Are you reviewing all your projects after completion?

One major reason of reviewing each job after it is completed is to learn what went well and what didn’t, apply those learned lessons to future jobs, and be able to train other employees.

November 17, 2012

You probably have heard the quote: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” One major reason of reviewing each job after it is completed is to learn what went well and what didn’t, apply those learned lessons to future jobs, and be able to train other employees. If you have a company with more than one carpenter, one designer, and one salesperson, you can be making the same mistakes on several jobs. This can show up as slippage (decreasing gross profit), employee satisfaction, and ultimately in client satisfaction.

Why. There are several benefits to job debriefs, or otherwise affectionately known as autopsies. To get buy in, make sure everyone knows the benefits of reviewing every job your firm completes. It is to educate others so you don’t make the same mistake twice, decrease slippage, and increase employee and client experience. You can review your processes for any weaknesses in design, production, estimating, sales, contracts, etc. Finally, get feedback and suggestions for improvement, and celebrate the successes. 

Introduction. Make sure everyone knows the goal and is in the right mindset. It is not a blaming session; it should be fun, and particpants should learn from the review. Discussing “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni is a good way to go over boundaries and expectations. It is important for people to share their opinions regardless of their position. Another good book for training is “QBQ” by John Miller, which is about personal accountability, taking responsibility, and not blaming others.

Who: Assemble the entire team involved in the project, the designer, project manager, sales person, estimator, someone who manages the trade relationships, and the person responsible for the meeting and notes.

When: Usually done after the job is closed out and all costs has been invoiced. We usually schedule them 30 days after completion. Usually we block out an hour for an average job size.

What: The meeting is scheduled, and our project manager and designer have the option of conferencing in. Accounting will provide a cover sheet with all the employees who worked on the job and the hours they worked. They also will list all the trades and vendors who were involved on the project. Lastly, they will provide the final costing report including estimate vs. actual on the job.

How: Usually we will go around the room and start with everyone sharing what went well with the project, and then we will share any challenges on the project. It is important not to blame but take responsibility for the challenges and suggest ways we could avoid these challenges on the next project. In our case we have 24 cost categories, and the learned lessons are categorized. As we develop our learned lessons, we can use them as a training by category.

For instance, if the learned lesson involved a kitchen cabinet miss-order or installation, we can review learned lessons by category when we are putting estimates together for future kitchen projects. We review our estimated profit vs. actual and the client ratings and feedback on the project, and provide any learned lessons on that. We review highlights from the weekly reports and ratings to get feedback.  We rate each trade contractor on the job, each employee on the job, vendors and suppliers, design staff, sales support and estimating. We verify if the warranty package, close out gift, copy of permit plans, and the approved inspection reports along with the warranty card and any manufacturer’s product warranty info had been provided to the client. Any updates or errors from the actual estimate are sent to accounting, and learned lessons are distributed. Discuss recommendations for pictures for portfolios, awards, and websites and any unique or challenging features of the project. Wrap up and celebrate the success. 

Learned lessons. Do you do smaller projects? Group several of them together and review them monthly. Do you have performance incentives or bonuses you pay on jobs? Create a policy that no incentives will be paid until after the debrief has been done and the costing is reviewed.

I have heard of some companies reviewing only jobs that didn’t do well. What you are missing is the learned lessons of the jobs that went well or better than expected.  What are the common traits in those? How are you teaching those learned lessons?

Don’t just look at the negative; celebrate the jobs that went well and find out why. 

Look through the learned lessons and look for common traits between projects. For example: type of job, a certain designer or estimator might be doing something to have jobs turned over more complete, the lead time to construction start is shorter or longer, how many allowances were there, or how many outstanding items were there when the project started. You can then come back and tweak your existing systems and processes from the information you gathered. PR


Craig Durosko is the founder of Sun Design, an award-winning Burke, Va.-based design/build firm. He can be reached at

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