Lesson 20: Implementing a Lead Carpenter

Last month we provided a general overview of the lead carpenter system — the management system lead carpenters use to manage production of jobs start to finish. We explained how lead carpenters become the point person for the company on a particular project. This month we will look into this concept a little further and view it from the perspective of a remodeling company that uses the system.

"We use our lead carpenters as project managers, managing multiple jobs," says Scott Balentine, CR, CLC, president of Lifestyles Custom Homes and Remodeling, Inc., Overland Park, Kan. "Our guys are not relegated one project at a time.

They may have as many as three projects going that they are managing at any given time."

Balentine’s experience with the lead carpenter concept goes back to the company he originally worked for, Outdoor Environments. Back then there were as many as four carpentry crews going at a time and on each one of those crews there was a lead carpenter. These individuals would be in charge of making sure the job ran smoothly — from on-site client communication to ensuring that materials were delivered and on time.

"I guess the reason that we’ve really stuck with this way of doing things is from the client’s point of view. They like to have the one point of contact," says Balentine. "I think when you do that, when you have one individual in control of all the facets of managing a job and making sure first and foremost, that they’re meeting or exceeding the client’s expectations, it runs smoothly and profitably."

The key to having a good lead carpenter is selecting the right person for the position. They not only need to look at a project from a bird’s eye view. They’ve also got to be good problem solvers and think quickly on their feet to make confident decisions under the watchful eye of clients, subcontactors and suppliers.

"You also need somebody that’s self-disciplined, organized and accountable," adds Balentine. "You don’t want somebody in there that’s going to be blaming everybody else. If you’re going to have a single point manager on a project, that person has got to be willing to be accountable for every facet of the job."

A Real Lead Carpenter

Tom Boehnke, CLC, works as the estimator production manager for Remodeling Designs Inc., in Dayton, Ohio. When he came to Remodeling Designs, they already had a lead carpenter system. So he started as a carpenter’s assistant, working with a lead carpenter and learning all aspects of the business — from where to go for permits to being able to do the hands-on work.

"I think initially the bumps are establishing a relationship with subcontractors and then getting comfortable with organizing all aspects of the project," says Boehnke. "I think with the subcontractors, treating them as equals is very helpful. And then when I came to Remodeling Designs I was lucky that the carpenters had several years of experience and I was able to learn the hands-on from very skilled craftsmen."

Boehnke suggests holding subcontractors to the same expectations as the company owners hold to the lead carpenters. He says it’s important to keep in mind dress, behavior and respect for the homeowners’ homes. Treating subcontractors as equals, goes a long way in Boehnke’s book.

As far as working with home-owners, Boehnke suggests the first thing is to get them to feel at ease with you being in their home and doing their project. The way to do that is establishing trust and doing what you say you’re going to do.

"I was surprised at how uncomfortable homeowners are with remodeling at times," says Boehnke. "Homeowners can be very emotional in this process and can be nervous to even ask about a wrong faucet."

When Boehnke watches other lead carpenters coming up the ranks, he believes one of the hardest things for them to learn is how to manage other people. He feels there probably should be some additional training for new lead carpenters to this end. Managing others may be the hardest thing to learn, but it’s essential to the success of a lead carpenter system.

"You have one person whom you go to get answers for a particular project," adds Boehnke. "So the trade contractors and home-owners know there is one person they go to that’s in charge. That’s the main benefit."

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