We all know that working with systems based on sound policies can help us avoid mistakes, increase efficiency, expand customer satisfaction, and drop more dollars to the bottom line. But few remodelers have a complete set of written policies and procedures. Why only a few? Because the systematization of a company is a large project that could require a daunting amount of time, and few remodeling companies have unused manpower to dedicate to this task. Some eke out a few hours a week and end up spending years developing and writing the systems.

Larry Parrish, Parrish Construction Company, Boulder, Colo., found a better way to fast track the process. He hired an outside consultant. "We knew that systems would help our company be more successful," he says, "but we had no staff time, no experience, and no one really with the right mindset to champion this effort."

He hired an old friend who was also a systems engineer to assist the company in developing the procedures and creating the back-up paperwork that was essential to making the systems work.

The first step was giving the consultant all the paperwork Parrish could find, much of it collected from remodeler colleagues -- materials including everything from employee handbooks to policy manuals and job descriptions. The consultant chose the best from the array, modified them to fit Parrish's company, and presented them to the Parrish staff at a key managers meeting.

"At the meeting, the consultant also served as a facilitator, working with our entire team to discuss the issues and help us come to consensus," Parrish says. "It was very helpful to have an outsider in this position so he could challenge our assumptions about the way we were doing things."

Throughout the process, Parrish stayed involved. "I'd dedicate about an hour a week to meet with him, make sure we were going in the right direction, and then let him handle the follow through."

A key to making this work is the choice of the consultant. "It's critical to get someone who is very organized," says Parrish, "someone who can look at something complex and distill it to a more simple form. The consultant doesn't have to know construction intimately, but a little knowledge of the buzzwords and the basic process can be a big help. Secondly, don't expect to be able to hand it off and walk away. Expect to have yourself and your key managers involved in the process. It's the only way to really make it work."

--Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Advantage, Fulton, Md. (301) 490-5620, victoria@remodelersadvantage.com.