Project Management – Useful Tools to Growing and Empowering Small Building Contractors
Carolina Pardo, Alto Project Services, [email protected]
Engaging contractors can be a difficult playing field to navigate, even for small scale jobs. If you have ever had business relationships or utilized a contractor, you have probably become aware of many requested tasks listed on the Project schedule that often get executed by different subcontractors.
More often than not, you are unaware when or which tasks will be subcontracted or which tasks will be performed by the actual contractor you engaged. You also probably didn’t even know there would be a subcontractor – you thought the person you engaged could do it all! This can be challenging, and frustrating, as you don’t always know who is accountable for the tasks being undertaken, nor do you have clarity of when the work is actually going to be done – have you ever cleared everything in your day in anticipation of the contractor arriving only to find out they had something else come up? Me too! Imagine how much confusion, frustration and annoyance we could avoid, if every contractor that we engage at a local community level followed basic PMP practices?
There are countless reviews, message boards and community forums littered with stories like this and on face value it can seem like a luck of the draw or hit-and-miss on exactly what experience you’re going to get. To understand what’s really driving this, it’s important to think about what it takes to execute projects successfully, or at least what successful businesses do to ensure they deliver to a customer’s expectations. The best contractors all follow at least some basic system, process or methodology that - more often than not - has been developed over time and through some ‘hard’ lessons learned.
Let’s face it, pleasing customers can be a hard task, and especially when it’s someone’s personal home that they are putting their hard earned money into. As it specifically relates to dealing with residential customers and, small retail businesses, contractors are in a tough environment as they’re dealing with customers with tight or limited budgets, price sensitivity, a ‘do it quickly’ mentality but an expectation of the highest quality and….high emotions! There’s a high cost, literally, for mistakes and contractors at this level themselves are not exactly backed by huge capital reserves. This makes it imperative that contractors at this level have some basic tools, education, methodologies and practices that can set them up for success.
Unfortunately, many contractors are unaware of even basic project management practices or where to get that information outside of ‘on the job’ experience, and this experience is only as good as the level of knowledge of their direct supervisor. Isn’t there a mutual alignment of interests in up-skilling contractors? Doing so has the potential to increase the likelihood of successful projects and overall positive customer experiences – which leads to more referrals and future opportunities.
Contractors for the most part focus on actual project execution – i.e physically doing the work. After all, that’s what they’re engaged to do. However, they are often oblivious to the volume of technical knowledge that exists and critical to supporting, managing and guiding the work.
For example, most contractors will not have formal education, qualifications or understanding of even basic Project Management principles, which makes not only their work harder but increases the likelihood of a Project being compromised from the outset (can you remember a project that came in on or under budget?). Compounding this are language barriers, especially here in Houston, where many contractors have the majority of their employees as non-native English speakers. They often have great technical and delivery knowledge but can get into difficult situations with customers due purely to communication issues.
This is all a fundamental requirement in major builders, EPC’s or large-scale construction contractor’s but unfortunately non-existent for the most part in smaller contractor’s that engage at the residential and small-retail level. Or if it does exist, it’s not always obvious or visible to a customer.
Here are some simple strategies and tools that can be applied to circumvent these issues:
- Clear and timely communication
Any communication is better than no communication. In the absence of information, human nature will invent or create the story to fill the void. No matter the size or the complexity of the project, the Contractor must be able to communicate the scope and the schedule well in advance and indicate if subcontractors will be used, and the activities they will perform. Many of the problems in communication are not just for language differences but related to poor specification, scope definition and factors that could arise on a job. Quite often there is a disconnect from the outset on this aspect – a customer sees a quote and naturally assumes this is a fixed price for the scope of work. Most contractors don’t, or avoid entirely, the ‘hard’ discussion at the outset that the price is an estimate only and may be impacted for a number of reasons. Being clear from the outset on the scope, basis of estimate, assumptions and execution plan is fundamental to ensuring alignment between the customer and the contractor.
- Project schedule
Most contractors rarely develop and manage a Master Project Schedule that accounts for their activities along with that of any subcontractors that may be utilized. For the most part what you receive is a general ‘guide’ to works to be performed and a very vague timeline for completion that is liable to change at any time for any reason. It is understandable that most contractors don’t self-employ all the labor so the use of subcontractors is required, however there needs to be some level of coordination of schedules so that there is visibility of what is going on and when it is supposed to occur. Giving a proper schedule to the customer is a great way to build trust and also demonstrates to a customer there is some level of business maturity with the contractor. Trust is critical and can be a significant advantage to a contractor especially if there is an issue or problem that needs to be conveyed. Customers will be much more receptive if they feel they’re dealing with a contractor that has their act together!
- Weekly progress reporting
This really follows on from Communication but is such a glaring gap with many contractors. Just imagine as a client building your own house and not knowing if the Project schedule you were presented at the beginning is on track or delayed, or if you need to be thinking about alternate accommodation or other contingencies? It is critical contractors provide customers with some form of weekly progress reporting or feedback to advise on the project status – it should not take a customer to chase down the contractor and pin them down to extract this information. And from the customer’s perspective, there is nothing worse than getting a ‘nasty surprise’ when it’s too late to do anything about it.
- Cost tracking or reporting of milestones
The 3 most important words for any customer: Cost, Cost, Cost. There is nothing worse for a customer to hear, and especially one with a limited funds, that their budget is going to be blown to pieces. It is probably the single most important item to keep on top of and report on. Contractors must understand where the project is tracking against the budget and must communicate this in a timely way to customer’s. This is pretty basic and easy to do for anyone with access to a calculator, a pen and a piece of paper.
There are numerous other skills we can get into from a PMP perspective, however the above items are some of the most simple and easy things to do for any contractor and takes almost no direct investment to implement. However, doing so will enable contractors to execute better projects, identify potential savings or provide accurate information on project status, and at the very least would go a long way to strengthening the contractor-customer relationship. All of this are great outcomes that can support contractors in growing their businesses.
Bob Frasier, PMI Houston Chapter 2019 President
Welcome to Fall!
First, thank you to the many members who have reached to me asking about board positions and volunteering to help the chapter. As a volunteer run organization, your willingness to help the chapter is what allows us to serve our 4,500+ members locally.
The independent election committee is currently working to review the nominees and interview top candidates for the election slate. Once the slate is completed, you’ll be receiving a notification to vote for the open positions for 2020 Board.
Second, our board of directors will be attending PMI’s Leadership Institute Meeting in Philadelphia. The Leadership Institute Meeting is held each fall and allows our board to hear directly from PMI leadership and other chapters about items we can bring back to our members locally.
As you know, PMI joined us for our 2019 Houston conference this June. We had PMI President Sunil Prashara, PMI BOD Director LuAnn Piccard from the PMI Global Board as well as Region Representatives Amy Stonesifer (PMIH Conference PM) and Lauren Machol (VP of Professional Development) attend our just concluded annual PMIH Conference.
Based on their conference experience, Amy and Lauren have been asked to present at the Leadership Institute Meeting (LIM)! Congratulations to both Amy and Lauren and a huge Thank You to all the conference volunteers for their support.
Finally, we will be celebrating our 45th Anniversary at Cadillac Bar. The team has had a huge response with reservations and expect this one will sell out. If you haven’t signed up and are still considering, grab your spot!
Waiting for fall weather,
FALL OPEN HOUSE!!!
HOUSTON GALLERIA PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOASTMASTERS CLUB INVITES YOU TO JOIN US!!
You will get:
Tips on Effective Communication
Food, Music and Fall Breeze
Wednesday, October 2rd, 2019 at 6:45 PM - 8 PM CDT
Location: Houston Baptist University,
Atwood 2 Building, Room 202,
7502 Fondren Rd., Houston, TX 77074
Join us for our Open House to learn how Toastmasters can improve your effective Communication and build your Leadership Skills.
Why join Toastmasters?
Increase your confidence when speaking in front of large audiences. Enhance your leadership skills and build your professional network. Learn, grow, develop and inspire others while having fun in the process.
About Houston Galleria Project Management Toastmasters Club
Houston Galleria Project Management Toastmasters Club is sponsored by the Project Management Institution PMI Houston Chapter. Since chartered in 2009, the club has earned Select Distinguished Club Status in 2010, President’s Distinguished Club Status in 2011-2016, Distinguished Club Status in 2017-2018. The club provides a friendly and supportive environment for building communication, leadership, and public speaking skills.