The industry developed the lead carpenter system to deal with the small remodeling jobs that most companies were doing in the early 1980s.

As jobs grew in size and scope, many in the industry began adopting the project manager model. The recession was a shock to remodeling companies doing a few large jobs a year, especially those that were using the project manager model. Most jobs now are much smaller, and remodelers will have to shift their production systems back to the lead carpenter system to return to efficiently producing smaller jobs. Here are some tips to help you make that adjustment:

  • Better planning and execution. Larger projects allow for more give and take in the schedule. With small jobs, every detail must be planned and executed on time to avoid delays and causing slippage. The planning starts with the sales team and goes through to the field crew.
  • Cross training. With small projects, the ideal lead carpenter is a craftsperson with multiple skills who can complete a range of tasks. A true lead carpenter can connect a kitchen sink and install crown molding, which is more efficient than bringing in a plumber to connect the sink while a project manager supervises.
  • On-site decisions. Small projects have a need for speed. The lead carpenter must be able to make decisions quickly. For example, the lead has to be able to receive fast approval to change the electrical wiring plan or know how to write change orders efficiently. A lead who has the authority to independently make decisions frees up the owner to spend more time selling jobs.
  • Emphasize urgency. Small projects have tighter budgets so everyone on staff, from sales to production, must have the mindset that every minute counts. Designers need to be immediately informed of any new decisions and deadlines — a request cannot sit on their desk for a week. Leads must be willing to put in an extra 30 minutes to finish a task to stay on schedule.
Charles Steck

—Tim Faller is president of Field Training Services and author of The Lead Carpenter Handbook.