Remodelers Exchange: Field operations: Production manager, lead man or both?

What’s the best way to manage field production? One “general” or multiple lead carpenters? Professional Remodeler’s Tom Swartz talked to remodelers Jerry Levine and Gary Moffie about how they manage their onsite operations.

February 04, 2011

What’s the best way to manage field production? One “general” or multiple lead carpenters? Professional Remodeler’s Tom Swartz talked to remodelers Jerry Levine and Gary Moffie about how they manage their onsite operations.

Click "Next" to read excerpts of that conversation or click here to listen to the full discussion.

Tom Swartz: Tell me about your form of production management.
Jerry Levine: I’ve done it over the years many different ways. I’ve had no production manager, I was the production manager for a while. I used a variation, like a lot of people do, of the lead carpenter system, giving them a lot more responsibility in terms of scheduling, contacting subcontractors, making sure material orders are delivered, collecting payment from clients.
I found that for us, I liked it better when I centralized all that and let the carpenters be carpenters and concentrate more on production. I found I had to staff the projects with more people when I had my lead guy not being a carpenter and being much more of an administrator.
I like having the single person be the contact with the client with all these projects, supported by the lead carpenter because they’re at the project everyday, but I like having that floating supervisor that goes around and makes sure the trains are running on time.
Gary Moffie: We give our lead carpenters a little bit more responsibility in the field. I have five project supervisors, otherwise known as lead carpenters. Of the five, three had their own businesses before they joined up with me over the years.
What I tell people when they work here is that I want them to do in the field what they love to do and not worry about having to meet payroll or having to go out and do sales on the weekends. These guys were trying to do it all. It’s very hard for anybody to do everything.
We let our lead carpenters pretty much run their projects. We have weekly production meetings with them and our production manager. I used to be the PM. Last year, because of the types of projects we were starting to get and we were starting to rebound out of this economy, I did hire back a production manager. He works with them and coordinates the ordering of materials, but they pretty much drive it.

Swartz: Two somewhat different nuances to this and I think that you both represent what a lot of remodeling contractors are trying to wrestle with. Jerry, the production manager, does he visit each one of the jobsites and how often?
Levine: He does visit each one of the jobsites and he’ll often do it, depending on what kind of work is being done, everyday. It can be every other day. It’s a combination of the size of job, the kind of work that’s being done at the time and the need of the lead carpenter who’s on the project.
I like him to have his eyes and have his fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in the field. That’s where we’re going to make our money or not. That’s the monster that has to be fed properly.

Swartz: Gary, same question. As I recall you said your production manager is more in the office. Does he get out and see the site everyday, every job?
Moffie: Every job, and he goes once or twice a week, not everyday. I also like to visit the jobsites once a week myself so I can see what’s going on. In the end, I’m still the only salesperson in the company and I make the initial contact with customers and I don’t want them to feel that all I do is sell it and pass it off and the only time they hear from me is when an invoice is due.

Swartz: Let me ask you this. What if your production manager gets tied up? What happens when he doesn’t get to the site for a day or two or three, or does that happen?
Levine: It doesn’t happen a whole lot. The lead man on the job, these guys are pretty competent.
Everybody has a Blackberry. If there’s a real emergency, e-mails are going to go back and forth, texts, phone calls. It’s rare that there’s a real emergency. If my general is held up on one job and can’t get to the next one, a phone conversation will generally take care of it.
Moffie: We don’t expect him to be out on every job everyday. He’s a little bit more flexible. We really haven’t had that problem. If there’s a real issue, to be honest, I like to get involved in it because I’m the contact person.

Swartz: Does the project manager/lead man know the cost of the project?
Moffie: Absolutely. We also give them the hours budget that we’ve drawn up. What usually happens, because our projects tend to be a little larger, oftentimes we’ll have one of our leads take part in the estimating and he and I and the production manager will collaborate putting the proposal together. Occasionally, that lead doesn’t wind up with that project, so then we have to bring in the lead that’s going to be handling that project and we go over the numbers.

Swartz: Who lines up the subcontractor and orders the materials to be delivered?
Moffie: It’s typically the lead guy, but sometimes we’ll agree, depending on what it is, that the production manager will call the plumber and let him know that we’re going to need him in two weeks, but usually the lead guys deal with their own subcontractors.

Swartz: Who gets the prices from (trades and suppliers)?
Moffie: The production manager in the office.

Swartz: Jerry, let’s go back to this. Do your lead guys out in the field, do they know the specific budgets of each item for the project?
Levine: My general, my production manager, is well versed in that. The guys in the field, not so much. That’s one change that I made. I used to have them know all of this, all of that information. As far as coordinating with the subcontractors, changing/negotiating prices, my production manager takes care of all that.
I want all that planning and administrative stuff to be taken off the shoulders of the lead guys and to be done back here. Obviously, we’re consulting with the lead guys all the time and planning out the work week by week.

Swartz: Do you have written job descriptions for your production manager and written job descriptions for your lead men so they know the parameters of their responsibilities?
Levine: Yes, yes we do. When they get hired, it’s part of what they get and they sign that they understand what their role and responsibility will be.
Moffie: We have a job description for our production manager. We developed job descriptions for our leads guys, but to be quite honest, we rarely refer to them. I’ve been lucky. I’ve got three people who have been with me since I opened the doors and another four or five that have been with me since 2000. They know what they have to do.
I should have something and we should go over that, but we have something else we call our Standard Operating Procedures manual that our guys in the field actually helped write. This has been a living manual that keeps changing year in and year out as we come across other things.

Swartz: Who presents invoices and final statements to the customer?
Moffie: People want us just to send them e-mails. We do like to follow-up with a hard copy.
Then, we’ll often put up a little mailbox or create a communications center in the house where we’re going to put important paper information that they should check each night. We’ll often put invoices there and they’ll put checks there, or they’ll give them to the lead carpenter.
Levine: Same as Gary. We e-mail them. We haven’t for years mailed out invoices or presented them on the jobsite.

Swartz: If you’re going to give some advice to remodelers out there, what would you say?
Levine: Whatever path you’re going to choose, make sure it works with your company culture, because not only the product you’re going to put in somebody’s house, but the way that you do it is selling you for the next five jobs down the road.
Both systems can work. I think it largely depends on the type of people you have and the type of control and information you want to be aware of as the owner.
I don’t know that there’s any right way to do this. I think the important part for the owner is to make sure you’re involved where the bumps in the road are.

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