T.J. Shannon Construction
Wadsworth, Ohio
Big50 2002

We are very up-front about delays — we tell our customers from the beginning that they are inevitable. We give them a projected start date, but explain that we won't start their job until we've completed our current one. (Similarly, we won't start a new project until we've finished theirs.)

We give examples — weather delays, materials on back order, delivery errors, that kind of thing. We then explain how they can help keep the job moving by making selections in a timely fashion, minimizing change orders, and giving us access to the house when we need it.

Crystal Kitchen Center
Crystal, Minn.
Big50 2006

Most delays are caused by clients not making decisions and selections in a timely manner. We try not to start a job until all products have been ordered and we know the ship date.

From the beginning, we explain what kinds of things can go wrong, and how we take care of them. Once we set those expectations, the clients are pleasantly surprised when their project goes as well as it generally does. It's nothing like the horror stories they hear from their friends and in the media.

When the client signs a contract with us, we put together a calendar of the project, so they can see start and end dates and the schedule of who will be in their house on a certain day. If something happens that causes a delay, we update the calendar and explain to the homeowner what the issue is.

Palatella Builders
Huntington, N.Y.
Big50 2000

I've never seen a remodeling project that didn't have delays, and I don't think I ever will. We cannot totally control trade contractors and their schedules, nor can we control suppliers who lose or damage the order or ship the wrong product. There are simply too many variables, and we need to prepare the client for the inevitable delays.

If you do everything you can do to minimize delays, you will be prepared to handle the client's reaction. We use scheduling and contact software to document each phone call, contact, and order at every step of the project. This attention to detail keeps problems to a minimum, and the documentation shows clients that the problem is a valid one and that we're not simply conjuring up an excuse.

Chet DiRomualdo Quality Custom Remodeling
Allentown, Pa.
Big50 1999

The easiest schedule to keep is a flexible one.

Once the project has been designed and the products selected, I lay out a tentative schedule with the homeowners. At this point, I discuss all the things that can affect the schedule: weather, trade contractors' schedules, material availability, pending decisions, orders, and the fact that they are still living there while we are working, to name a few. I give them some examples, such as having to wait to open the wall or the roof if the forecast calls for rain.

With all of this in mind, I tell them — in fact, it's a provision in my contract — that I promise to work on the project every day, and to keep work progressing in a timely manner. I do not, however, promise a finish date, only a general timeline.

Teevan Restoration
San Francisco
Big50 2006

After we know the scope of a job, we generate a first draft of a schedule. We then identify long lead items that the customer hasn't yet decided that have the potential for delays. We talk to the homeowners about those items before we start work on the project. If the supplier says we need to order their tile eight weeks in advance, we'll figure on 10 weeks, and tell the client they'll need to make their decision on tile by a certain date.

Understanding the problem areas in your particular market goes a long way toward minimizing delays. You have no way of knowing what you're going to find when you open up a wall, but you do know if a particular material has been taking a long time to ship, or what the weather is likely to be. We know that for the last five Februarys, we've averaged nine days lost to rain. So we'll factor in 12 days on the schedule.

It's important to be realistic. There's a tendency to feel pressure to quote the earliest possible finish date. If it's a six- to eight-month project, there's pressure to say that it will take six months. I always say eight.