Commercial Possibilities (Delivering Those Commercial Jobs)
The refrain from above was after a particularly trying day where I couldn’t please anyone. To minimize your pain of delivery, I offer the following with the hope you’ll learn from my mistakes.
Nothing beats good estimating. When you construct a building, a faulty foundation ensures you’ll have a bad day sometime soon. Ted found this out when he discovered the bid so eagerly accepted by the general contractor did not include one large area.
When he tried to withdraw the bid, the general contractor smugly said, “You should have checked your numbers closer; after all, this was a ‘best and final’ bid, and did not require a line-by-line breakdown. Besides, you were ‘within the range.’”
Of course, he knew Ted was about $80,000 light on the bid and took advantage of the mistake, then threatened legal action to compel performance. He was right and so Ted ended up with nine months of work at a 4% gross profit—and glad to get that. This debacle was the final straw and brought Ted’s career at the company to a close.
Estimating and bids always seem to be prepared under time pressure and deadlines. A detailed review by a plans estimator and a project manager are usually at the last minute and this leads to miscommunication. The variance in the finish schedule and scope of work may be overlooked. Ted’s mistake should have been caught.
“A man’s got to know his limitations,” the classic line from “Dirty Harry,” should be etched onto the checklist of every estimator and project manager.
With a complete estimate, you should know if you have the financial wherewithal and can pull off the installation delivery requirements. “You mean this allhas to be delivered in six weeks? That will tie up 40% of our crew time. There is no way that will happen without extra crews.” This was the sarcastic, but telling comment from our experienced installation manager. Fortunately, we were astute enough to have him review the specifics before we bid this job.
This brought out the most salient point of the bid for us, an unrealistic delivery schedule. It would stretch us to perform this new work along with our existing commitments. Worse, there was a liquidated damages provision if we failed to deliver on time or held up other trades. So, we made sure to add another line item of cost to compensate for extra crews and supervision. We followed the philosophy, “Don’t tell them no, tell them how much,” and ended up with the project.
If at all possible, crews should be tentatively selected even before you bid the job. In more than one case, I’ve used this pre-planning to sell the idea of “why our bid is better…we’ve even selected specific crews to do the work so as to meet your schedule.” This attitude has gotten us more than one “second look” while bids were being evaluated. This is especially effective when you’re able to include a written plan of how the project will be performed and can include a quasi-resume of company personnel and crew.
When you win the job, match up the installation team capabilities to project requirements. The wrong one will wreak havoc on your reputation and put you into fire-fighting mode. Then you’ll be spending lots of quality time placating company and client personnel.
Looking Over Their Shoulder
Supervision is an integral part of a cost-effective delivery effort. And this starts in the overall administration of the job and includes purchasing, receiving, warehouse operations, and matching up product-to-site delivery with installation schedule.
With the click of button, a truckload of product was released six months early. Now we had a warehouse space issue as well as the liability for product payment well ahead of that expected. Worse yet, after arrival, pallets had to be repeatedly shifted around to accommodate other scheduled deliveries. An over eager mill rep “just had to get that shipment out this quarter to make quota.”
Our people made the mistake of releasing the shipment early, but so had the mill; we ended up with extended payment terms that eased some of the extra costs. We also tightened our internal checks-and-balances to prevent a repeat of this saga.
Once the first series of product reaches the job and installation begins, site supervision and quality control begin. Daily feedback on project status should be the norm. With larger jobs, the project manager, or coordinator have a different role than the installation field supervisor; what is important to one may not be as critical to the other. Hand holding with a nervous client should fall to the sales team, which landed the job, whereas crew schedule and minor site problems should be by the field installation supervisor.
It is when these roles overlap, that problems may be exacerbated. “Jeremy, your field supervisor, just lit into my painting foreman because he walked through your work area,” shouted the general contractor site manager. “You’d better get down here and get your crew under control or I’ll throw you off the job, understand?”
Jeremy was focused on keeping the area clean so flooring could be laid, and he was right to explain this to the painter. However, he was so brutally candid in his assessment it became an issue of payback with the painter. He took his hurt feelings along to the site manager, complaining he couldn’t finish his work.
So, Curtis, the company’s project manager, had to intervene. He and Jeremy apologized for the colorful language and explained, again, about the drying time required for floor patch. Privately, Curtis told Jeremy to rein in his temper. The project continued, albeit with some schedule tweaks to make sure the conflict with other trades was minimized.
Never Let Them See You Sweat
Dealing with glitches and problems is the hallmark of an experienced, professional company. After waiting for a shipment of carpet tile for six weeks, the delivery trailer wrecked on the interstate some 40 miles away. The solution was to send out a box truck so at least some of the product could be salvaged and critical areas could be installed.
When electrical power went out in the building, portable generators were rented so high-speed air movers, lighting and hand tools could be used. Work continued with a minor delay. And when the take up of existing carpet proved especially troublesome, additional crews were temporarily pulled from other jobs and were assigned more powerful stripping machines.
The lesson: Keep the project on track and maintain a calm demeanor.
High priority and high visibility is the reality for some jobs. It may be a tight deadline where installation mustbe finished by a specific time or there will be drastic consequences because a performance or some other special event has been scheduled for months. Significant financial damages or to one’s reputation will result from any mistakes.
Sometimes, it is the location. Floor repairs and installation of an MMA poured floor had to be done in a prison ward where inmates could only be shifted out of the area for a limited period. A high security area like the White House Situation Room or a 911 call center with a 24/7 work operation, demand exquisite timing.
A large regional bank arranged for two of its branches to be re-carpeted over a single weekend. They were in neighboring towns. Materials had arrived and the project was on track, at least until Friday afternoon when George, the crew chief, opened his pay envelope. When he saw a charge back for mistakes on another job, he screamed, “I’m not doing anything, no more work, until you give me back my money.” With that, he stormed out, throwing the bank jobs’ paperwork across the parking lot.
Talk about scrambling for a solution. Furniture had already been moved at the banks and computers taken down. No other crews were available. After an hour of twisting in the wind, though, I had a conversation with George’s wife, explained our dilemma and his reaction to this week’s check. “Oh, he’ll be back,” she said.
Within an hour, George sheepishly returned, picked up the supplies and did the job. Shortly after that, we parted ways with him since he was so mercurial. With a critical delivery, select crews based on their attitude and history of performance under pressure.
“Close enough for government work” is oft repeated, but sloppy substandard work will kill your reputation and cost you money on callbacks. Job completion and punch out is the culmination of the project. If you don’t excel here you won’t get paid.
Have a specific plan in place when you start on who will do the final quality control inspection. You certainly do not want to leave this to the client; yes, they will do one, but the real inspection should come from you; if it doesn’t look right, fix it. Be aware though that some areas are more equal than others. A lobby will likely have to meet a higher standard than the lunchroom or a closet.
“You already have my reference: I sent you a check for full payment,” is what my client said when I mentioned receiving a reference. As far as references go, getting paid is the ultimate proof that you did a great job.
Estimate accurately, bid carefully, pick the most qualified personnel, deliver a little bit more quality than expected, and get paid. Enough said.