I was reminded recently of Stephen Covey's principle of "Begin with the end in mind". If you're clear on how you want your project to end up, you set up systems from the beginning to accomplish it. This supports high quality from the beginning and reduces the tendency to be reactive.
Having systems in place overcomes some problems presented by delegation – any time we have to communicate information to another person, and often when they have to communicate the same to another person, things get lost in translation. The more layers of communication between the client and the laborer/craftsman, the greater possibility for things to go wrong.
I acknowledge that I myself can be unorganized and reactive, and this whole blog post comes from problems I have seen in the field and how I have attempted to overcome them. Knowing my faults and working with other small contractors and experiencing some of these same problems, I'm convinced that focusing on how your projects can begin with the end in mind can help you get rid of a few problems.
I do want to acknowledge that taking too much time during the bidding process on “beginning with the end in mind” can be a waste of time and money, so you need to decide for yourself when it becomes important to take your bid scope of work and flesh it out into a full scope of work to hand over to someone else. Is it when you have a signed contract in hand? Is it when you have a set of drawings to turn in for permit? Is it when you receive the permit back from the municipality?
Knowing when the best time for taking your bid and turning it into a fully fleshed-out scope of work can impact the subcontractors you attract, your pricing from suppliers, and even your schedule. The more concrete information given out leads to reduced risk, and balancing risk impacts pricing. It can be very difficult when we quote a project for a client to know what level of finishes they want, so you usually figure on an allowance. Subcontractors are doing the much the same with contractors until they get to know you better. The better you explain your expectations, the tighter the quotes you receive will become.
What you need, at minimum:
Excel is my favorite software ever (because I’m a nerd), and there are lots of free versions and ways to collaborate with your team online, but printing out to paper is great, too. Do you want a simple folder or a multi-segment folder so you can stay ultra-organized? Or do you want a binder with lots of pictures and tabs? I personally advocate for a paper version because I’ve spent far too long trying to get a signal to update or find something online, and not every person on site has access to a computer or smart phone. I would keep a folder for myself with the customer and sub information for easy access for communication, and pictures, quantities, drawings, etc. in a binder onsite. I wouldn’t keep pricing on site, but I would keep information about where items should be picked up if they won’t be delivered.
How far along do you allow changes and what is your policy for handling them? Small builders are normally very customer-friendly, allowing changes all along the way. Large builders who deal in volume often set limits in order to reduce mix-ups. One company I worked for only allowed structural changes to the day the contract was signed, and changes to the finishes up until the first day of drywall. Another builder was much more flexible with structural changes, and there were often mix-ups. Mix-ups are too costly when you’re small. Working it out ahead of time how you’ll handle it, and whether you’ll even allow it after a certain point is cheap. Don't forget to incorporate who is responsible and how you will update information onsite. Do you do it all electronically and expect subs to bring the correct information to site? Or with the PM/Superintendent update the information binder/permit box on site?
Additionally, having a system in place to handle requests for clarification and updates is important. If there’s a problem in the field and you don’t have time for someone to meet to look directly at the issue, you need a way to collect as much information – either drawings or pictures or just an explanation, track the question until it is answered, and make sure the question is answered completely.
I’m working with a website developer to create a very simple RFI website that a company can attach to their own website that anyone with a smart phone could use to send requests for more information. The RFI can be send to one or multiple email addresses to make questions easier to answer when you can’t keep someone on site. The goal is for you to plug your personal link for this little webpage into your page, or email it to your subs to let them use it directly from their phones, and, with just a few answers, you can begin receiving pictures and comments to your email to be easily tracked and answered quickly. There will be a record of the questions, and you will be able to track whether the question got answered in a timely manner.
And if you don’t currently have a website, I can suggest a very affordable 1 page website to get you on the web. It’s important to have a small presence online, even if it’s just so that someone can Google your company and see more than just your Yellow pages or Manta information. You may want to use social media, like Facebook or Google+ to post pictures of your latest projects, because those are free, and you can provide a link from your website to Facebook. (Google+ will be prioritized on Google.com over Facebook, even if FB is more popular, but FB might be prioritized on Bing).
You shouldn’t have to take time from building your business or your client’s project just to learn everything about SEO and programming and everything else out there. www.tiny-websites.com can help you set up a simple, informative website so you look like a professional.