old saying, “If you fail to plan…you plan to fail!”
*This article was originally published in 2013 and republished in 2020.