Planning and Project Lifecycles


How many times have you heard, “When we get out there, we'll figure it out. There's just a lot that always changes — we'll figure it out then.”

On construction sites across the U.S., the amount of job planning that’s done in advance varies widely. A lot of folks in construction don’t want to sit indoors and plan for a job when they could just get outside and get going. Planning may even sound kind of boring.

However, an investment in project planning can pay tremendous benefits throughout the life cycle of the work. Asking the right questions up front — where are we going to be pushing with the dozer, should we build a GPS model, how are we going to install this filter material — can later save you both time and trouble.

Creating a project plan.

Successful contractors have found that creating a solid work plan before the work gets going is their opportunity to start the project off well. It’s an opportunity to say, “Here's our plan. Here's our contingency. Here's another contingency.”

Without such a plan, it’s easy to get two to three weeks into a project and be facing an uphill battle: with your teams, the inspectors, the owner. If you start missing scheduled dates, your client may start to wonder if they picked the wrong firm — which can cause them to micromanage your work.

With the right plan in place, all of a sudden, projects are starting out better, and there’s just so much more confidence. And you’re able to go about your business under much less scrutiny.

A construction site doesn’t have to be a battlefield. “I think a large amount of it is because we don't create a detailed plan and share it,” said Blount. Other disagreements can result from the project manager’s having a great plan that doesn’t get communicated to anyone else.

Creating — and communicating — the project plan isn’t just for bigger contractors. Smaller shops also benefit from planning their work in advance. As Blount said, “I think the preplanning is vital to have trust with the ownership of that project, whether that's a municipality or a government agency or a GC or a homeowner. Having a plan, and then communicating that plan, creates trust. And when you have trust, things go a lot better.”

To create a plan, it’s not a requirement to know the whole process. Start with what you are doing today. Then figure out where you’ll be within the next three to 10 days. This can encourage your superintendent, project manager, and executives to look a bit further ahead.

And be sure to involve your laborers, so that everyone is clear about what they’re doing and where the project's going.

Executing on the project plan.

The trust you build through planning — and then communicating — builds trust that can carry for a long time. And it leads to repeat customers.

Internally, communicating the plan provides benefits as well. When someone’s working overtime on a project, it helps to know that things are going according to plan. As Blount put it, “It’s just really nice to know you're winning.” There’s a camaraderie when things are going well. “People are yelling, razzing each other, just having a good time. That's what makes construction special.”

One way to engage workers is to have the foreman level person really take ownership of the plan and talk through it. Consider taking 15–20 minutes at the beginning of each workday to help ensure everyone understands the plan and its contingencies. It’s a simple investment that can pay big returns: Some of the highest performing contractors have the longest morning meetings.

Communicating your plans also guards against complaints that your crews can’t get anything done or that they always need direct supervision. Your workers aren’t mind readers. If you only give broad outlines of the plan, or you don’t tell them anything at all about the plan, how can they possibly work toward meeting the plan’s goals?

The radios you use, and how you use them, are important to communicating your plan. Blount believes radios are essential, both for culture building and for encouraging teamwork. Allowing a bit of freedom for how radios are used also is important. “Some of the best performing operations I’ve been to have the funniest radio chatter,” said Blount. They’re using humor to build camaraderie, and they’re communicating. When an issue comes up, because they’re used to talking freely, they’re going to talk about how to solve it.

Takeaways.

It’s important to communicate at every stage of a project: on the front end, during the actual execution phase, and on the back end. Taking the time to plan for the kickoff of a project may be obvious, and yet the implementation of the plan needs to extend through to its conclusion.

In Blount’s opinion, “The last two months of a project is what people remember. If you make the last two months miserable, they will not remember all the good in their minds. What will be there is, man, that was hell.”

Don’t jeopardize a good project at the end because you're trying to save a few dimes or because you’re ready to be done. “Take into consideration the fact that what happens at the end often is what's most remembered,” said Blount.

Always make the effort to finish strong. You never know who’s watching and later may turn out to be a great reference for your company, based on their experience at the end of your work together.