On the Job

After completing jobs of $50,000 or more, Dennis Gehman, CR, CLC, CKBR, and his team at Gehman Custom Remodeling sit down and do a post mortem. Assembled is the sales/design representative, the project manager, the production supervisor, the estimator and any other person on staff that had a hand in the project. With all the relevant paperwork laid out, the group proceeds to spend the ensuing hour trying to learn from the project for the future. All of the resulting “lessons learned” are then written down and used to continue development of the company’s evolving “Standards for Excellence” document.

“These meetings tend to be an hour long because there is so much detail and we will talk it through,” says Gehman. “We ask what we would do differently. Sometimes that begins with the design and sometimes it is the project manager who points out an area for improvement.”

Front-and-center during the meeting, which Gehman calls an After Action Review, is the overall profitability of the job. If a job does not hit their target for gross or net profit, the root cause is quickly fleshed out. In these situations, Gehman says the lessons are particularly helpful. Perhaps not enough time was allocated in the estimate for a carpenter to frame the job. Or perhaps there was a cost category that was simply left off the estimate. Or occasionally a person with an incorrect skill set was assigned a task on the job.

“We are pretty detailed. We have 30 categories — travel time, cleanup, excavating, masonry, framing, roofing — and we ask each employee to fill out time cards in quarter-hour increments. That’s where we ascertain our estimated vs. actual in all those different categories. So we go back and look at categories and we find that maybe we missed it in framing but we made it up in siding and drywall.”

The After Action Review is just one of the components of Gehman’s overall communication strategy. The company has introduced many systems and processes all built to improve communications with clients. Many of these include embedded backups and redundancies that ensure that all the balls are kept in the air at once. But the bedrock of the company’s communication strategy is a written process map and clear lines of responsibility for each role in the company.

  • When a construction contract is signed, bookkeeping works with estimating to set up the budget for the project.
  • The design staff works with the production team to schedule the project based on the backlog of the field staff and the lead time for permits and materials, as they work to develop purchase orders.
  • After a project is scheduled, a project manager joins the team to take over the day-to-day responsibilities of construction. A pre-construction conference is held at the job site the week before construction starts to serve as a formal hand off of responsibility from the sales person to the project manager.
  • Upon job completion bookkeeping provides a full reporting of estimated versus actual job costing.
  • Communication with clients is also managed for clarity and openness. Internally, each job gets a spot on the company’s server where all client interactions are posted along with job updates to a “Daily Notes” file.

 

“It is primarily the design consultant that uses the file but our goal is that anytime any of us have anything that we are doing with a job to make note of it in this file,” says Gehman, whose firm completed approximately 150 jobs in 2005 on $3.13 million in revenue. “It is ongoing journal so that on a day when the project manager is not there and a client calls in, we can quickly open up the notes and see our most recent communication and what was said.

From the client point of view, the sales designer and the project managers are asked to be the lead communicators. Project managers are expected to make notes in a spiral notebook for the customer to read at the end of each day. The company also encourages clients to ask questions in the same notebook so the project manager can quickly address them.

Finally, when the project is over, a final walkthrough is scheduled. There the remodeling team will meet with the client one last time. And it is there that the client meets sales designers to discuss the merits of the finished result, notes Gehman.

“Our goal is reconnect the designer with the client face-to-face so they can try and continue that relationship.”

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