Former production manager Kevin Tidwell (left) helped Howes (right) develop his scheduling system. Tidwell now owns a flooring company that works closely with MCB Construction
Former production manager Kevin Tidwell (left) helped Howes (right) develop his scheduling system. Tidwell now owns a flooring company that works closely with MCB Construction

Michael Howes of MCB Construction, Woodside, Calif., says the schedule is the most emotional part of the job. “People get over the huge financial decision,” he adds, “then we're onto scheduling. And that's the one that can bite you.” Howes does a few things to keep scheduling delays from “biting” him over the course of a project. First, just as he gives clients a fixed price, he also gives them a fixed schedule. “Our goal is to tell them how much it's going to cost and how long it's going to take,” he says. He is never overly optimistic for the sake of getting a job, and he makes sure prospects realize that if they change the scope after the contract has been signed, the completion date will change as well.

Second, Howes gives several trade contractors a complete set of plans — not just the part that applies to their trade — and has them all visit the jobsite. “We use the same subs over and over,” he says, “and they know they have about a 4-in-5 chance of getting the job.” He asks each contractor how long they will need to do their part of the job, how much they will charge, and what accommodations, if any, they will need.

Third, Howes develops a detailed schedule that plots time frames for phases of work as well as milestones for client decisions and payments. Using Microsoft Project software, he tracks about 30 job categories. Then he distributes schedules, including updates, to clients and trade contractors.

On the rare occasions that MCB Construction doesn't hit its targeted completion dates, clients aren't surprised or upset. Howes' policy stems from his days working at Nordstrom, the famously customer service-oriented department store: “You should never promise something you can't deliver. Honesty always comes through.”