Several years ago, Dale Nikula's Encore Construction laid a tile floor in a client's first-floor entryway. The client had picked out the tile with Nikula, who was then in sales. Construction began, and the client decided on a different tile. She and Nikula spoke about the change but never communicated it to the project lead carpenter. The team had to rip up the tile and start again. This error — as well as several other costly mistakes in other jobs — stung.
Nikula recognized the problem in each case was in the chain of communication. “We spent time thinking about what kind of system to put in place to efficiently and adequately communicate what sales is discussing with the client,” he says, “and what's the best way to communicate that to field personnel.” Nikula, his production manager, and project leads all provided input into what became a six-step system that has evolved over the past four years. Each step is composed of one or several checklists.
Although Encore's average job size is $230,000, Nikula says his system is still “relevant for smaller companies or smaller jobs. If you want to grow or run more efficiently, you need to put systems in place even if there are only one or two people enacting them.”
The System: After receiving a set of plans, the salesperson and estimator go over them and complete the design checklist to make sure all the information is there to produce an accurate estimate and to make sure there aren't any code violations.
Then the estimator generates a proposal and attaches the proposal sign-off form to it. The salesperson, estimator, and production manager must initial this form indicating their acceptance of the proposal, scope of work, and pricing. If there are any issues, they have to clear them up before the next step, the job startup checklist, a comprehensive list that precedes job start.
Once this is completed, the production manager holds a pre-turnover meeting. She and the project lead meet at the site to review plans, schedules, and budget. Sales is not involved. “We try to poke holes in the proposal at this point,” Nikula says.
Then the salesperson holds a turnover meeting attended by the production manager, estimator, and project lead. “We bring everyone back and go through the meeting checklist to make sure the project lead has all the information and forms we use for them to run a job and to answer any questions that came up during the pre-turnover meeting.
The final stage involves the client in a preconstruction meeting attended by the salesperson, the production manager, and the project leads. Clients get to ask questions and receive a project binder, which contains a copy of their proposal, schedule, product selection requirements, Web site access codes, and Encore contact information. Nikula admits this fairly elaborate system requires a lot of discipline. But he says his clients always praise the professional way Encore runs things. “I'm a carpenter at heart, and like a lot of carpenters, I don't like systems,” he says. “But the bottom line is if you're going to stay in business, you need this stuff.”