Most remodeling companies start with a carpenter, a truck, a tool belt, and hope.

But those that evolve into respected upscale remodeling firms eventually find that they must have systems to manage the growing complexity of their projects.

“If you don't put systems in place,” says Houston remodeler Bill Shaw, “you're just going to die.” And nowhere are those systems more crucial than during the handoff of the project from the design stage to the construction stage.

In a sloppy or rushed handoff, details worked out by the designer and expected by the client can get lost like sand through the boards of a deck. Although a flawless handoff is key to a successful project, the foundations for it are laid long before the pre-construction meeting when the actual handoff typically occurs.

Here are three remodeling companies that have, over the years, developed systems and strategies to make sure that the package handed off from sales and design to production is as perfect as possible.

William Shaw and Associates
Type of company: Design/build
Location: Houston In business since: 1984
Annual volume: $2 million Employees: 5
What's in the package?

Sales lead sheet
Design agreement
Job cost analysis
Scope of work
Construction budget Notes and correspondence
Drawings Bids and estimates
Permit Product specifications
Client Pre-Construction Progress Checklist
Before photos of project site

Who sees a project before the job starts?
When do they see it? What input do they have?

Company president Bill Shaw, who does most of the sales and design work, has divided the pre-construction process into two phases. Before the final phase, which includes construction drawings and a firm contract, the company produces preliminary drawings and a preliminary budget. The goal is to produce a design that is within 10% of the client's budget. “If I miss it by a lot, I'm probably going to lose the job,” Shaw says, “but I'd rather know it early instead of later down the road when I have a lot more time invested.”

The company uses Chief Architect software for all drawings, which is helpful to subcontractors but also to homeowners who have trouble visualizing their project in 3-D. Shaw reviews preliminaries with his draftsman, and with the construction manager who will be working on site during the project. Because all production work is subcontracted, it's critical that nothing is missed and that all details are thoroughly defined so that subcontractors can do accurate pricing from preliminary drawings. The product manager also gets involved at this point to provide allowances (more about this below).

The clients sign the contract after construction drawings are completed and the construction budget has been updated with subcontractor changes or pricing for any work added to the preliminary drawings. The production department then reviews the package a final time to make sure it is complete. Shaw wants their input both to make sure that nothing is missing, but also because their bonuses are based on job profits. But he limits this review period to three days. “We have to keep things moving at this stage,” he says. “If I don't hear from them, I assume I have their blessing.”

What systems have been put into place to keep track of details and changes?

Checklist. As projects have become more complex during the company's evolution from a handyman company to a design/ build firm, systems have increasingly been put into writing. One indispensable document is the five-page Client Pre-Construction Progress Checklist. This serves as a reminder of necessary tasks and who in the company is responsible for them. The checklist is on the company's Web site, and after clients have been qualified, Shaw asks them to download it. “It helps for them to see that we have systems in place and to build the comfort level that we know what we're doing,” he says.

During the pre-construction process, the project package circulates in a white notebook that includes the checklist, so everyone in the small office can determine where things stand at any time.

Product manager. This position was created four years ago not only to help clients with product selections, but as a central point of contact for specifying, ordering, receiving, and for warranty management. “The job is really complete product management,” Shaw says. “That includes signing off on all deliveries to make sure the finishes are right and that nothing is missing or damaged.” The product manager produces a selection guide notebook, meets with vendors, and orders products. She also produces copies of product specifications for the project manager and the designer-estimator, as well as for the cabinetry provider, the electrician, the plumber, and the HVAC contractor, as needed. She uses allowances for preliminary pricing, but for the final package she converts them to definite product selections and creates a shopping list for the clients.

Biweekly meetings. As a project goes into production and changes are made, the opportunity for mistakes increases. To keep on top of these changes and their repercussions, the company holds biweekly staff meetings on Mondays and Thursdays at 8:30 a.m. Rather than relying on paper memos, which tend to get lost or are ignored, this company uses a white board or a flip chart in the production office to write down what needs to happen, who needs to be notified, what needs to be ordered, and so on. When a task is completed, it comes off the board. Otherwise, Shaw says, “It's sitting there staring at you.”