Blueprint for Success: Chapter 6, Details, Details

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For efficient production systems, put expectations in writing

August 01, 2001
Using a checklist, Jay Cipriani, owner of Cipriani Builders, performs a final walk-through with a client. Photo: Mark Jenkins

Fumbles in football often result from poor execution: The quarterback fails to hand the ball to the running back properly. In remodeling, fumbles occur when the sales team fails to hand a job to the production department properly. This type of fumble, equally costly, might result in improper construction specifications, reordering of special-ordered materials, disagreements with the customer and job overruns. Such errors can wipe out profits before a job even begins.

To ensure a smooth handoff, every company needs quality production systems. Procedures should start long before the first nail is hammered and end long after the last bit of sawdust is swept.

The production folder

The production folder serves as the baton between sales and production, containing all the information necessary for the production team to review, analyze and thoroughly understand each remodeling job. Attach a checklist with all the requisite items — drawings or architect-sealed blueprints where necessary, the contract, specifications for all special-order materials, the payment schedule and all pertinent field notes — to the production folder. The sales associate who contracts the job should take responsibility for acquiring those items and use the checklist to ensure that the sales team puts them in the folder.

After the production supervisor receives the folder, he or she should become thoroughly familiar with the project and then prepare a production schedule. The supervisor should then no-tify all subcontractors regarding their anticipated work at the job site. E-mail allows the sender to easily forward similar communications to multiple people at the same time and is less time-consuming than telephone calls or other correspondence.

Other pre-production tasks include but are certainly not lim-ited to securing job permits and any variances that might apply, and ordering all material that has a lengthy lead time.

The site meeting

As the sales process unfolds, unwritten understandings — perhaps "while the crew is working here, we’ll also take care of that nasty roof leak"— tend to develop between the salesperson and the customer. If the salesperson doesn’t explicitly pass those understandings along to the production team, the resulting misunderstandings can result in delayed payments, customer dissatisfaction and conflict within the company. Many of these problems can be prevented if the homeowner, the sales associate and the production supervisor meet a few weeks before a job starts.

 

Uniform Standards


Les Deal

When two employees quit within one month of each other, Deal decided it was time to use subcontractors. Based on more than 30 years’ experience in the remodeling business, Deal developed a "Rules for Subs" list and a contract that each subcontractor receives and signs before starting a project. The contract includes specifications, each subcontractor’s portion of the project, subcontractor payment schedule, subcontractor payment change order procedures and miscellaneous items pertinent to insurance, tool usage and building codes.

Les Deal Inc.

Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Type of company: Full-service remodeling

Annual sales: $500,000

Staff: 2

Years in business: 30

Use the site meeting to address key issues with the homeowner(s), including which lead carpenter will be responsible for daily construction; the job schedule; the scope of work to be performed; the job sequence; areas in and around the home to be set aside for debris collection and material storage; whom to call with problems or questions; the procedure for change orders; payment schedule; which bathroom should be used by employees; work hours at the job site; entry and lockup procedures; which rooms (if any) will be cordoned off; young children and pets of whom to be aware; the access path for deliveries and equipment; location of well and septic field; and where to park.

Avoid subjecting the homeowner to an orientation talk every time someone new works at the job. The production supervisor should put a company employee, most likely the lead carpenter, in charge of communicating the guidelines to all team members.

The pre-construction meeting

More complicated remodeling projects should also include a pre-construction meeting at the job site attended by all affected trades, the lead carpenter and the production supervisor. This also represents an opportunity to invite the local construction code official if the project has unique or potentially problem-atic aspects. At the pre-construction meeting, ask subcontractors to review the blueprints and point out potential problems as well as any coordination issues with other trades. Give each subcontractor copies of all necessary blueprints and drawings as well as a customer fact sheet with name, address and directions. If subcontractors will work unsupervised at the site, take this opportunity to show them, not just tell them, which bathroom to use, entry and lockup procedures, etc.

Pre-production marketing

Every job is another opportunity to market your company. Not only is it a chance to solicit additional (and future) business from the customer whose home is undergoing remodeling, but it’s also an opportunity to attract interest from the customer’s neighbors, friends and relatives, plus any other party who might drive by the site. As such, the job site should look every bit as professional as the image your company seeks to display to the public. Make company brochures readily available by attaching a weather-protected display holder to a tasteful job sign with company logo, telephone number and Web address. Also, send letters to neighbors before the project. These letters should inform the neighbors that driving and parking conditions will change for a while and let them know whom to call in case of a problem, what the antici-pated hours of work are and any other relevant information.

 


An Agenda for Customers


Jay Cipriani

Cipriani Builders uses an agenda for its pre-construction meetings with customers. Designed to avoid missing small, often- overlooked details, the agenda includes the following items:

An Agenda for Customers


Jay Cipriani

Cipriani Builders uses an agenda for its pre-construction meetings with customers. Designed to avoid missing small, often- overlooked details, the agenda includes the following items:

An Agenda for Customers


Jay Cipriani

Cipriani Builders uses an agenda for its pre-construction meetings with customers. Designed to avoid missing small, often- overlooked details, the agenda includes the following items:

An Agenda for Customers


Jay Cipriani

Cipriani Builders uses an agenda for its pre-construction meetings with customers. Designed to avoid missing small, often- overlooked details, the agenda includes the following items:

An Agenda for Customers


Jay Cipriani

Cipriani Builders uses an agenda for its pre-construction meetings with customers. Designed to avoid missing small, often- overlooked details, the agenda includes the following items:

An Agenda for Customers


Jay Cipriani

Cipriani Builders uses an agenda for its pre-construction meetings with customers. Designed to avoid missing small, often- overlooked details, the agenda includes the following items:

An Agenda for Customers


Jay Cipriani

Cipriani Builders uses an agenda for its pre-construction meetings with customers. Designed to avoid missing small, often- overlooked details, the agenda includes the following items:

An Agenda for Customers


Jay Cipriani

Cipriani Builders uses an agenda for its pre-construction meetings with customers. Designed to avoid missing small, often- overlooked details, the agenda includes the following items:

Don’t forget to take before-and-after photographs of the site for your company brochure, the display book used by your sales staff and other marketing tools. The site meeting is a good time for before photos; take the after photos only when you’ve received customer sign-off. Some companies even give customers pre- and post-remodeling photographs to hang in their homes.

Setting standards

All people sent to a job site, whether employees or subcontractors, should be held to one set of company standards. Putting standards into writing is much better than orally communicating standards or leaving them up to each individual.

A company procedures manual should dictate the flow of the job as well as how the job site should be maintained. In your manual, be sure to address, at least, decorum, dress, daily cleanup, tools to be brought to the job, maintenance of company equipment, and communication among the team, customer and office. As events change, the production schedule should be updated and the customer informed of any delays. Daily office contact should address such issues as: Are material deliveries on schedule? Is it time to bill the next payment? Any change orders to be billed? Any developing problems with the customer?

You should also develop a safety manual to govern all aspects of job safety for employees as well as subcontractors.

The final walk-through

Don’t relax when the job is done. A manager or supervisor familiar with the project should take the customer through the entire job site. Use a checklist to ensure that all details are covered: cabinet doors are aligned and open properly, toilets flush and faucets run, doorknobs turn and lock, lights turn on and off, outlets provide electricity, furnaces heat and air conditioners cool, materials match and painting is acceptable. If a company has detailed specifications, finishes can be matched to those standards.

Almost every customer will have problems with finishes. The company representative should list and acknowledge these in writing, as should the customer. Follow up quickly to keep payment on schedule. Upon making the agreed-upon changes, the rep should review the walk-through checklist with the customer once more and then obtain a final sign-off confirming satisfactory job completion. You know that humidity, house stresses, lighting and other environmental conditions can cause such common problems as nail pops, floor squeaks and uneven paint finishes. But your customers may not. Warn them by including these issues in your checklist at the final walk-through.

While you obviously should send a thank-you to your customer, take the time to send thank-you letters to neighbors advising them the work is complete.

Customer follow-up

When post-job problems arise, deal with them promptly. Many companies arrange service calls at six and/or 12 months after completion of the project. It’s a good idea to budget these service calls into the original job costs, avoiding additional expenses.

Similarly, any problems with work completed by subcontractors should be coordinated in terms of scheduling and follow-up. The staff member overseeing service calls should know when a subcontractor is going back to a job, if he or she went, and whether the work was completed to the customer’s satisfaction. To really assess how well the production processes satisfy customers, mail a survey that includes a request for referrals to every customer upon completion of his or her remodeling project. This gives your company the opportunity to solicit new customers and seek future business from the same customer. You can also use the feedback to acknowledge exemplary efforts by employees or subcontractors. Most important, surveys allow you to uncover problems of which you might not be aware and to correct deficiencies that could cause dissatisfaction in the future.

Production doesn’t start the first day of a job, nor does it end when the last truck leaves the site. A well-coordinated production process can help feed remodeling jobs to a company for years to come, serving as a foundation for a company to build on.

Also See:

Project Startup Checklist

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