Production goes from sales through the last check or warranty item. To do it right, consider these elements:

  • Pre-job planning by lead carpenter or project manager
  • Pre-construction meeting with lead carpenter, sales, and client
  • Checklists for all meetings to fulfill requirements and measure results
  • A system within the system to write change orders, schedule subs and materials, and do a job closeout

Consultant and REMODELING contributor Tim Faller says that “to build a good system in production, start with a good transfer of information from sales.” His reasoning: “Communication from sales to production is the biggest trouble spot and requires the most attention.”

Once a job is signed at Encore Construction, in Cape Cod, Mass., the production manager, estimator, salesperson, and project lead meet on site with a list of topics and a checklist. Encore also holds a “turnover meeting” at the office, which is attended by the estimator, salesperson, production manager, project lead, and the office general manager. Owner Dale Nikula uses another checklist for this meeting. “We address issues that came up during the production meeting at the jobsite,” he says, “as well as any questions the project lead may have.” By the end of this meeting, the team has gone through the plans, job specifications, budget, and schedule.

Nikula's reliance on checklists is a good way to slow things down, and Faller says this is one of the benefits of having a system. “If we have built into the system something that says we can't start this process until we do a review, then we … have to wait. Too often remodelers rush into and out of jobs, and the beginning and end of the job are where people have the most difficulties.”

Encore's handover to production occurs at an on-site pre-construction meeting with the salesperson, project lead, production manager, and client. “[At the end of this meeting], everyone leaves except the project lead, who fills out a jobsite assessment form. It's a great opportunity for the lead and the client to bond,” Nikula says.

Once construction begins, project leaders meet weekly with the production manager to discuss schedules, manpower needs, general problems, and safety training. In addition, project leaders meet monthly with the salesperson, production manager, and general manager to formally review a project's status.

Why It Works About a month after a job is finished, when Encore has received a completed client survey, Nikula holds what he considers the most important meeting: the debrief — actual versus budget. Because Encore uses percent-complete accounting, production managers get real-time numbers for comparison. “If it's off, [we want to know] why,” Nikula says. Clients are contacted six months and 12 months after a job; Encore offers a one-year warranty.

Nikula created the system in 1998 and it has become more comprehensive as the company has grown. He credits the system's effectiveness to employee buy-in. “We're an open-book management company. Project leaders have access to the budget, and on a weekly basis they can check how a job is doing with actual costs versus the budget.” They are also empowered to make decisions.

Another New England remodeler, Tom Mitchell, of Mitchell Construction, has a system similar to Nikula's. He gradually increased his project managers' responsibilities. “I remember telling one employee, ‘You're responsible for doing $900,000 in revenue.' [The employee] left that meeting in shock, he told me later. That same guy is now begging for more. It's worked out really well.”

Both Nikula and Mitchell stress the importance of having the right people and giving them leeway to make decisions and to grow in their positions to get the most out of the system. “If you have good systems and people, and you're cognizant of their abilities and bring them along at their own pace,” Mitchell says, “it's amazing.”