Charles Steck

The big remodeling projects of recent years prompted some remodelers to abandon the lead carpenter system for the project manager model. As job sizes shrink or plateau and you adjust your production system accordingly, it might be a good time to consider switching back to the lead carpenter system.

This system has three basic tenets:

1. A one-person base crew manages each project, and other crew members are added on an as-needed basis.

2. The lead carpenter is responsible for monitoring the budget.

3. There is often an incentive program based on job-costing.

Here’s my thinking for why the lead carpenter system makes so much sense now.

  • On-site management. Smaller jobs require that more jobs be sold to maintain revenue. As the owner or salespeople/designers spend more time selling, the lead carpenter’s on-site management becomes more critical to success.
  • Versatility. Smaller jobs are better suited to people who are skilled in multiple trades, as lead carpenters should be.
  • Client management. Smaller jobs often require a more intense degree of client management. By being on-site, the lead carpenter can quickly make things happen, such as answering the client’s questions and getting the client to make decisions.
  • More jobs, more punch lists. Think about that for a minute. With one person managing the job from start to finish, he can complete the punch list as he goes and leave fewer items unresolved.

The lead carpenter system was designed for midrange remodeling projects, to allow business owners to focus on business and free craftspeople to focus on craft. The return to these midrange projects calls for a resurgence of the lead carpenter system.
—Tim Faller is president of Field Training Services, author of The Lead Carpenter Handbook , and a long-time proponent of this system.