In the initial growth stage of most remodeling companies, a single person does the selling, the estimating, and the actual production or production management of each project. It can be both exhilarating and exhausting.
The vast majority of contractors stay at this stage. It is comfortable, and it can be pretty uncomplicated. The contractor can survive without a lot of standard communication methods because the whole job is conceptualized in their head, and they can pretty much sort it out as they produce it. The hardest part of this stage for a remodeler can be the number of hours spent working and trying to balance a work life and home life. Often enough, there is no separation.
As a remodeling company decides to grow out of this initial stage, production planning and communication becomes a huge part of the process. Here are three tips on planning for successful project communication.
Estimating as Instruction Set
I often tell our staff, the estimate is the instruction package for the lead carpenter. Ideally, the estimate documents are set up in such a way that almost anyone who works in production at your company could pick it up and know how to produce the project.
In the past, a handshake may have sufficed between you and your subcontractor, but now you have another person producing the project. By spending the time upfront creating an estimate that outlines the agreements made with subs, and the materials and spec sheets needed for installation, you’ll end up getting far fewer calls and questions from the production staff. And, your lead carpenter will have an easier and smoother experience producing the work.
In reality, a good set of estimate documents becomes the basis for transferring information about the project. Often, remodelers package this information in a project binder.
Many contractors start using binders early, sometimes before they get to the stage where someone else is producing a project they sold. (Admittedly, in 12 years of carpentry, at least five small companies, and five states, I’d never seen a project binder before starting Red House.) Binders, however, become critical when someone else produces a job. The binder is the lead carpenter’s download link for all the information they need need to produce the work. The better the binder, the better the project outcome.
Binders can be old school 3-ring style (filled with printed paper), or you may use a system like BuilderTrend or even Google Drive to eliminate the paper trail. The benefit of digital options is that the information can be instantly, and remotely, updated for all stakeholders in the project.
Binders should contain a baseline project schedule, vendor and subcontractor quotes, the estimate, spec sheets, and selection choices. This isn’t a complete list, but this should give you a good idea of where to begin when taking this step toward company growth. Developing your company's binder system will also start you on the path to a long list of needed policies and procedures.
Policies and Procedures
I know… This isn’t why we started designing or building. We love the satisfaction of gluing up a perfect miter, or seeing the happiness in a clients eyes when the paint finally goes on. It seems there are only a select few people in the world who love to document how they do things. But, if you want to grow the business, you’ll want to start developing a set of SOP’s, standard operating procedures.
Start small, and use what you already have. A single binder may not sound like a system, but my advice is to use that as the first of your SOP’s. Make a copy of it and call it the example. When you make another for your next project, refer back to your example as your standard of how binders should be organized and what should be inside. But, keep in mind, these SOP’s are never static. They will need to change over time.
Circle back. It becomes a system when you revisit and improve. When you finish a project, make time for meeting with your lead carpenter and ask him/her to tell you what they liked about the binder and what they felt like the could use next time. At the meeting, listen. Make notes about potential changes, and, if you both agree on a change, go ahead and make changes to the example binder. The example binder will need to evolve over time so it reflects your production department’s needs.
Keep in mind that growth for your company involves standardizing some types of communication. In the end, good project planning is really just a way to improve and systematize project communication. While improving the project planning at your company, involve the employees and partners who will need information to do their jobs well. That makes people happy and excited to come to work, and, it helps to build a committed team.
Justin Zeller, CR
Owner & General Manager
Red House Custom Building