Right now we have six jobs — three larger projects and a few smaller ones. Even with the addition of a supervisor a few months ago, our staff could not handle the workload, so I subcontracted a $40,000 master suite and $45,000 kitchen to two subcontractors. This means I’m managing three types of supervisor:

  • Subcontractors: I set up the overall schedule and the subcontractor provides both labor and site coordination. I handle 75% of the project management and the subcontractor does 25%. I don’t think I could have a subcontractor handle a $300,000 job, but it works for $50,000-and-under projects.
  • Long-term superintendents: They handle 100% of the scheduling, ordering, and project management. I provide them with reinforcement and I periodically review processes with them.
  • A new superintendent: He’s been with us three months, working with one of our long-term supers for a month, and is now independently running his first large job — an $80,000 interior renovation that requires reworking a second-floor layout. We started him on a smaller job, a $15,000 laundry room, before giving him this one. He has a lot of experience, and I’m confident he can handle the work.

Team Approach

The goal in any management style is to give people the authority to make decisions and be confident about the authority you’ve given them. It’s easy to get into a dictatorial mode, but that is not complementary to creating a team. You need people to make decisions and understand the results in order to have their buy-in. When you have buy-in, then they take responsibility for the work. If the entire burden was on my shoulders, they would not have to think — they’d just ask me.

Each of these three superintendent types has a different level of authority. At Mark IV Builders, we have two visuals we use to help our employees make decisions. One is a decision tree that uses parts of a tree to illustrate the levels of decision-making within the company. The owner, Mark Scott, is the “root,” I am the “trunk,” the “branches” are superintendents, and carpenters and laborers are the “leaves.”

And although everyone has a different process, we also have a time management primer to help employees identify urgent vs. non-urgent and critical vs. minor activities. For example, priority decisions are those that need to be made before the project can move forward.

I stop by the job that’s being run by our new superintendent more often than I stop by to check in with our long-term superintendents. I help him figure out his boundaries. For example, he doesn’t need to call me on a $50 change order — that’s wasting his time and mine. But until he learns those boundaries, I’m treating it as a “trust but verify” situation.

With our long-term supers, I help them work through more complicated decisions. Because things are so busy, the supers are overworked and stressed, and it’s easy for us to bypass our processes. If they make a mistake, I ask them to step back and review how they made that decision compared with how they made past decisions.

—Andy Hannan is production manager of Mark IV Builders, in Bethesda, Md.

More REMODELING articles on employee accountability and training:

Monitoring, Motivation, and Accountability — The keys to maximizing employee performance

Accounting for the Individual — Fostering accountability with details and metrics