In their quest to control costs, owners of remodeling businesses often cut externally first. If you’ve exhausted your ability to save money on materials, on telecoms, on insurance, etc., take a look inside your company. One of the best ways to both reduce costs and increase efficiency internally is the lead carpenter system.

Generally speaking, you don’t find lead carpenters; you grow them. Creating a true lead carpenter — one who knows and owns the system — requires training and on-the-job experience. As with installing crown molding, training can show you how to do it, but only practical experience can help you install without skinning your knees or wasting a lot of molding.

If you haven’t incorporated the lead carpenter system into your business (or reincorporated it, in the event that you abandoned it during the boom years), here are some reasons why the time is ripe again.

The Restart Button

Downsizing cut many remodeling companies to minimal staffing levels. As the economy improves, those businesses will need to staff up again.

Unfortunately, my experience has shown that most remodelers’ systems, including their production systems, are (or were) in their employees’ heads and are rarely documented. If you downsized, it’s quite possible that your production system left with your employees. Now you need to replace it.

The lead carpenter system turns a project’s day-to-day decision-making over to the project lead. Adopting this industry-designed and proven best practice is much easier than trying to recreate your old system. Why use a standard system rather than inventing your own wheel? One major advantage is that as employees come and go, the system will remain.

Another advantage is that Tim Faller (who is also a REMODELING contributor) has already documented the lead carpenter system in his 1998 book, The Lead Carpenter Handbook: the Complete Hands-on Guide to Successful Jobsite Management. To order Tim’s book or speak with him about training and consulting services, visit

By starting to implement the lead carpenter system now, even before you begin hiring again, you’ll be able to retrain existing employees and bring them and the system up to speed. When you bring new staff into the mix, you’ll need to train them only once.

The One-Way Turnstile

Another good reason to implement a true lead carpenter system: It can be a great way to retain key staff. As remodeling activity picks up, you can bet that other contractors will attempt to poach talent by offering more money. When I owned my remodeling business, I found that a true lead carpenter system provided solid reasons for all of my staff — not my lead carpenters alone — to stick around.

Properly implemented, the system provides a good, low-stress working environment — something that remains atypical at most remodeling companies. The system offers growth potential and a planned path for doing so — again, a benefit many businesses may claim to offer but rarely do.

The lead carpenter system also instills a feeling of ownership in employees. Why? Because, when done right, the system empowers employees with on-site control over what they do and how they do it. In effect, it eliminates the need for micromanaging bosses.

If you provide a low-stress working environment, a growth path, and a feeling of ownership, why would employees who value these attributes risk leaving? Phrased differently, if money is all you have to offer employees, what makes working for you anything more than a commodity to the available (not necessarily the desirable) workforce?

For more on the benefits of the lead carpenter system, both for the business as well as your employees, visit Tim Faller’s site ( Also, visit my site to see my video interviews with Tim about the benefits of implementing this system.


—Shawn McCadden founded, operated, and sold a successful design/build company. A co-founder of the Residential Design/Build Institute and former director of education for a national K&B remodeling franchise, Shawn speaks at industry events and consults with remodeling companies.