Contractors, do you have a handle on your business processes? Do you know exactly how you conduct each critical activity that makes up your business—common construction firm processes such as Sales, Pre-Construction, Procurement, Construction, Change Management, and Closeout—and do you know why you do each process the way you do? And are your processes documented somewhere so that when new people come on board you can easily train them?
Sometimes when you ask a contractor this question you get a blank stare or an answer to the effect of, “We haven’t gotten around to writing processes yet. It’s been on our to-do list for years.”
At small and medium-sized contractors what you often find is that the processes they use to run their business have been cobbled together over the years and they exist just in people’s heads and are passed down by word of mouth. That’s a recipe for inefficiency and stalled growth. But process improvement can fix all that.
That’s what this post is about, process improvement for contractors. First, we will look at how to tackle process improvement. Then we’ll consider a couple of case studies. Finally, we’ll look at some special considerations when it comes to processes and technology.
Ready? Let’s go.
Finding out how things get done exactly
To answer this question, we went to Andrea Wright, CEO of CTP Solutions, LLC., based out of Beverly Hills, Mich. She helps small to medium-sized construction firms understand, streamline and document their processes—and then create systems to train new hires in those documented processes.
Andrea created CTP after taking her degree in architecture and then working on construction sites as a project manager, super, and project engineer. Then she worked inside at construction companies to create training programs, implement change, and create processes.
“Contractors come to me when they’ve been banging their head against the wall and losing money,” she said. “They typically know they need processes and/or training programs and just can’t seem to get it done on their own. It’s often from lack of time or lack of knowing how or where to get started.”
Her first job with a new client is typically discovery—finding out how things get done exactly.
“I’m a good listener, and because I know the construction industry I can ask them the right questions to get the right answers. I find the subject matter experts in the firm and push and probe and help them to put into words the processes that they operate their business with. I help them figure out what they should do first, then second, then third—and so on.”
Then she helps the contractor document those processes and create training systems to perpetuate the processes.
Two case studies
Let’s look at a couple of case studies.
First off, a GC from Detroit contacted Andrea to revive their out-of-date processes. For example, change orders were not being completed consistently. Often, they would lose money because simple general conditions items were missed, such as charging for their own time to complete the work associated with the change order.
Andrea also was able to remove many redundancies and clarify some grey areas and make handoffs more efficient. For example, she helped them create a simple checklist of documents and information to be handed off from estimating to operations at the start of job. Now new hires were able to learn processes quickly and existing team members were taught to complete tasks the way the company expected them to be done.
She also “branded” their process, meaning she gave them a common look and feel—a particular header and footer, for example. That way employees know they’re looking at an official process and not just some random document.
The second GC operated out of Illinois, and they called Andrea because they had many initiatives that were living only in the heads of leadership, some that were not taking hold, and some that were stalled.
Andrea helped them visualize what they really wanted to accomplish and then created the plan of action to get it done. One of the top initiatives was to figure out why a new job role previously rolled out (and asked for by the employees) was not taking hold. After digging into what was going on, the solution was to relaunch and help everyone affected by the change to understand what was staying the same, what was no longer being done, and what new tasks were being performed. Once this was cleared up, the role was embraced with ease.
Another top initiative was to create processes and put them in a location that was easily accessible by team members in the field, in the office, or at home. She worked with several subject matter experts to capture their processes. Each person shared their information differently and with varying detail. She worked with each person to get the necessary information and wrote the processes in a consistent format and then organized them into software that was easily accessed by everyone from the office to the field. She still works with them today on launching new initiatives and coaching various members of their team.
The link between processes and technology
When she works with construction firms on streamlining and documenting their processes, she often finds herself intersecting with technology. More and more, processes in a construction firm involve some sort of technology/software. This leads to a common mistake. Too many times, construction firms try to customize their software to fit into their existing, inefficient processes.
“Don’t take your processes—the routines you’re used to—and try to morph the software to fit your processes. Instead, take the software and change your processes to use the software as it was meant to be used. Once you understand how the software operates, you can move forward with how to customize if you still feel it is necessary. Why would you spend all this money on software and then not understand how it’s supposed to work?”
For example, it’s not uncommon for contractors to build new change management software and then try to alter the code to match their processes.
Process improvement for contractors
So what’s the state of your processes, contractor? Are they all streamlined and documented. Do the tasks get done in your firm the same way no matter who’s performing them? Is it hard to train new people because of the lack of standard, documented processes? Maybe now’s the time to tackle those old processes.
Like this post? Try How contractors can use Yelp to grow their business.