For all the effort that goes into building better houses, the great underlying challenge facing big builders lies in building better management teams -- and the right systems -- to support those efforts.

For most large organizations, that boils down to finding and retaining the right talent (always easier said than done); defining what needs to be solved; then making sure the resources are in place to tackle it. But for big organizations, and small, oftentimes the best management solutions come from simply learning how others tackle similar issues.

One development worth watching, for example, is how a handful of builders are dealing with the thicket of issues surrounding construction defects. The solution for most big builders has usually involved better-timed quality-control inspections, layered on top of ever-more refined punch lists, with a splash of Six-Sigma thrown in for good measure. Add in the right incentive bonuses and it should be possible to reduce construction defects to virtually zero by the time the customer is ready for the final walk-through.

Yet in states like California -- where it seems as though every builder has a bull's-eye stenciled on his shirt in the eyes of attorneys and hard-to-please home buyers -- all those efforts can still fall short in guarding against defect liability lawsuits.

That's prompted a small number of builders to look for a broader -- or at least a different -- solution by turning to forensic, or third-party, construction inspections (see "3rd-Party Oversight"). The concept involves more than merely outsourcing quality control. Depending on your legal counsel's point of view, it also provides a new tool for managing liability risk.

It's just one example of how builders are trying new ideas and innovative approaches to solve emerging management problems. Discovering those kinds of ideas and innovations -- and the people behind them -- isn't always easy. But the debut of a brand-new conference for big builders this November 11-13 should make it easier.

Katherine Lambert "Big Builder '03" promises to be a distinctly different kind of conference. It has been designed expressly for senior-level managers and executives working for America's top 1,000 home builders. Its focus: to bring tested ideas, best practices and smart solutions to the way big builders design, build, market, buy materials for, and sell their homes and to help them add value to the companies and divisions they manage.

D.R. Horton president and CEO Don Tomnitz, who will serve this year as the conference's inaugural Conference Chairman, was one of many top home building industry CEOs and executives who helped guide Big Builder and Builder magazines in building the framework for this conference. And we've been fortunate in assembling a truly impressive roster of industry veterans and thought-leaders alike to tackle today's tough home building management issues. Issues such as:

  • With four companies now producing more than 25,000 homes a year, and big builders now in nearly all 50 top markets, how will big builders sustain their current record rates of growth? And what does it take to build a fast-growth home building company in today's market?
  • What are senior executives doing to find and develop the next generation of managers and keep up with their growth plans over the next five years?
  • How are builders and their marketing teams differentiating their companies and distinguishing their brand and product offerings to stay competitive?
  • How are construction chiefs achieving fewer construction defects and higher customer satisfaction scores?
  • How are CFOs and CIOs overcoming the obstacles to integrating the dizzying array of financial and production reporting systems that actually meet builders' needs?
  • How are purchasing executives adding value to their operations beyond merely demanding greater discounts?
  • How are acquisition, design, and marketing teams accelerating approval times with new, more thoughtful solutions? And developing faster-selling projects once construction begins?

We invite our many readers to join us at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas to learn firsthand how the best in the business are tackling these and many more mission-critical issues. (For more information, call 866-452-2815 or visit

Wyatt Kash