by George Hedley
November 2, 2011

Editor's Note:  This is the eleventh in our 2007 series of The Business Owner Toolbox written by our regular columnist, George Hedley.  Each article is written to provide you with practical, immediately applicable business management tools to assist you on your path to building a successful, growing business. To read the previous article, click here. To read the next article in the series, click here.

I graduated from the University Of Southern California (Go Trojans!) with a degree in civil-structural engineering. My first job after college was as a structural engineer (in training) at Bechtel Corp. for nine months. Next, I was hired as a project engineer for a commercial builder headquartered in Southern California. (Project engineer is another title for someone with potential but doesn’t know much or have any authority.) As a rookie employee, I got to wear a lot of hats. I worked with the estimators, project managers, foreman, subcontractors, customers and spent lots of time out in the field.

My job was to fix everyone else’s screw-ups and fill-in where they needed help. I attended several project meetings, listened to the issues and took notes. I processed hundreds of change orders that weren’t well documented or approved in advance. I sat in on many discussions, arguments and disputes between subcontractors, general contractors and project developers over contract issues that should have been handled many months earlier. I watched as foremen filled out their crews’ timecards while driving their trucks a week after their field employees actually did the work. I witnessed subcontractors showing up late, installing the wrong materials and not finishing their work on time. I observed project managers getting behind with paperwork and then asking me to do it nine weeks late. I saw the boss making exceptions for long-time employees and not requiring them to follow the company rules. I watched the twenty field superintendents run their jobs twenty different ways. I sometimes had to go to the hardware store three times a day for the same field foreman on the same job. I got assigned the difficult task of getting subcontractors to come back to do their punch-list work which could have been completed months earlier.


Nothing Works the Way You Want It To!

You get the picture. I saw what didn’t work. And when I started my company four years later, I didn’t want to get into the habit of reacting to every situation and let customers, subcontractors, suppliers and employees run my business the way they wanted to. I wanted my company to run like a machine and produce consistent results, quality, schedule, service and profit. I didn’t want to have to rely on my constant supervision to insure my company worked the way I wanted it to work.

Most construction companies are run by owners who have all their standards, procedures and systems in their head. They never stop working, micro-managing, controlling and telling their people what to do. They’re so busy making sure everything is done exactly the way they want things done, they never have enough time to write down what field or project management systems they want. This keeps them constantly out of control, over-worked, and stressed-out. Company growth is limited because this type of owner is stuck at his level of control (or out of control) and therefore can’t take on more work, bigger projects, new customers or different types of projects that might deliver better bottom-line profits.

Stop for a few moments and identify the most important pro-active field procedures you want done the same way every time on every project by every foreman, superintendent or project manager.

Focus on things that cause you the most stress and cost your company the most. These are what you need to fix. Then sit down and create a system to make sure everyone will do those things exactly the same way you want them done. As a general contractor with several jobs under construction at any one time, plus numerous project managers, field superintendents and foreman, I have a list of my top things I want done the same way on every job. Here’s my list:


Pro-Active Field “Must Do” Systems


1. Write a Systems and Procedures “DO” Manual.


Step No. 1 is to have written standardized field systems or procedures for your field team to follow and use. These systems must be written and not just in your head. I call this our “DO” Manual. How we “DO” business on every project, no exceptions! It’s a simple notebook that has our company standards and systems written out. There are pictures of what we want and how we want things done. It has checklists and guidelines for the field crews and project team members to follow. Each field employee is issued a company “DO” manual to follow and refer to. It is used for training and as a tool to make sure we all do business the same way. Our “DO” Manual has the following sections:


General Information


  •     Questions
  •     Problems and issues
  •     Calls to make
  •     Calendar
  •     Business cards and phone numbers

 Field Systems

  •     Job information
  •     Project administration checklist
  •     Job start-up checklist
  •     Job contract
  •     Job plans
  •     Job specifications
  •     Subcontractor list
  •     Subcontracts
  •     Job goals and objectives
  •     Job budget
  •     Job schedule
  •     Shop drawing and submittal log
  •     Job daily activity reports
  •     Job inspection log
  •     Job RFI/PCO/CO logs
  •     Job meeting minutes
  •     Quality and punch-list reports
  •     Job close-out checklist
  •     Company information
  •     Company standards  
  •     Company systems       
  •     Employee forms  


2. Set Pro-Active Targets and Goals.

Can you imagine a college football coach not clearly listing out the overall team goals for the upcoming week or season? Good coaches explain what the game plan is and then what’s expected from every player on the team. In my company, I want every member on our project teams and